The August racers finally got a pristine day. Well, most of the racers did. There were some brief sprinkles in the area before the race, enough to make the roads wet. But the summit was visible and winds practically non-existent. Temp was about 60 at the base too. We hadn't had it this good in at least 6 years.
I had no goal for Mt Washington this year. Having just PR'd at Mt Equinox and seeing favorable conditions, I thought prospects were decent for a PR here too. I had bike setup a little differently than in past (see prior post).
The race started an hour later than prior years with Top Notch going off at 8:40am. Several guys lined up across the front were from Colorado. The loud cannon goes off, and there wasn't the usual insane attack from the get go. Everybody pretty much eased into the climb, surprisingly. I settled into 13th place as the grade got steep. Gerry Clapper (Benidorm) and Steve Gatzos (BRC) were well ahead of me, Steve setting a blistering pace hanging with overall contenders.
By mile two, I had moved into 9th place overall. This started to mess with my head. I knew there were a lot of strong local and out of state guys here, yet I was looking at potentially a top 10 finish. I didn't feel like was even going that hard.
Approaching mile 3, I was gaining on Ian Gordon (Arc en Ciel) who beat me at Equinox. Now I'm starting to think I'm going too hard. I thought there's no way I'm going to stay ahead of Ian and take 8th place or better on this mountain. I was getting fairly warm as the sun was coming out and there was no wind at all. But I never felt better on this climb and was beginning to believe I was going to have the climb of my life.
Then it happened. A heinous loud snap from the rear wheel. This was the same sound when I snapped a spoke at Burke Mtn last fall. Sure as shit, my wheel was rubbing both the seat and chain stays badly. My bike was unrideable. I had no tools. The wheel was so badly out of true I couldn't even turn it by hand. Limited spoke wheels do this when high tension spokes pop. I didn't have brake pads on the rear to contend with this time, but the chain stays are quite narrow at the bottom bracket. I was utterly devastated. At first I tried to bend the wheel into true with my hands and then offset it in the dropouts to keep it from rubbing. It did not work. The wobble was so bad it would hit both chain stays. I stopped again. I've built and trued wheels many times now. I have a knack for how they behave. So how do you true a stubborn wheel with no tools? You use your carbon frame as a truing jig and slam the crap out of the wheel against the pavement. Oh, do this while letting out a verbal tirade too. All the riders passing me stayed well clear. I'm sure they thought I was having a shit fit. I was, I suppose, but the bike slamming was a "precisely" calibrated attempt to make my bike rideable again. I had to get to the top, as my wife is way to scared to drive back down the mountain. The slamming worked, marginally. When I got back on the bike, it was just clearing the chain and seat stays. It did starte rubbing again after a mile or so, but not badly.
So the race was back on for me. I had pretty much written off any respectable finish. At least 8 guys passed me in the 60 to 90 seconds I spent stopping twice to mess with bike. I gave the rest of the race my best shot, figuring I tapered for a hard ride and I had a lot more frustration to vent. Might was well vent it with my legs on the bike. I started passing guys again, for the second time. One or two I never saw again.
I did not run any electronics on my bike. I figured I'd be looking at something like 1:08 crossing the line. I was flabbergasted to see 1:05:33 crossing the line, a new PR. Plus Cathy told me I was 8th from the Top Notch wave. There must have been faster riders in waves further back, as I came in 10th overall out of nearly 600 finishers. This too is my best placing in this race. So either my fitness has taken a quantum jump this season for no apparent reason or the conditions were just so fast. I think its a little of both actually. You see, some lengthy stretches of gravel from the 2006 race (my previous PR) are now paved. Asphalt always rolls faster than gravel. But this year's gravel was almost as good as riding pavement too. Factor in negligible wind and ideal temps, you have a recipe for PR's. Several riders I talked to in fact PR'd today.
I predicted Steve Gatzos and Gerry Clapper would come in under and hour. Both did. Steve gave the fastest guys on the course a run for their money, coming in third overall with a 57:33, only 2:36 minutes back. Gerry came in 5th overall with 59:48, winning my 45+ age group handily by over 4 minutes. A couple other fast guys in my age group knocked me off the podium, one from Colorado.
So the race was only half the story today. The weather as last finishers were summiting was the other half. Shortly after I finished, a dark cloud began to form at the summit. Bits of rain could be felt. The temp dropped. It got darker, visibility went down, then it began to really rain. But that ain't enough on Mt Washington. You got to throw in hail. Buckets of hail pea to marble size. Where there were once hundreds of racers and spectators became wide open space. It must have hailed for 20 minutes, making the walk down to the car dicy with all the ice on the road. While we're walking down, lightning split the sky. Terrific, we're on the highest peak in 2000 miles in a lightning and hail storm going hypothermic. It was so cold. Yet there were many racers still coming up in this stuff. Many were walking, some in short sleeves. I heard from one later at the bottom that tires were slipping in the hail.
It was warmer at the bottom for lunch, but the rain and thunder continued for a while. The lunch was excellent as always. Hart's does an awesome job with this. As soon as results were posted, I had to split to catch a plane. Four more storm cells, one with extreme hail on the Kanc, made for slow going. I get to airport a little late, get boarding pass with no seat number on it because flight is over booked, and the girl does not know how to check a bike in. I stood at the ticket desk for 45 minutes. My plane was boarding by the time I went through security. Like I didn't have enough stress for one day. I was quite sure my bike was not going to make it, but I saw it go up the belt into the plan. Boy that was close. I'm in Minnesota now and Sunday looks like a good day to ride here. It will be at least 40 degrees hotter than the summit of Mt Washington.
I should have known better than to risk those Velomax Ascent-II wheels again. This is third time I broke a spoke in the rear wheel. Only drive side are crossed and thus transfer power and this is side breaking. First time, it's a fluke. Second time, the design is faulty and I should have gotten ride of them. Third time, I'm a loser for not getting rid of them. Anybody want a Velomax wheelset cheap? Actually, I think the rear wheel is beyond repair now. I may consider a set of carbon (gasp) tubulars for climbing next year.
This race put me through the ringer today. I go from abysmal forecast to conditions looking best ever. Then I'm having my best climb ever and the bike craps out on me. Recover from that to claim another PR. That just led to the next stress riser trying to get everything on a plane in time.