Bill McLain Memorial Sandia Crest Road Race 2014 – Race Report

This past weekend was my favorite New Mexico cycling race of the year (of the few I have done), the Bill McLain Memorial Crest Race. It is a race of various distances depending on your category. You either have a direct race up to Sandia Peak or a trip over Heartbreak hill proceeding to the crest. Heartbreak hill is one of these short but punchy ~10-20% climbs that leaves you gasping for air. Luckily, after the 2-3.5 minute push you get to find your legs again on a descent. Being a cat 5 racer I had the “easy” task of going directly up to the crest (thank God!). The race starts in the most southeastern part of Albuquerque and follows old Route 66 to South 14 with a turn off on Crest Road. The race usually starts with a pretty docile pace up to Tijeras where the turn off for South 14 is. Right after the turn you start a short climb up to Cedar Crest, a small community with a great BBQ joint. This shorter climb is where the race starts to speed up, usually distancing a few riders from the main pack. You meander through Cedar Crest until you reach another short climb known to the locals as mail box hill, it has a bunch of mail boxes on it (very clever name). The sight of this hill puts the front group in attack mode once again creating a lead group. After the hill you have a short descent which basically takes you to the start of the major obstacle of the day, a ~14 mile ~3800 ft climb up to the Sandia Crest. The Sandia Crest climb is my favorite Albuquerque area ride. There are trees, elevation, sometimes animals (I’ve seen deer, bear and turkey). When it gets too hot in the summer it is a great retreat to 70 degree weather.

Elevation profile of the Bill McLain Memorial Crest Race in metric units

Elevation profile of the Bill McLain Memorial Crest Race in metric units

The main goal for the race this year was to make it to the long climb with the lead group and give it hell to the finish. In previous races I’ve had a tendency to be a little passive in positioning myself well at the beginning of the race, so I made it a point to line up at the front this time which turned out to be a good idea. As we were waiting for the race to start I took a look at my heart rate monitor and noticed my HR was pretty high for just standing there. I guess my nerves were getting the best of me. As the race started we took a pretty casual pace through Tijeras canyon with a rare tail wind. Once we turned onto South 14 the pace quickened. Finally, I was in the right position and didn’t have to make up any ground on the lead group. I have to say I was really excited for this. I noticed my power was staying low, a little less than threshold, but my heart rate was extremely high. Either my power meter wasn’t working properly or my adrenaline was pumping… pretty sure it was a mixture of adrenaline and dehydration. Somewhere between the climb into Cedar Crest and the beginning of mailbox hill the group I was in made a pretty big gap from the main peloton. As we crested the climb and started the descent to the beginning of the major climb I was pretty amazed I actually made it into the lead group and was able to stick with them to the crest road. As we turned up the crest road the guy in front started hammering the pedals. I was keeping up but putting out greater than 350 watts. If I kept this up for too long I was going to be toast as my heart rate was pretty much maxed out. Luckily he was human and slowed down near the feed zone. I made a little room for error and grabbed my water bottle. I remember thinking “Emil, you’re in perfect position and have a full bottle of water. Stay calm and collected and stick with these guys as long as you can.” I stood up to make up the room for error I gave myself in the feed zone. As I turned over the crank with my right side I felt this strange feeling in my calf. It felt like someone was punching the shit out of my calf. At that point I remember thinking “NO WAY!” In the weeks leading up to the race I was trying to keep my diet as strict as possible, only eating home cooked meals with carbs and protein blah blah blah. The day before I was drinking tons of water and even had some hydration mix too. Not to sound presumptuous or anything, but In all of my years of athletics I have never had muscle cramps. Sure enough, on the day I want to have my best performance of the year I cramp and it sucked. I tried as hard as I could to keep turning the crank but the room for error just kept getting bigger and bigger. Each time I tried to bring my cadence up my leg would start to lock up. After pushing through for a minute or two the cramp finally started to loosen up and I was able to push it fairly hard up to the Sandia Ski Area. It was at this point when I was passed by a masters racer who was absolutely cranking through the climb and another cat 5 racer from the peloton who’s street name is Mateo2wheels. As we made the short descent past the ski area and started up the last ~6 miles of the climb I decided to try and follow mateo’s pace. As he stood up to push up the short high gradient after the descent I stood up and BAM! another cramp, this time it was my right calf and hamstring. It took everything I had to keep pedaling and stay on the bike as I watched mateo smash up the climb. Turns out he was able to catch a few other riders on the climb and came in 5th. I think the lead group I was in entered the climb with 8 – 10 riders, in other words, he was kicking ass up the climb and making up a lot of ground. At this point, given my physical condition, it was more about finishing the race than competing in the race.

Sometimes its hard to look at a situation where you are definitely not meeting expectations and be positive about it. Somehow, I wasn’t too disappointed with the outcome of the final climb. Sure, I failed miserably, but I got to it with the lead group and I was in the mountains! Maybe I am getting more mature, or my testosterone levels are getting lower, but winning isn’t as important to me as it once was. However, if you come to my work basketball league you would probably think differently. Endurance sports like running and cycling are more about challenging myself rather than defeating another person. This is at least what I told myself on the final climb Sunday. Within the last mile of the finish I ended up getting passed by four or five people and ended up getting 12th in the race. One of these people was my good friend Doug. It was his first race and he did really well, kudos to him! Its hard to find a 6’6″ guy who enjoys climbing on a bike and puts fashion first.

After the conclusion of our race we watched the finish of the other races. Its amazing how in shape the Cat 1 racers are. They definitely are the epitome of the cycling lifestyle. These guys race for 30 more miles and beat our times up the crest road by nearly 25 minutes! The crest road takes us around a hour and fifteen minutes.

The data file for the race can be found here: If you are interesting in the results you can find them here:

Next weekend there is another good race and I will try to take more pictures so I don’t bore you with too many words,

Thanks for reading!


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