What Is it Like to Race Up Some of the Toughest Hills In America On a Bike?

There is no good reason for riding a bike three-blocks straight up. But on Saturday, Sep. 16, more than 180 riders did just that in a sprint race on De Haro Street up Potrero Hill in San Francisco.

Starting at 18th Street, the Red Bull Bay Climb course ran due south three blocks until De Haro crested the hill at Southern Heights Avenue. Each intersection was more or less flat, but the slopes between them were not. The first climb was a 400-foot stretch at an 11% gradient, the second spanned the same distance but at a 21% gradient, and the third was a 550-foot run out at about 13%.

“That second hill is like hitting a wall,” said Red Bull fixed gear cyclist Nico Deportago-Cabrera. A bike messenger in Chicago, one of the flattest cities in one of the flattest states, the closest Deportago-Cabrera, 33, usually comes to hills is riding into the Windy City’s gales. In comparison, Potrero Hill is steep enough that as riders lined up at the start, the final section of the route was completely obscured from view by the second rise. That final third was the nasty surprise everyone knew they had coming. When Deportago-Cabrera was eliminated in the semifinals, he could at least console himself with not having the race the course again.

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