Monday, September 1, 2008

Race to the Top of Vermont

What a weekend for riding here in the northeast, eh? I got in so much riding that I have enough blog fodder for a week's worth of posting.

Mt Mansfield Hillclimb
Saturday was the first annual Race to the Top of Vermont hillclimb in Stowe, Vermont. It ascends the toll road to the summit of Mt Mansfield, a 2550ft/4.3mi climb. Bikes have not been allowed on this road until this event. Local riders may get away with poaching a climb every now and then, but this is not something I would risk. The first 0.3 miles is paved, the remaining 4+mi gravel. It is very steep in spots and can be loose and wash-boarded up. Most riders are expected to ride their bikes back down after the race. For this reason, race organizers required fat tire equipment, minimum 2" tire width. This kept the playing field equal and the decent safe. One finisher was penalized for having <2" tire width.

The wall at the start. No mercy for those not warmed up.

I warmed up on Smugglers Notch road for about 30 minutes, getting in only a couple hard efforts for 60 seconds or so. The rest of the time I was soft pedalling or tempo pace at best. The race was both bike and foot. The cyclists went off at 10am, the runners at 10:10. Riders went off in single, big wave. I went to front. I recognized only one rider here, Diana from the hillclimb circuit. It seemed weird lining up with MTBs on pavement that aimed straight up the fall line of Mt Mansfield. Pavement soon gives way to dirt, however. With GMSR going on, I would assume most here were mountain bikers. Not too many roadies MTB anyway. There were many full suspension bikes present, a few rigid rigs, and a number of carbon hardtails. I was on my Dean Ti hardtail with Fox fork that locks out. It weighs at least 25 lbs I believe.

The race starts and over a dozen riders go ballistic. I thought I had shot for overall win here, but I kept my blinders on to ignore this foolishness. I told myself "I'll see you guys later," as in when you implode and I pass you. This is typical MTB race style. The race is backwards. The sprint is at the start, and they wind down (bonk) for the finish. Mountain bikers would benefit by taking Time Trialing 101.

A mile or so into the dirt, I was picking off riders. I quickly moved into 6th position overall. Catching guys in 3th and 4th proved to be hard. I passed them somewhere around the half way point. Then I was on 2nd place guy's wheel. Apparently he would have none of it and picked the pace up a tad. I figured the race would take about 32 minutes or so based on Ascutney time. I was way off. Knobbies on loose gravel with heavy bike is way slower. I was pacing for an Ascutney duration but soon realized I went out too hard. If I didn't want to implode and lose many positions, I had to back down a notch. I figured 3rd overall is not a bad place to be anyway.

Looking down towards Smugglers Notch.

Having never done this climb, it was all new and full of surprises. It was more punishing than Ascutney. The grade varies something fierce. It seems it was either 12-15% or 5%. Never steady, and I could not find a steady groove to get into. It was deep into the red zone on short, steep pitches or sub threshold on less steep pitches. I really couldn't shift gears fast enough. I must have made many hundreds of gear transitions during the climb. About 3/4 of the way up, we get into some serious switchbacks. The grade was all steep here, maybe 14-15%. The claimed max grade was 10 degrees, which is over 17% grade. There were many places it could have been this steep. Number two guy (who wore no shirt and was 100% lean muscle mass) dangled not far in front of me. To my horror, guys in 4th and 5th position were gaining on me. I was now past the 30 minute mark and still had a long ways to go. I definitely over cooked this one. I was still managing to stay out of my granny ring.

Finally I hear the crowd up top and I knew the end was near. A couple more nasty steep chicanes brought the finish into view. I crossed the line at 39:08 on my computer (40:08 on timing clock). This was about 2min back on winner and less than a minute back from 2nd place. I easily won my 40-49 year old age division. I finished the climb never using my granny ring, going down only to a 32:32 ratio. Other riders noted a one minute diparity between posted time and their own recorded time. Wonder if this will be corrected in final results?

To my surprise, runners were only a few minutes behind me. They started 10 minutes back. Yes, I got beat by runners. I did an analysis a while back that shows runners achieve parity with cyclists at about 17% grade. That is, the best runners will match the time of the best cyclist when the grade reaches 17%. Less steep, cyclists are faster. But this was for paved surfaces with road bikes. Mansfield was a loose dirt surface, with heavier mountain bikes and wide tires. The fastest runner almost beat the fastest cyclist. It seems parity on dirt is achieved at a much less steep grade, more like 12%.

