Monday, June 29, 2015
The Okemo Mountain hillclimb race filled a nice gap where I didn't have much going on. No off-Friday I'd have to waste, no other big race events, no epic group rides planned. I could even sleep in for the late morning start. I figured I could throw two bikes in the car, hit the race in the morning, then STAB trails in the afternoon (Sport Trails of the Ascutney Basin). I always wanted to check those trails out.
I had some dialog with Victoria Di Savino, a new hillclimber from Buffalo, regarding gearing for Whiteface and Okemo over the last few weeks. Her power numbers are small, but she is very small. Her W/kg number on Whiteface was on par with mine in best form. I was far from best form now, eschewing interval training these days and weighing about five pounds over my "climbing weight." I told others I was getting chicked at Okemo on Saturday.
There were only about 90 of us lining up for the start at the Jackson Gore resort. The chicane down to Rt 103 is neutral, then the race goes live. The first two miles have slight downhill bias and can be very fast if young studs are going for a course record. But not today. Everybody sat up and we putzed along at about 22mph. Was fine by me, but these crazy flat or downhill starts to hillclimb races can add considerable variability when comparing your time to years past.
We turned right up Mountain Rd and immediately were slapped with double-digit grade. That spreads things out pretty quickly. I saw Erik Vandendries pull away with the fastest guys. He's 50 now and I can't touch him. I knew from the registration list he'd win my age group and I still had a shot at second, but Tom Fagan, also in the field, is riding strong these days. There'd be no slacking off.
Before long, Victoria came floating by, dancing on the pedals, barely breathing. Dang, how many tough guys were humbled that morning? More than a few, I'm sure. She pulled away and I thought, well, that was that.
Tom was ahead of me for a while and not letting up. I felt like I was going backwards. I didn't feel particularly awful or anything. I just wasn't going very fast.
But then, as in most hillclimb races, those that go out too hard start to come unraveled. I started passing people. I caught up to Tom. Victoria dangled just ahead. I found I could gain a little on Tom on the less steep parts but he'd gain it back when it got steep again. I could never seem to gain on Victoria. This went on for the last half of the climb, the three of us never spread more than 5-10sec apart.
We passed the 0.5mi to go mark and now I was on Victoria's wheel. I would have been content to just stay there over the timing mat. But Tom would have none of that. He came gunning for me about 15 seconds from the finish. I had no choice but to respond. To make it even more interesting, Kevin Bessett joined in the party. I've never sprinted harder at the end of a hillclimb. Victoria had no idea what was going on except three guys just came out of nowhere and crossed the line right in front of her. I saved my second place finish, just barely. That burst at the end put me the closest ever to hurling at a finish. My time was two minutes off my best, but most of that could be attributed to the slow start.
Victoria handily won the women's field, and I suspect some climbing records could fall next year if she sticks with it. The steep monotonic climbs will suit her really well.
As always, Glenn from Okemo and the Rotary Club team put on a top notch event. Very reasonably priced compared to the other climbs and at a great resort venue. The food after was perfect with healthy selections and all kinds of yummy treats. Would really like to see more people at this event next year. There's nothing to not like about it.
After eating, I split to hit the STAB trails before rained moved in. I was humbled again by the steepness and technical difficulty of these trails. The level of engineering and creative use of natural features was stunning. It just wasn't my preferred kind of riding material. Trashed legs and balding Racing Ralph tires didn't help matters. There is a lot of exposed granite to ride there. With the ground a bit moist and tires that have marginal traction when new on terrain like that, I found sections a bit terrifying.
I must say though, I could like a few trails there. The South Ridge trail was a work of beauty. I'd hit that again. Many smooth granite outcroppings were worked into that loop.
With skies getting dark and no telling how close the rain was (no 4G signal), I pulled the plug early and finished with only 14 miles and another couple thousand feet of climbing. I'd have to explore more of the trails and hit Joe's Jungle just north of there another day.