Another Hill Junkie 6-gaps ride goes down in the books. Multiple groups started at different times and places. Two groups started at the Rochester Elementary School, one at 7:30am, the other at 9am. Haven't received any reports from the 7:30 group yet. Here's how the "A" group ride went.
Twelve riders assembled for a chilly but dry start. The temperature rose into the 60's later in the morning and stayed there all day. Skies were mostly overcast. It never rained. Winds were light to moderate. This all adds up to nearly ideal 6-gaps riding conditions.
We had a diverse group of riders. A couple elite triathletes, a college Nordic ski coach and elite team cyclist, and a bunch of masters road racers. A least four of the masters are over 50 years old. The triathletes were using the ride as training for the Lake Placid Ironman. Imagine how easy those hills will be after this ride? For the curious, here's the ride roster:
Brett Rutledge (IBC/Global)
Jody Dean (IBC/Global)
Doug Jansen (IBC/Global)
Mark Luzio (Cycle Fitness)
Jon Eichman (Quad Cycles)
Dave Penney (Penney Cycles)
Andrew Gardner (Metlife)
Glen Fraser (NorEast)
Joe Kurtz (BTT)
Jeff Aronis (BTT)
Alex Combes (Cycleworx)
We roll out shortly after 9am. The pace was cordial over Brandon Gap. The last rider to crest was not more than a minute back. We ripped down towards Brandon. I hit my highest speed of the ride here, 53.1mph. We take the right on Rt 53 which goes by the scenic Lake Dunmore. Andrew lives on Middlebury Gap and recommended a minor course tweak to avoid busy Rt 7. I was game if it didn't short change the vertical for the ride. Andrew assured me it did not and we'd still pop out in East Middlebury. The re-route was perfect. We even scored a bit more dirt for the ride. We normally ride the first two gaps before we stop to refuel. So right into the Middlebury Gap climb we went.
The pace up Mid Gap was anything but cordial. We had a few strong riders in the group who planned to do only four gaps. Brandon was just a warmup. At first I tried staying with these knuckleheads. Then I started to think that normally the 6-gaps ride doesn't really start until Roxbury Gap, the fifth one. These guys will be back to their car before the rest of us hit the summit of Roxbury. I wasn't going to let testosterone driven thinking destroy my 6-gaps ride. I let them go. We crested Mid Gap in packs of 1's and 2's. The last one up was many minutes back. I didn't wait up top, as we agreed to re-group in Hancock at the feed stop. I broke 50mph again on this descent.
We got all twelve of us back together again before heading north on Rt 100 to the mother spanker of the ride, Lincoln Gap. It was not easy getting a paceline to work in this group. I could understand if the tri-guys weren't familiar with this concept, but everybody else was a veteran racer. Oh well, the socializing between gaps was quite good. 6-gaps is supposed to be a fun ride anyway, right? Except a few guys had primary agendas to derive as much "training value" as possible from doing just four gaps. This meant kill the climbs, recover in between. This didn't bode well for most of the guys doing all six gaps, as we shall see.
Summit of Lincoln Gap. A rider from another large group is on ride edge of photo. Not sure what Dan (in stars and stripes) is doing. Sneezing or singing?
We reach base of Lincoln Gap. The skies were going through phases of darkness. There was higher risk of rain later in the day. During the ride I thought we'd eventually get wet. I wouldn't have minded as long as it was after the last dirt section. Like usual, everybody has to stop and do something after cresting the little blip at the bottom of Lincoln Gap. Last year, everybody shed layers. This year it was pee breaks and shed layers. I guess there's a certain amount of anxiety in riders new to Lincoln Gap. I think of the 12 of us, seven had not ever ridden Lincoln Gap. I love taking newbies up this beast. A few say it wasn't as bad as the hype. Most say it was the most awful thing they've ridden up. A few don't clean it either. Andrew and Brett set pace initially approaching the mile long 20% wall. Andrew quickly dispatched Brett when they hit the wall. Andrew was gone. I started a ways back from Brett. I very slowly gained on him. I knew Brett would be interval'ing this to see what kind of average wattage could be tallied. As I caught Brett on the 22% section, Dave hollers out a "YEAH BABY!" from below. These is a catch phrase we use on epic rides when the grade is about to kick somebodies butt. This always bugs Brett, especially today. When I reached the summit, Andrew was already rested. We waited even longer up top this one for the last guy to come up. I believe two failed to clean it. Chalk it up to too big of gears.
