There's heat, and there's ridiculous heat.
Conditions for Saturday's 36th annual Climb to Kaiser were on the ridiculous side as 233 hardy cyclists braved searing 108-degree temperatures to pedal their bikes from Clovis to the top of 9,200-foot Kaiser Pass — and back.
It was the hottest Climb to Kaiser since 2006, when the official temperature for Fresno was 110.
A couple cyclists used the words "blast furnace" to describe the heat, and another went with "convection oven."
But Clovis cyclist Craig Rannells may have put it best while enjoying a cold towel draped across his neck at Millerton Store, the last rest stop along the 155-mile course.
"When you drop down (into Auberry), you feel like you’re being cooked like a burrito," he joked.
Typically, Valley riders more accustomed to the heat do better in these conditions than out-of-towners who train in more balmy climates. But that didn't stop Steve Sharp of San Luis Obispo from being the first to cross the finish line at Alta Sierra Intermediate in 8 hours, 59 minutes.
It was Sharp's first Climb to Kaiser, but the former racer said he got some inside knowledge about the course from training partner Van McCarty, a former winner.
"I was motivated to finish this thing as fast as possible just to get out of that heat," a freshly showered Sharp said before tucking into his post-ride meal.
Second-place finisher Mike Prentice of Irvine crossed in 9:13 despite taking a wrong turn on the Big Creek climb and riding several miles out of his way. Organizers awarded him a time of 9 hours flat.
"My Garmin (cycling computer) stopped working because it was so hot, so I didn't even know the mileage coming back," Prentice said.
Misha Fuller of Fresno was the first women's finisher, crossing in 10:44. Riders kept trickling in well into the evening with support vehicles driving behind them and illuminating the road with their headlights.
Ride coordinator John Craft reported no serious injuries or any condition that required emergency services. However, more than the typical number dropped out due to exhaustion and were driven back by support vehicles.
"If more people are making the decision to SAG in, I'm fine with that," Craft said. "That's people making good decisions. They're riding smart."
The course has three major climbs (Tollhouse, Big Creek, Kaiser) and several others (Wildcat, Shaver, Tamarack) that aren’t as steep but still soften the legs. Most of the way back is downhill with some riders hitting speeds of 50 mph.
Riders are serviced by nine rest stops, including a lunch stop at Huntington Lake stocked with everything a tired, hungry, thirsty cyclist could want: sandwiches, several types of fresh fruit, crackers, cookies, chips, nuts, pretzels, cold water, soda, Gatorade and all manner of electrolyte replacement mixes and gels.
When a rider pulls in, a volunteer from Sunnyside Bicycles grabs the rider's bike while another fills empty water bottles as another presents each with a chilled, wet towel.
"This towel feels so good," said Ryan Brooks, a 17-year-old incoming freshman at Fresno State who was the youngest rider in the field.
Celebrating her 31st birthday in the saddle was Fresno's Kim Costa.
"I did it last year on my birthday, so it's sort of a new tradition," she said. "It's fun, I guess. It's fun when it's done."
Five-time finisher Bob Coyle of Fresno said he keeps signing up because of the challenge and the mountain scenery. But don't ask if he's enjoying himself. It's too soon to tell.
"In a few months, I'll look back and it'll seems like an enjoyable time," Coyle said. "You have a fonder recollection afterward than when you actually do it."
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