132 Miles, 14,500 Feet Vertical
Brandon, Middlebury, Lincoln, Appalachian, Roxbury, Rochester Gaps
Seventeen hardy souls converged on Rochester, Vermont for our annual 6-Gaps hillfest. The weather was unseasonably cool with only a slight chance for precipitation. This year we met at the Rochester School to accommodate all of our cars.
The ride started disjointed. A few riders went off before the main group to get a head start up Brandon Gap. Then just as the main pack rolled off a little past 9am, Mark from Maine pulls in. A few of us waited for Mark to quickly get ready. Then it was chase time. It is never a good thing to begin a long ride by immediately ramping up to near threshold pace. But the others had several minutes on us.
Just as we were about to catch most of the group halfway up Brandon, there was a crash in the main group. Nothing serious. Word is there was a bit of slinky effect going on and Clara Kelly bumped the wheel in front of her. Dan and I stopped for her while the rest of the group pressed on. Once we got Clara's shifter straightened out, it was time to chase again.
Beginning Brandon descent, Chris and Jim I think
We just about caught the main bunch again at the Roxbury summit when Brett and others were in no mood to wait. Plan was to regroup there so we could paceline to Middlebury Gap. A few of us waited for the last rider to summit before beginning the descent. We hadn't even completed one gap yet, and I was chasing to catch the main group for the third time. At bottom of Brandon descent, Grant told us to go on ahead and he'll wait for Stuart. Our small group would spend the next 10-15 miles in chase mode. We finally caught the lead group on Rt 7 just before heading up Middlebury Gap.
Group of 15 on Rt 7, with Dave Penney and Glen Fraser at the front
Middlebury is much bigger than Brandon and starts with a steep punch. This split the group up good right at the bottom (that, and half the group decided a pee break was needed). On the upper portion of the climb past the college, Jon was setting tempo. After repeated chases over Brandon, Jon's pace about killed me. I barely held his wheel summiting Middlebury. We agreed not to regroup at this summit, since the country store was all downhill at the bottom. I hit 54mph on the descent without even trying. This is the safest descent with good pavement and open road.
Group of 14 heading north on Rt 100
Fifteen riders regrouped in Hancock at the store. Dan, who has a vacation house there, had only planned to ride two gaps and was stopping there. I think it was Robert who decided Lincoln and App were not in his best interest and opted to skip them and head right for Roxbury Gap. This would bring us down to 13 riders hitting Lincoln Gap. We maintained a nice paceline up Rt 100 into a stiff wind.
Many riders in the group had not done Lincoln Gap before. Some in fact, haven't done any of the climbs. Lincoln Gap is the crown jewel of the ride. The initial steep rise from Rt 100 baits your anticipation. After a couple miles of smooth as butter gravel, you regain pavement. 6-Gaps regulars, you know the sight of pavement means 15-20 minutes of pure agony is about to begin. The current issue of Bicycling magazine listed the Warren side of Lincoln Gap as the steepest paved mile in America. Jon again set tempo on this climb. The pace was blistering (for me - I couldn't even hear him breathing!). I started to think about the rest of the ride and the day wasn't even half over. I had to back down if I wanted to finish the ride. But then we get to those nasty pitches, you know, the kind where if you stay seated each pedal stroke results in a small wheelie. Jon wasn't geared as low as me and started serpentining across the road. I slowly gained on him, passing him just before the summit. This effort still about killed me however.
Clara summiting Lincoln Gap, 4th up I believe
I think Brett was third to summit, then to my astonishment, Clara came up next. She had "girl'd" most of the guys on the steepest climb! When Clara emailed me with interest in joining our group two days before the ride, I must confess I had some reservations. First, we were a bunch of "old-fart" masters, albeit some of us pretty fast old-fart masters. I've seen some pretty strong guys bail after four gaps, so my concern was Clara getting dropped and being out there solo. But she dropped most of the guys instead. Clara won the Cat 4 women's race at Sterling a couple weeks ago, so I knew she was at least strong. I think some of the local women's hill climb records are at risk...
Solobreak summiting Lincoln Gap (in big chain ring no less)
After Middlebury, we discussed using Lincoln Gap as a natural selector in busting the group into two groups. Our stops were taking quite a bit of time with over a dozen riders waiting in line for purchases. But the group came back together at the Lincoln summit before we began the descent. Naturally, we converged on the Lincoln General store at about the same time too. Dave Foley was at this point was thinking the cut through to App Gap from Lincoln center was a good idea. But this cuts out "Baby App." 6-Gaps is NOT about seeing how to take short cuts, it's all about maximizing vertical and suffering. So after our biggest consumption food stop, we bombed the rest of the way down to Rt 17.
