5.8 miles, 2100ft gain in last 3.8 miles
Despite rigorous attempts to fight off a cold, I was unsuccessful dodging the bullet this time. We're not talking the full-blown, knock you flat out kind of cold here. But the throbbing head, sore throat, achy-noodly legs were enough for me to contemplate bagging this hillclimb. It was a "C" race for me, and I did encourage many others to give Okemo a try, so I felt obligated to race anyway.
My warmup was brief and rather hard from the start. I did a couple repeats up the lower portion of Ridge Rd that took just over 15 minutes. Rain was in the area, and the summit of the mountain was completely socked in with clouds. It was hard to say if it was wet up there or not. It was very humid out, but the temp was manageable around 70F. For such a short event, I wasn't too worried about thermally blowing up.
Before getting sick, I thought I had a chance for an overall win when looking over the pre-reg list. Of the names I recognized plus a few I researched, there appeared to be no threats. Then the morning of the race, Brett Rutledge calls and was wondering about the Bikereg.com kid. I looked up his USCF results. Crap. A few years ago Ross Krause placed 2nd in the P/1/2 prologue hillclimb at GMSR. So much for an overall.
This race is unlike most other hillclimbs, as it starts out like a regular road race with a pack and drafting. There's two miles of flat before the climb begins. Us faster guys got to line up at the front, a semi self seeding with some race director guidance. Nobody was willing to hammer those first two miles. There were about six of us rotating in paceline with the remaining 50 riders of the race in tow. We cruised about 23mph and were talking. Once rounding the corner for the 3.8mi climb to the summit, the hammer dropped.
Many riders went way too hard on the first two walls right at the bottom. I was about 8 back. The deal was, I couldn't be sure if it was me from being ill or the others just going plain stupid hard into the climb. Turns out it was not me. Slowly but surely I began reeling guys in. I went from 8th to 5th position in about 5 minutes. Rider in number four position dangled in front of me for half the race. This was Jeff Johnson (Battenkill-United). On a flatter piece halfway up, he took the bait and let up a bit. I passed him, but now I had a shadow. With tail wind on this part, he had no drafting benefit whatsoever, so I was confident eventually he'd roll off my wheel. He did ever so slowly. I'm still holding my pace as we ascend into the clouds. Just as sight of Jeff became obscure, I could barely make out another rider behind him. Could this rider be gaining on both of us? There was no way I was going to pick up my pace to be sure to hold my position. Hillclimbs don't work that way. What I could be sure of though, is to maintain my power output on the less steep parts. I have lots of gears on my bike, and I used them. Too many hillclimbers, even experienced ones, let up on the less steep parts. If you've been holding a given power for the last 5 minutes, don't give seconds back to the clock by dropping your power by 30% when grade eases a bit!
With a mile to go, no riders were visible behind me in dense cloud cover, and guy in number three spot was just slipping out of visibility in front of me. It looks like my position in number four spot was secure. With the visibility down to about 50ft, I had to keep the power up because I really couldn't be sure how far back anybody was. I didn't let up until I passed the 250 yards (yes, yards, not meters) to go sign. I finished in 32:29.9 minutes. I had estimated the race would take me 33-35 minutes depending on how slow the first two miles went. I was near the verge of puking for the last five minutes, so it was so nice to stop.
So who were the guys in front of me? First place went to David Glen from Warren, VT. Really can't find much on this 29 year old kid. I already mentioned Ross Krause, age 28, Cat 1, finishing 2nd. In third, who dangled just in front of me for most of the climb, was Ethan Gilmour in USA National Team kit. He is only 18 and represented the USA at the 2006 'cross worlds on the junior team. Skinny whippett kids. Sick or not sick, I doubt I could have done any better placing in this race. Quite happy with the result.
Turns out five riders from this year's 6-gaps ride were here. Four of us made age group podium. Brett was second on the podium with me for 40+ group. Dave Penney and Glen Fraser also made their age group podiums. Perhaps rides like 6-gaps are not of dubious training value after all.
As the awards were wrapping up, the skies opened up. Buckets-o-rain. We drove two hours non-stop in this stuff heading home. Looking at radar, Claremont, NH could get a couple inches. Combine this with feeling icky, the planned EFTA mountain bike race there ain't going to happen for me Sunday morning.
The Okemo Race for Grace went off without a hitch. The open roads portion of the race were well marshaled. BBQ after the race was excellent. We were under huge metal roof over tennis courts for the food and awards. Nice bathroom facilities too. It is an excellent venue for a hillclimb race. Next year the race may be held earlier in the day. Hope this draws a bigger crowd. Many thanks to organizers Jack Dortch and Glenn Deruchie (who ran the Killington Stage Race years ago).