The talent here was impressive. There were Olympians, masters world champions, and 2010 Olympic hopefuls, all from the Nordic skiing world. Most of the talent was in the foot race. Apparently a lot of them run for cross training. The guy that came in second ahead of me is a biathlete and hopes to make the 2010 team. That explained his upper physique. He was big too, I'd say at least 180 lbs.

The food afterwards at the Matterhorn was excellent: two kinds of fresh pizza, two kinds of pasta, rolls and salad. An entertaining incident at our table occured when the guy across from me made reference to that "crazy guy" with the climbing website. Diana pointed out to him that "crazy guy" was me. It took a long time to get awards going. I had planned to mountain bike nearby in the afternoon, but I wanted to see what the prizes were going to be. Top three in each age category got Darn Tough merino wool cycling socks and a mug. Nice stuff. With our race packet we also got a Pearl Izumi running jersey (great for rollerskiing or hiking) and a Catamount Trail guide book. This event appeared to go off without a hitch with around 200 athletes. Very impressive for a first time at this venue. I'll definitely be looking for this on next year's calender. I was now way late for phase two of the day's plan, trail riding at the Millstone trails in Barre.

Millstone Trails, Barre, VT
I had heard new trails were popping up in various places in Vermont, including here. The deal with Vermont is this. They simply don't allow mountain bikes on state or federal land. Yet smoky snowmobiles have pretty much free range in the winter. Go figure. Vermont is supposed to be a progressive "Green" state, but not when it comes to bicycles in the woods. So associations of private land owners are popping up to develop trails and the tourism that it draws. The Kingdom Trails are a prime example. In fact, this is where I planned to go until the latest issue of NEMBA Singletracks showed up in the mail a few days ago. The feature story covered the Millstone Trails. This was right on my way home and claimed 70 miles worth of riding!

The Grand Lookout.

When riding private association trails, you generally need to buy a trail pass. At Millstone, this is $8 for the day. I got there at 3pm and quickly hit the trail. The map and markings on the ground are superb. Generally, fee areas provide this. Public lands often have poor to non-existent markings. The trail network here is nearly overwhelmingly dense. Many intersections, many options. Map and markers are color coded, green=easy, blue=intermediate, and red=expert. I found the trails here to be much more challenging than the Kingdom Trails. Expert trails had features I wussed out on, while there are no features on the "Black" trails at Kingdom Trails I wuss out on. You could die here too. The whole area winds through 1500 acres of quarry. There are shear drops of 100ft or more in places.

I rode for 2.5hrs but only covered 17.8mi. Yeah, it was that technical. Dark shades and running out of sunlight didn't help either. My favorite trail was Fellowship Ring. It is several miles of addictively fun stuff. It is a "Red" trail, but there was only one section I did not attempt. There were a few sections of ledgy slickrock I cleaned but should not have attempted riding solo late in the day. Don't tell my wife. I'll definitely have to come back here, bringing more riders in tow. This is a destination park, where you can make a full day out of it. One group I encountered were French speaking, so folks from Quebec are going the extra distance to come down this way. There is a big race here next weekend, called the Millstone Grind. I could not imagine doing 35 miles on this stuff. It would take me over 4hrs.

That's a wrap for Saturday. I hit three more riding areas in NH with the MTB on Sunday for 60 miles and 5 hours of riding bliss. These too, were new to me. Details forthcoming.


Dave said...

Nice write up and congrats on a strong finish. Can't wait to give it a go next year on my rigid niner.

Peter said...

cool write up Doug, seems we had a similar experience with course, mine was just a bit longer ;)

note on the competition, there were also some CYCLING World champs there (she's also a previous MT.Washington record holder), and I think one of the guys is a previous masters CX national champ.
Also a few mtb'ers that have placed in NORBA nationals.

Competition like that, even though the GMSR was on the same day, pretty cool.

steveyo said...

Nice write-up, Doug. Also, congrats on a great finish!

My buddy Geoff set a 1:08 time to beat for the unicycle record which I might have a go at next year.

Anonymous said...

Thats me crossing the line.

And, no, I wasn't bonking, just slow and steady (obviously slower than you). My goal was to not get passd by the uni's...

Mission accomplished!