I registered last minute for the Newton's Revenge hillclimb race up Mt Washington. In part, I wanted to claim a BUMPS leaders jersey, and while I'm at it, I might was well defend it for as long as I can. The week leading into Newton's was a typical training week for me. I have one or two races every weekend for the next six weeks or so. They can't all be "A" events, else I would lose too much fitness by Mt Washington in August or the fall MTB events. Thus Newton's was relegated to "training race" status. As such, I wanted to keep costs as low as possible by driving up the morning of the race. I don't think I slept more than 3hrs before getting up at 4am. Cathy and I were out the door by 4:15am. I had no idea it starts getting light out right around then.
The Newton's race draws fewer competitors than the August event. Newton's registration opens only after the Washington event fills. Thus it is somewhat of an overflow race. Many racers I talked to like the low key nature of Newton's. Percentage wise, Newton's still draws comparable mix of skill levels as the big race.
We found another rider to take down after the race so Cathy didn't have to pay driving up (take two or more down and it's free). I did my usual warmup, about 20-25 minutes of light tempo with two bursts at threshold to open the legs. Lining up, I'd guess there were only 20-30 of us in "Top Notch" field. Overall contenders I recognized were Anthony Colby (Colavita) from Colorado, and local women Marti Shea and Karen Smyers. Anthony and Marti took top honors last year at Newton's. BUMPS contenders Jeff Johnson and David Liebow also registered in the last days and lined up with me.
Lining up. I'm sportin' the BUMPS leader jersey. Marti Shea is next to me. She can kick your butt.
Photo: Newton's Revenge website.
The cannon goes off. It wasn't a few feet away like at Okemo two weeks ago. Still scares the crap out of you even though the countdown is spot-on at Washington. We peel off on the 50m of flat before saying goodbye to anything less than 6% for over an hour. Acceleration on the flat wasn't that crazy. Nobody is going to take a minute off their time here. Not even five seconds. I was very careful to keep a lid on the first five minutes. Slightly disconcerting was that Jeff stuck to my wheel like flies on a cow pie. I know he tends to go out too hard, so I worked seriously hard to not get manipulated into going any harder than I was. Going purely by perceived effort here, that is so hard to do. Maybe 10 minutes/first mile in, a gap starts to grow between Jeff and I. That took a little pressure off. I was still following closely behind Scott Dolmat-Connell (Metlife) when his chain kept making a racket every time he shifted down to a certain gear. It sounded like the dreaded new chain on worn cassette syndrome. Suddenly, snap, and I see Scott's chain roll out onto the pavement. I think a chain breaks at every Mt Washington race. Felt sorry for Scott, seeing this happen a mile in. But that meant there were only three guys in front of me now. Fourth place sounded pretty good to me. The third place guy, Sylvain Jean from Quebec, was still in sight intermittently but gaining on me. Anthony was gone a minute into the race. The only way I'd see the overall podium was for one of these guys to have a mechanical.
It was warm at the base, probably approaching 70F at race start. I began to sweat profusely and feared the dreaded thermal shutdown. As we climbed, the temperature just wasn't dropping like it normally does.
I'm feeling a little smug about two miles in when I see that another rider has over-taken Jeff. Hmm, doesn't look like a guy. In fact, it was Marti, and I'm pretty sure she was gaining on me at this point. I hadn't been girled in quite a while on Mt Washington. Despite treating Newton's as a training race, I wasn't getting girled today. Marti and I talked before the race. She was targeting 1:08. I told her I'd be happy with anything under 1:07. My PR last year was 1:05:33. Marti thought it was cool I was targeting something just a little bit faster than her so she could pace off me. At mile two I was starting to regret that conversation.
For the next two miles, Marti dangled seconds back. Third place guy was now pretty much gone, so it was just a race between Marti and I. Then comes the infamous "five mile grade," the mile long dirt section at the five mile marker post that is about 15% grade. You can see all the way up it. We picked up some headwind here, but nothing serious in Mt Washington terms. The dirt in fact was perfect, the best I've seen here. The time gap to Marti started to increase. The anxiety factor dropped from red alert to orange alert. It didn't look like anybody else was coming up behind Marti. Barring a mechanical like I experienced last year, finishing order was pretty much a done deal. I still felt pretty good and had no idea on my progress. I wouldn't know until I saw the clock at the summit. As far as I could tell, I was holding a consistent, steady pace.
What was interesting was how dramatically the temperature dropped around tree line. You'd think once you came out into full sun it would be even hotter. I think the temp dropped more than 10F in one mile's distance. Later we learned the summit struggled to hit 50F.
Crossing the timing mat at the finish completely gassed. So why would they give the BUMPS points leader #13?
Photo: Newton's Revenge website.
The summit area approaches. Spectators on hillclimbs are always a welcome sight. I thought I could punch up the 22% incline in my second easiest gear. It wasn't happening. I down-shifted and stayed seated for much of it. When I saw the clock, I realized I came within a minute of a PR. Oh well. 1:06:23 is a very respectable time for me. Marti came through just over two minutes back at 1:08:42, beating last year's time by nearly six minutes. Anthony Colby won the men's with 53:50, taking nearly two minutes off his best from last year. Anthony is inching ever closer to Tom Danielson's course record of 49:24. Anthony and Marti claimed the $1500 checks two years in a row now.
The three riders finishing ahead of me are not an immediate points threat, since they haven't done both of the prior two races. I gained on my nearest two rivals going into Newton's. My leaders position is safe for now.
Turns out Scott had all new drivetrain components. He was using a SRAM hollow pin chain. A pin had failed I believe. I have seen mixed reviews on hollow pin chains. Scott is also a runner and ran nearly the whole way up with his bike. I heard stories from humbled riders that couldn't stay ahead of a guy not riding his bike up the mountain. Impressive.
Anthony used a 34t compact by 27t cassette combo. He thought it might be a tad big. I used a 30t Q-ring with 27t cassette. The large lobe on the Q-ring is equivalent to a 31.7t ring. Thus I effectively pushed almost as big of a lowest ratio as Anthony, but simple comparison of times suggest, that unless I'm a total masher, I was over geared. There were several times I wanted another gear. I might consider changes for the August race, although I used this combo last year with success.
I had to stick around for awards, being BUMPS leader and winning my age group. Only overall winners get cash. Age groupers get medals. All racers have chance to win swag in the raffle. I won Michelin socks, visor, bobble head, and a copy of "The Complete Guide to Climbing by Bike" by Summerson. I already own a copy. If a hillclimb enthusiast would like a free copy and will be at one of the next three hillclimb events, let me know. I'll bring it along for you to have.
It was great meeting many hillclimb enthusiasts that know me through this blog or northeastcycling.com. Several riders commented that they caught the hillclimb bug through my website. Hillclimbs are a great way to bring goals into your fitness plan and have a lot of safe fun at the same time. Stick with it. It will grow on you. In rare cases, like mine, it can become an addiction.
All for now. I'll leave you with a few shots from the summit area. I decided to save the Kelly Stand ride Cathy and I did in Vermont on Sunday for another post. Thanks for reading.
Shot down the switchbacks from the finish.
Final approach to the finish.
Rider on the 22% grade.
Train coming up the cog railroad on the north side of the mountain.