The Whiteface Mountain Hillclimb kicked off the 2009 BUMPS Challenge Saturday evening. Whiteface has a slightly different character than the other climbs in the series. It has nothing to do with the fact it's only 8% average grade. It has to do with where it is located. Lake Placid draws athletes from around the world. It is a winter Olympic training center, and it is home to the grueling Lake Placid Ironman, whose road course entails 8000ft of climbing. So the Whiteface hillclimb draws in some serious talent. The skiers may use cycling as cross training, while the triathletes may be in the area for a weekend of training on the Ironman course and drop into the hillclimb race to see what they can do
Do they deliberately make signs this confusing to keep the rest of the world outside of the empire state? You are going north on 9 at the same time as going south on 9N!
The weather was nearly ideal. Temp in high 60's at the bottom, much colder up top, no rain, calm winds, but pretty humid. I thought risk of overheating was pretty low. I've thermally blown up in a big way in this race before.
Hard to say how many were there. Easily over 200. Most mailed in registration, so the 107 on Bikereg.com were a small percentage. On the woman's side, Sue Schlatter and Marti Shea were there, both in my age group and overall female contenders on Mt Washington. These women are wicked fast, even relative to pro's in their 20's. The only male contender I knew going into the race that I had to watch out for was Charley Casey. He beats me on some of the climbs. There would no doubt be other contenders I did not know or that mailed in their pre-reg. I was second overall here one year, so I like to know who my competition is at the line.
There is no "Top Notch" elite category here like on Mt Washington. Everybody goes off in age groups. The 40-49 age group is always the biggest. I bet there were 100 riders. I lined up at the front. With about a minute to go, a guy lines up in front of me. Teammate Brett Rutledge asked "hey, are you Duncan Douglas?" He was. Crap. Duncan is a former Olympian ('92 & '94 biathlon) and is in a rigorous training program to regain world class condition. He finished 5th overall at the American Birkie this year. He just won the foot race up Whiteface last week. I figured Duncan and Charlie would put me down to 3rd in age group at best now and certainly off the overall podium.
We go off. Duncan drills it. After a few hundred meters, we get into the 9% grade. It's Duncan leading and I've got his wheel with a long single file string behind us. I do not use a power meter racing. Brett, further back in this melee, said we were doing like 400W. It did not take long before Duncan and I had a nice gap to the next guy, who was Charlie Casey. Charlie hung just a few seconds back by himself for a long time. We were going so fast up this grade that I was deriving draft benefit from Duncan. But eventually he started doing a lot of alternating standing and seated climbing. When he sat, he slowed slightly. I came around him several times but my power would go up maybe 20W with the wind I was taking at 10-12mph riding speed. There was negligible headwind. At about the two mile mark, I actually drew a sizable gap on Duncan. Charlie was drifting further back. I now began to realize I was having a very good day, and a new PR was a strong possibility. That was all that really mattered to me going into this race.
At one point I had 50-100ft on Duncan. As we approached the toll house, the grade slackens, and so did my power. I knew full well I was riding at a pace that could not be sustained, but I was deriving enough aerodynamic and psychological benefit interacting with Duncan that I think it was worth it in the end. Normally I try to completely ignore other riders during a hillclimb. Duncan caught me before the toll house, about 3 miles into the 8 mile climb. I got back on his wheel, thinking the grade is slack for the next half mile or so and that was a good place to be. When the grade got steep again, Duncan put in a long out of the saddle burst. Earlier, most of these were short and I'd quickly get back on his wheel by maintain my steady, seated pace. But this one drew a large gap, and my pace did not get me back up to him. It was time to pay back the kJ's I borrowed in the first two miles.
A truck was waiting at the toll house for Duncan to come through. It stayed just ahead of him for the remaining 5 miles of the climb with his kids cheering him on. I heard "go dad, go, go, go!" at least 500 times, or about every two seconds for the next 25 minutes. It became annoying after a while. Some race video from Duncan's son shows on his blog. Not sure if I'm the ghost rider just as he enter the clouds.
Duncan very slowly pulled away while I continued to put time on Charlie. It looked like a second place finish in the 40+ group was secure. We had passed nearly all of the under 30 and 30+ riders staged 10 and 5 minutes ahead of us. I was alone in a dark, dreary world. Now it was going to be a matter of finishing time.
The clouds grew very thick as we approached the summit, maybe only 50ft visibility. After rounding the final switchback, I could hear the crowd at the finish cheering the first couple riders to come through. This really psyched me up. It is cool to hear it but not see it through the clouds. I stood to hammer what was left in my legs, which surprisingly was a lot. I crossed the timing chip mats in 48:17. I was super psyched. My prior best was 49:59.6. I crushed my PR from three years ago. Duncan came through less than a minute ahead of me, and Charlie was less than a minute behind me.
Just below the cloud deck around 4000ft
As Duncan posted in his blog, his average power was 344W. Based on small differences in weight and finishing time, I estimate my average power would have been about 347W, or about 4.7W/kg for a 48 minute effort. This really blows me away. I've never been this strong. I plan to put a subsequent post together with my speculations into why this is happening.
It is interesting to note that Duncan finished 47:22 in the Ski to the Clouds Mt Washington race, about the same time as his Whiteface bike climb finish. I can finish less than a minute from Duncan on the bike, but on skis I am 15 minutes back! I surely would like to improve upon that. We talked a while after the race. He commented he could give me some pointers some time. Really nice guy and a doctor too.
We were all gathered at the BBQ afterwards, waiting forever. This is the third race so far this season where I waited forever for results. An announcement was made that the results were not going to be posted that night. In fact, the chip timing system had failed. There was just dead silence with that remark. Chip timing is supposed to prevent these kinds of things from happening. They said a back-up camera system was used and they would extract results from it. Not a good way to start off a championship series. The Battenkill road race also totally botched up their results, and I believe many discrepancies were never resolved in that race. I left not very optimistic.
So as I'm typing this, results arrive by email. Looks like at least the top finishers are correct. I came in 4th overall out of 216 finishers, missing 3rd by just seconds. The overall winner was Cameron Cogburn, a young elite rider, who finished in just under 44 minutes. On the women's side, Sue Schlatter finished in 49:42 minutes! She's over 40 and finished 7th overall! A lot of strong guys got girled by a 46 year old woman. Sue's W/kg for this duration is no doubt world class for her age. Since Duncan took first in the foot and second overall in the bike race, he will earn the crown for this duo series.
This was perhaps my most thrilling hillclimb race to date, and I've done a lot of them over the last 10 years. Being able to mix it up with other incredible athletes brings an added level of excitement over besting my previous best. The hillclimbing clan is a special breed of cyclist too. It was good to talk with many acquaintences I see only at these events. The Okemo Mtn hillclimb is next weekend. Some fast guys will be there. I can already predict first and second place finishers from the Bikereg list.
So how do you top off a great hillclimb race? Get up early the next morning and climb the mountain again before the toll gates open. Brett and I did a sub-hour, more recreationally paced climb at 7am. The cloud deck was below 3000ft and it was drizzly in spots, but otherwise a fine morning for a climb to revive the legs.