Riding a bicycle almost 11 miles up a steep mountain road is a difficult task physically. But it is perhaps more challenging mentally.
The 40 riders who tackled Saturday's Hatcher Pass Hill Climb knew what their bodies were in for: achy quads, numb arms and high heart rates as they power pedaled up the final miles of Palmer Fishhook Road toward the mountainous mining ruins of Independence Mine State Historical Park.
What made the task doubly difficult?
Riders could see what they were up against as they gobbled up 2,300 feet of elevation gain.
"A hill climb is tough mentally as it is," said women's expert winner Gina Taylor of Anchorage. "But when you can look ahead and see how far you have to go, that just makes it even harder."
With no trees lining most portions of the mountainous road, cyclists could see far ahead as the road snaked uphill.
That doesn't do much for confidence.
Taylor's strategy was to take the lead early, as the road ascended gently alongside the Little Susitna River.
Taylor said that left her in good shape for the most difficult part of the ride: a steep hairpin turn at the Motherlode Lodge.
At that point, riders' momentum slowed to a chug as they stood on their pedals, pumping legs up the relentless hill. It's also where the pack broke up and stronger riders pulled ahead.
Taylor said she isn't the strongest climber but can keep a steady pace. She figured if she had the lead at that point, trailing riders would find it difficult, mentally, to muster the energy to pass.
It worked. Taylor, 27, won in 49 minutes, 38 seconds. Melissa DeVaughn of Chugiak finished second (49:54) and Tiffanie Novakovich of Anchorage was third (51:21).
In the men's race, reigning master hill climber Matt Novakovich had his five-year string of victories in uphill races snapped.
Matt Jordan, 30, from Anchorage pulled away from a pack of four that included Novakovich to win in 40:13.
Jordan, a transplant from Portland, Ore., rode with Novakovich and two other Anchorage riders, James Stull and Seth Downs, early on. The foursome broke far ahead of the pack as it rounded the hairpin at the Motherlode Lodge.
They rode together for about a mile until the hill crested and the road bent right. There, Jordan made his move.
He pulled ahead for good, putting about 30 seconds on his followers. But as the course flattened and Hatcher Pass Lodge came into view, Stull and Downs began to gain.
Jordan said his arms went numb.
"I just tried to keep a steady pace," he said. "Jamie was gaining on me pretty good. He just ran out of room."
Jordan said it's difficult to train for something like the Hatcher Pass Hill Climb because you never push yourself that hard in a training ride.
"I'm glad I won, but gosh, when you're going through it, it's terrible," he said.
Novakovich, 34, said his heartbeat crested at 190 beats per minute at one point as he taxed his body to the limit.
It wasn't quite enough. Novakovich finished fourth in 41:31. Stull was second (40:34) and Downs third (40:45).
"Some days, you just don't have it," he said.
Find Ron Wilmot online at adn.com/contact/rwilmot or call 352-6712.