App Gap summit view
The group quickly busted up on Baby App. Toby was setting a blistering pace that shelled most of the riders. When we got to the main climb, I was struggling to hold Jon and Toby's wheels. They pulled away, leading the charge up the last few km's of App Gap. Toby ended up dropping something and stopped, so it was just Jon up the road. He slowly grew the gap and I had nothing in reserve to catch him. Normally we re-group at the App summit, but from the top you could see riders 10 minutes down and others still that hadn't even come into view yet. So we decided that if there was a good point to split the group, this would be it. We bombed down to Waitsfield, and like always, I scare myself good coming into the guardrail switchback sections at 50mph. With lots of traffic, I just don't mess around on these corners and slow to a conservative speed going through them. I still gained on Brett and Dave Penney though.
Jon with a "hi mom" wave at summit of App Gap
Coming up App Gap, we noticed a cop at a banged up motorcycle scene. It looked like skid marks into guardrail. Those guys on crotch rockets must hit 100mph on this road. I presume the guy standing there was the driver. Don't know why he wasn't in a body bag.
We did not spend much time at all in Waitsfield fueling up before others started rolling in. Clara was the first behind Jon, Toby, Brett, Dave and myself I think. We still decided to split at this point since the faster half of the group was ready to roll and others hadn't even rolled in yet. A few of the riders were contemplating making it a 4-gap ride and head back down Rt 100 to the cars. But the persuasion of a "B-group" forming was enough to keep everybody left on track for 6-gaps. Jim graciously agreed to lead this group. We had lost another rider at this point and had no idea where or how. I think it was Mark. Later when we got back to cars, a note said he cut the ride short.
Descent to Roxbury from top of gap with smooooooth gravel
So the A-group heads down Rt 100 for Roxbury Gap. I was still feeling pretty good. Riders tell me my reports don't do this gap justice, as it is much harder than what I make it out to be. I guess why so many find it difficult is that the grade is very persistent. It never backs off, so you can't ever let up to recover until you get to the top. It is not super steep, but a lot of the climb is dirt. Again, Jon dominated this climb. We usually don't regroup on this one, instead regrouping at the store at the bottom. The descent was spectacular and is my favorite on 6-gaps. The gravel was perfectly packed, although a couple riders complained about it being bumpy. A lot of recent rain made all the gravel sections for this year's 6-Gaps the best I've ridden on. I held speeds near 40mph for much of the dirt descent.
Even though we agreed to split in Waitsfield, riders were coming in to Roxbury quite quickly. We agreed to not split after all, as there were no more planned stops after this. The ride to Rochester Gap was mostly downhill with tail wind, so there was good chance everybody would be able to stay on. Dave Foley headed south on Rt 12a several minutes ahead of the eleven others, as he didn't want his legs tightening up again. I think the real reason was he didn't want to get girl'd again on the last gap.
The vicious wind was now our friend with it to our backs. With eleven of us, we worked up a good paceline. We held 28-30mph for long stretches at a time. This was the fastest we've ever averaged on this stretch. Otto, in his 50's, was killing the rest of us. A couple riders got dropped along the way, but everybody knew the way back from here so we kept it going. Even though Dave Foley pushed off many minutes ahead of us, I thought for sure we'd gun him down in no time at this kind of pace. Nope. We hit Randolph, banged the right onto Rt 12 and got into the rollers. It's five miles from here to Camp Brook Rd, which goes over Rochester (aka Bethel) Gap. Still no Foley. It wasn't until Camp Brook Rd came into sight that we just caught a glimpse of Dave heading up.
So the nine of us caught Dave as the climbing got underway. This was the last climb, and most riders are empty shells of human beings by this point. I was starting to cramp on Rt 12 before we got to the climb. I had fears I would have a total meltdown like I did at Everest Challenge last year. I had to keep constant pressure on the pedals. Easing up caused spasms.
As in years past, Dave Penney hits the last climb as hard as he hits the first one. The rest of us are trashed, and he's still going like the Energizer Bunny. He effortlessly rolled away from the rest of us, out of sight by the time we reached the summit. Jon and I came up together, and Clara was right behind us. That final descent felt so good, pretty near all downhill to the cars. One by one, riders came straggling in to the school with ear to ear grins.
I finished with 7:20 riding time and 130.8 miles. This is a PR finish for me, but this is due largely to riding with such a strong group. We maintained much higher speeds on the flats than in years past with small groups. Total elapsed time for first finishers was around 9:15hrs.
I was really impressed with how well the group of 12 that finished all six gaps held together. Many of the riders finished with a sub-8hr riding time. There was a great deal of diversity in the group, nearly 2:1 in age, Cat 2 men to Cat 4 women racers, and super fit recreational riders. Riders from five states participated. We experienced a minor crash, but a far as I know, there were no flats or mechanicals. Four other riders completed four gaps, and one had planned to ride just two gaps. Rain never materialized despite occasional dark clouds and a drop or two at one point. Wind shells were needed for most of the chilly descents. Only four food stops were needed due to cool weather. Although organizing a larger riding group like this can be a bit stressful, this was my most enjoyable 6-Gaps yet.