Livestrong 2009 Course Preview

[Update – I added an improved description of Montreux based on a ride I did today, and added some new options if you don’t want to do that climb.]

Since the bulk of the course – at least the century course – is right in my backyard, I thought I’d share my thoughts on what you’re in for. I’ve linked to climb descriptions from my site. Note that while the average gradients are pretty close, the maximum ones are a bit speculative.

But first, an introduction. I’m Eric Gunnerson (aka “Lo-Phat”).

I know Fatty from when he lived in this area and worked for a large software company. Back in 2005, we teamed up for “The Double-e half-hour of pain“. Fatty had – in his usual “mature” way – trash talked about how he was going to be the first to the top of the hill. I had little chance of beating him (I’m light for my size, but I *am* 6’2″), so I took the mature way out, and offered $20 to the first person up the hill that beat Elden. And then he complained about it, and called me “evil”.

Where were we? Something about a ride, right?

70 and 100 mile Routes

Before I start with the description, I’d like to note that these are nicely designed rides. I would describe them as “pretty hilly”.

The ride starts at the Seattle Center, and spends a couple of miles winding through downtown towards the two stadiums, at that point, you reach the first hill – the climb up on the I-90 express lanes. I’ve never ridden it, but it looks like it’s about 150′ in height, and my recollection is that the first little bit is fairly steep.

Once you get on that, you wind east, go through the I-90 tunnel, and then down onto the I-90 floating bridge, and then up at the other end. At the island you climb up 75 feet or so to the exit.

The next 10 miles takes you around the south end of Mercer Island, a really nice section. It’s fairly flat/rolling, with great pavement, not much traffic, and wonderful curves. You will like this session. Halfway into this section (at 14.7 miles) there’s a stop.

Next, you cross the east channel bridge on a bike path. This is a pretty popular route and there isn’t that much room, so watch for other cyclists or runners coming the other direction.

Off the bridge, the next 4 miles loops north and then back south. A few small (75′ or so) climbs. After you head south under I-90 (which should be obvious), you’ll come to a bike path entrance. There are some blind curves and rude riders here, so be careful. A bit of up and down takes us to Newcastle Beach Park (sorry about the descent from the trail, and yes, you do have to climb the 75′ of steepness back after the break). That takes us to 24.1 miles, and stop #2.

The next 2 miles climb up about 300′, and then a nice 10-mile section of rollers but no major climbs.  That takes us to around 36 miles total.

At this point, the century route makes a loop of about 9.5 miles, with about 680′ of climbing on it. The major part of it is the Tiger Mountain Climb, which averages about 4.5% and peaks at perhaps 8-9%. Oh, and stop #3 is early in this loop, but only for century riders.

Then it’s back on a flat road into Issaquah, and stop #4. Once there, the 70 mile route diverts to the Northwest, on a fairly flat section. You’ll rejoin us at the base of your next major hill. As you ride, look to the left to see Zoo Hill, one of the local benchmarks for stupidity. Be happy you are heading straight.

The century heads a bit east, to take on the next hill at the 50 mile point, Highland Drive. This climb has an maximum gradient of ouch (over 10%), and long sections of 8-9%. It’s about 350′ up, and you are going to notice the whole thing.

You may have noticed a progression in maximum gradients. It’s going to continue. But first, we’re going to take a steep descent that drops us onto East Lake Sammamish Drive. The first mile or so is a busy 4-lane road. You will want to stay right, but the pavement is more than a bit sucky there, so watch yourself.

After that, it’s one lane each way with a decent shoulder for about 9 miles. There is one 150′ climb and several rollers along the way. There has also been some construction at Inglewood road about halfway along this stretch, and I expect that it will still be there, so expect some delay from this. This section is a good section to paceline on, and my goal will be to be around 18-20MPH in a group for this section. That takes us to Marymoor park at 61.5 miles, and stop #5.

We are now on West Lake Sammamish Drive. It will be nice for a couple of miles, then the shoulder will get rough, with lots of holes and a nice ridge between the shoulder and the pavement. Don’t plan on making too much time here. There is no bike lane on the lake side of the road, so it’s legal for bikes to ride the opposite way on this section, and you need to pay attention. Along the way are some rollers and a 100′ hill. Did I mention the road is junk?