Lincoln Gap road block
The descent to Lincoln was a little nastier than average. Plenty of loose washboard was to be had. After racing 40-50mph on loose gravel at Battenkill this year, I was not too scared to let it rip just a little. I passed Andrew and Dave before picking up pavement. I again hit 50+ mph on the paved section of this descent. We stopped at the Lincoln General Store. It was so cool out I barely touched my water since Hancock. We probably could have continued on to Appalachian Gap without stopping. Jeff Aronis was late rolling in. He had an incredible story. Seems he was a bit off the back when a bull moose decided to park in the road. Jeff ended up in a close proximity stare down with the monster! He didn't know if he should run or what. One thing was sure, he wasn't riding his bike back up Lincoln Gap. Eventually the moose wandered off the road. Jeff was then able to get a cell phone camera shot from a safe distance.
Summit of Roxbury Gap looking east.
My legs were feeling pretty peculiar by this point. I'm starting to worry that I've been detrimentally influenced by the 4-gap riders. I think others were feeling the same. We soldier on. Brett and Andrew again take off on Baby App. Now the rest of us weren't exactly slouching along. I thought to myself his pace was not sustainable. Sure enough, we reeled Brett in before cresting Baby App.
Beginning the last few km of App Gap, we pass another rider heading up. I knew we were getting closer to the B-group that left at 7:30, as the Lincoln General store said they left less than 30 minutes after we got there. The rider we caught up to was Dave Snapp, who started witht he B-group. He came up from Virginia for the ride. His ride didn't go very well, splitting from the group on Mid Gap. The C-group and lower gears might have been a better match. It is really hard to determine how a rider is going to do on 6-gaps without having ridden with them on hills or having a benchmark reference like a Mt Washington finishing time. Being from Virginia, Dave and I didn't have a solid common reference point. He's done some pretty serious gap type rides down his way in prep for 6-gaps. But it seems much of the B-group was wicked strong. Each of the last three years we've had multiple riders get shelled on the first or second gap. I feel badly when this happens. I haven't figured out a sure-fire way to prevent it when extending an open invite for others to join the ride.
After riding with Dave Snapp for several minutes, the hammerheads in my group were well gone. I wasn't going to see how the final gap throw-down played out. Apparently Brett blew up, Dave Penney passed him. I can only assume Andrew crested well before anybody else. I did not stop at the summit. There were still a few A-group riders behind me even though I soft pedaled for many minutes. I bombed down to Waitsfield, our third feed stop. I was now four for four on 50+ mph descents.
Andrew was the only one there when I arrived in Waitsfield. Others slowly trickled in. Once the full gang arrived, there was whining and sobbing in the ranks. I believe only four guys, Brett, Jody, Dave and Mark, had planned to stop after four gaps. But now three more were calling it quits! That left just a skeleton crew to finish out the last two gaps. It can be a sweet thing with a big pack pace-lining down Rt 12a, but we had mostly wrecked riders trying to salvage a 6-gap ride. So seven riders head south on Rt 100, 20 miles south to the cars. The rest of us also head south on Rt 100 to pick up Roxbury Gap.
By now it was clear that it wasn't going to rain. We were even seeing bits of sun. It was very pleasant out. Too bad we were in a world of hurt. Starting out at the base of Roxbury Gap, Andrew flats. Nasty piece of wire, maybe from steel belt radial tire. Turns out his spare tube had a defect in it and didn't hold air at all. The flat took a while to fix. I was really hoping to catch the B-group. We might have been as close as 10 minutes behind them when we hit the gas station in Waitsfield. Throw in food stop time and flat repair time, we might have been back to 25 minutes behind them. I thought we'd only see them back at the cars now. We could see at least five sets of tracks going up Roxbury's dirt.
You can tell when riders reach their limit. Everybody might summit the first climb or two together, then you see a rider drop back two minutes on the next one, then 10 minutes on the next one after that. I still did ok on this gap, but I bet Glen and Joe were beginning to ponder the depths of their soul on Roxbury. To me, Roxbury Gap is where the ride really starts. It is where the mental toughness parts must kick in or it is all over. My legs were beginning to feel a tad noodly. I sure hoped it wasn't a precursor to cramping. The gravel was in excellent shape. I broke 43mph on it. I did fail to break 50mph on this descent, however.
We stopped a final time at the general store in Roxbury. To my surprise, the cashier hadn't seen any cyclists lately. The B-group didn't stop. Going from Waitsfield all the way back is a long haul without stopping I thought. There was another opportunity to stop in Randolph though. In Roxbury, I was craving something, but couldn't put my finger on it. Chips for sodium? A milk product for protein? I saw Andrew grab a can of Sardines off the shelf. Hmmm... I got some too. Salty and almost pure protein. That precisely hit the spot. Andrew said he would eat sardines every four hours when he was doing 24hr races. A little protein during long rides like this is needed.
