The mere mention of it sends a quiver through the quads of Bay Area cyclists. The grades up this meandering slice of arcadian countryside on the north edge of San Jose reach 15 percent, with a 10 percent average over 3.5 miles and 1,700 feet of vertical gain. At this year’s Tour of California, Chris Horner capped Stage 4 by charging up Sierra Road in about 16 minutes. When I conquered it in early August it took me … longer than that. Turning onto Sierra from Piedmont, which skirts the blandly pleasant neighborhood of Piedmont Hills, you are confronted by a wall of blacktop. It’s the climb’s steepest point, and while it doesn’t last long enough to put you off, it does do a bang-up job of setting the tone. After the second turn, an empty plastic water bottle tumbled from my jersey, and I had to halt whatever momentum I had (not much, I can tell you) to retrieve it. At another point, perhaps a mile from the top, I stopped to shoot a “majestic” phone-cam pic of the entire South Bay, the dirty urban haze looming above it providing the source of those scare quotes. When I got home, that picture was nowhere to be found (believe me, no loss), but I did find these—a series of 13 pocket photos fired off as my phone jounced around in my jersey, the red and black fabric providing a Rothko-esque wash to pictures that at first glance appeared eminently deletable but on further inspection, through a series of inadvertent details—a skewed horizon line, telephone poles jutting up at odd angles, aloofly grazing cattle—offered a better account of that toilsome ascent than I could have myself.
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