Eventually, you’ll hit the lowest point, at Vasa Park (big red barn on the right side). Put your climbing shoes on here. We start with a 160′ climb as a preamble, and rejoin the 70-mile route at this point.

At this point, after 71.5 miles (43.2 for the 70s), we arrive at a little bit of joy I like to call Montreaux, because that’s its name. Livestrong calls this NW Village Park Drive, but it’s hard to ignore the giant sign for the development, and the ostentatious water feature. The water will help drown out the labored breathing of the other riders on the course.

Montreux is, to put it simply, a beast. If you have a climbing cassette for your bike, bring it. If you have a small electric assist-motor, bring it. If you have a supply of EPO, use it. If you are like me, you will be spending about 20 minutes of time on this hill. On the upside, the pavement is excellent, and there’s also a view, if you have the oxygen to turn around and see it.

Right from the start, it’s at about 10% for the first little bit, then it will turn a bit to the left and ease down to around 7%. Then it will kick up to about 14% for a bit, taper down to 10%, up to 14%, and then there’s a nice section that’s even steeper. I was climbing at about 3.9 MPH on that section.

I really recommend finding time to pre-ride this hill, so that you know what you’re in for.

After the top, we’re going to lose 100 feet and then have to gain it right back, up to 850′, the same as the height we hit on Tiger Mountain.

And,we’re in for some fun. We worked hard to get up that high, and over the next 5 miles we’re going to lose 800′ of it, on a glorious descent, my favorite in the area. There are some flats and some short climbs, but if you have the legs, this is a good spot to spend a bit of them, as you can keep your speed up and we can all laugh at your folly on the last climb before the finish. After the first 3.8 miles, we end up at stop #6, at 78.5 miles (49.5 on the 70).

After a short 50′ climb and a really fun down/up hill, we have another 400′ of descending, taking us down into Renton and to the shores of Lake Washington. 3 miles of mostly flat road take us into Renton, to stop #7, at 84.7 miles (55.7 on the 70).

The next 4 miles are flat flat on decent road (make sure you make the right turn onto Seward Park Avenue), then a 160′ climb towards Seward park, only to lose it on a quick descent back towards the water, unfortunately with a stop sign at the bottom.

Then it’s onto Lake Wa Blvd South. If you have a group, you can paceline here. As we near I-90, we climb back up the hill (100′ or so) to stop #8, at 94.7 miles (65.7 on the 70).

Then, it’s up and over the hill (another 200′ of climbing), down Yesler into downtown, and then a short spin back to Seattle Center.

Emergency Wimp Option

So, you’ve been going along fine on the ride, feeling great, but you realize that the only way you and your bike are making it up Montreaux is in the back of a pickup. But you don’t want to give up.

So, here’s how you “get lost” to make it a bit easier. Instead of heading up Montreaux, you head west on Newport, straight at Lakemont, and then turn left on the stop sign at 164th. Climb to the top, turn right, and you’re right where you would normally be, with a lot easier climb. Not sure how I got lost, but I did manage to get back on course.

Super-Emergency Extra Wimpy Option

Your legs are toasted and your best hope seems to be to ride straight into the lake and hope for a freak shark attack. Not much chance of that, since Lake Sam is fresh water, but there is a way to salvage some pride.

  1. Head west on Newport.
  2. Straight at Lakemont
  3. Straight at the 164th stop sign.
  4. Right on 153rd (there’s a bike route sign here)
  5. Down the little hill
  6. Left when road ends (SE 38th)
  7. Straight at the light (150th)
  8. All the way to the bottom of the hill.
  9. Get in the rightmost left-turn lane.
  10. As you turn left, get on the left sidewalk of the exit ramp coming straight towards you (diagram).
  11. This puts you on a bicycle path.
  12. When the path ends, turn left.
  13. This puts you back on Lake Washington Blvd, where you were just after Mercer Island. You can now follow the 40 mile signs for the rest of the ride.
  14. Wow, did you ever get lost.

So, what do you think ?