We carry on, heading south on Rt 12a. To our dismay, it was into the wind. Joe was pretty much spent and I suggested he just sit on and let me, Andrew, Glen and Alex do the work. We got a respectable effort going, taking one minute pulls or so. Nothing like the 28-30mph we did the whole way last year. As we blew through Randolph, Alex saw another small group of riders at a food stop. After we passed, it occurred to us it was quite likely the remnants of the B-group. We decided to keep going and end this ride that was encroaching on deathmarch territory.
Summit of Rochester Gap looking east. Taken on way home.
Turning onto Camp Brook Rd (Rochester Gap), it didn't take long for Alex and Andrew to ride away from me. I was spent. Apparently Joe recovered nicely on 20 miles of Rt 12a. He stayed very nearly with me all the way up. Glen was not much further behind. I crested alone. The sky was clearing. The view to the south was gorgeous. I kept going. I realized on my plummet back to the cars, it might my personal best 6-gaps time yet. I made sure I kept my speed topped off, but not until after the best chance to hit 50mph. Thus I didn't break 50mph on this one either. I did catch Alex and Andrew on the way down, almost blew right through them in fact. I turned into the school with 7 hours, 19 minutes elapsed time on my GPS. That is one minute faster than last year. We took a small amount of distance out with Andrew's secret cut-through, so it isn't exactly apples to apples. Glen also took minutes off his prior best. Alex would have had a very similar time to mine. I bet Andrew was around 7hrs, and we no doubt slowed him down in between the climbs.
Back in the lot I met Sven Stoltz. He was part of a three-man group that split off ahead of the rest of the B-group. His riding time was a very respectable 8:07. I could see how other riders in that group expecting closer to a 9-10hr pace would have trouble. Sven was still waiting for another rider with the rest of the group, which still hadn't showed up when we left for sandwiches. Triathletes Joe and Jeff actually made a last minute decision to switch from B-group to A-group. This was based on getting an additional 1.5hrs of sleep, not necessarily looking for a faster paced ride. Jeff rolled back with the other 4-gappers. Joe handled our 6-gap pace very well. I've ridden 6-gaps with Glen more than any other rider. Maybe he's not the first rider to the top of each climb, but he seems indefatigable. He's 53! He's certainly pulled my sorry carcass along on Rt 12a several times. I had no doubt Alex would kick butt on this ride. He was one of the fastest finishers at D2R2 last year. He will no doubt be a podium contender at hillclimb races this year.
There are several reasons I extend an open invite for 6-gaps each year. One is to share the passion of riding. Many riders are seeking challenges greater than a local charity century ride. Racers seek a hard training ride that breaks the monotony of their local rides. 6-gaps has incredible scenery, low traffic, and presents most riders with the hardest thing they've ever done on a bike. Another reason I like to invite others to join is I meet some pretty amazing people. Andrew Gardner lives just off Middlebury Gap. He is head Nordic coach at Middlebury College. Not only is he an accomplished skier, in just a few years into cycling, he has a spot on one of the region's strongest elite teams. You won't meet a nicer guy on two wheels. Andrew will be showing his team the gaps in a couple weeks for some focused training. I can't even imagine what that pace will be like.
We had two Garmin's out on the ride. They were amazingly close in terms of distance, vertical and instantaneous grades measured. Here are some highlights for stats geeks.
Max sustained grades:
Lincoln Gap 22%
Appalachian Gap 19%
Roxbury Gap 17%
Rochester Gap 17%
Total climbing: 11,700ft
Distance: 130 miles
Measured profile. Brandon, Middlebury, Lincoln, Appalachian, Roxbury and Rochester Gaps.
I'm going to downgrade this ride from 14,500ft as shown on the northeastcycling.com website to 11,700ft. Topo is just wrong here. I trust these newer generation GPS devices with barometric altimeters on this type of terrain. They can undermeasure in some cases, but only on continuous small rollers. 6-gaps has little of that.
I also came away from this year's 6-gaps ride with a lesson learned. Don't do 6-gaps with others riding a 4-gap pace. Good chance you will be destroyed after 4-gaps, as that is their pacing objective. I prefer to treat 6-gaps as fun ride first, training ride second. I much prefer to keep its training value dubious at best. I can hammer out intervals on my lunch break during the week. I don't get to ride 6-gaps every week. I'm not sure who won the kilojoule battle. Dave and Brett had nearly identical TSS's, 409.2 and 409.1 respectively, and very similar total kilojoules expended, around 4500. That is a lot of slices of pizza! I didn't want to get caught up in the Watt-o-meter slug fest, so I left my little yellow unit at home.
After Glen, Alex, Andrew and I devoured sandwiches and icecream, we went separate ways home. I was nearly OD'd on endorphins. For some reason or another, the stations I tuned into were playing everything from 1981 - Tom Petty, Eric Clapton, Queen and more. Thought surely I was 18 again, transported back to my senior year in high school. I melted into the music. It cost good money back in the day to feel this way. Now I just have to ride my bike over a few hills.