Bike - Dean Singlespeed, 19.95 lbs
Tires - 26" Specialized Mt Baldy @ 45psi
Gear - 22 x 19 (30.5 inch-gear)
Sleep - about 5hrs
Coffee - two giant mugs of extra dark Starbucks House Blend
Breakfast - Bowl of Life cereal, roast beef and cheddar sandwich, plain bagel
Forecast - cool, slight chance of rain. Not far off.
Result - 3rd overall, 1st men 40-49
The Good (The Ugly comes later):
My singlespeed experiment was a smashing success this weekend. I have never raced my singlespeed bike before. I previously posted that, had I raced a five pound lighter bike, I would have been in contention for an overall win on Mt Mansfield last year.
I figured the only way I'll shed five pounds was to forgo gears and suspension fork. Based on a target finishing time of 37 minutes (the current record from last year), I could calculate exactly what ratio I needed for the cadence I wanted. I did this in a comment, reproduced here:
The Mansfield climb goes 4.3mi, and I did it in 39.1min last year. So with a single gear, here's my rational for gear selection:
This is actually a bit low for me. If I assume I can do it in 37 minutes (to beat last year's winning time), my cadence will go up to 77.8rpm. This is still a tad low but probably close to what I averaged on Mt Washington this year with gears.
Ok, now the race report. It seemed much warmer than I expected. I brought long layers with me. They surely were not needed for the climb. In fact, I was sweating while lining up in the sun. They announced it was 15F cooler at the summit in the clouds. I just hoped I got into that cool stuff before my little turkey pop-up done-indicator went pop.
There were more than twice as many bikers than last year. In total, there were over 500 biker and runner finishers this year. The bikers went off in one giant wave of nearly 200, the runners 10 minutes later. I'm lined up at the front, when minutes before the start, a kid pushes me back by coming in from the front. I thought to ask him "are you fast?" in a sarcastic tone. We were asked to self seed. I figured third overall last year qualified for a line spot, now I'm one row back in what was sure to be a melee.
The course starts out on a 15% paved grade that quickly turns to gravel for the rest of the climb. We go off, there's a bunch of bumping, but nobody close to me goes down. I am immediately swallowed up in bikers coming around me on both sides. Half way into the initial paved section, about 40 riders bolted on ahead. I thought WTF, don't any of these guys know anything about pacing? Then I remembered, most of them are pure mountain bikers. They probably never done a TT in their lives, and MTB race starts are all about hole shots. They were going for a hole shot that didn't exist. There was no singletrack on this course, folks. It is a dirt road the whole way up.
Before we got to the top of the 0.3mi paved bit, I realized I was already standing a lot. I was in world of hurt. Maybe those 40 guys that bolted on ahead of me had gears that let them do that, and I was in over my head with too big of a gear. I began to think I was faced with my biggest hillclimb disaster of all time. Dave Penney was in that group of 40 too. He's never started a hillclimb faster than me. He was pushing an even bigger gear than me, a 22x18 I believe, but he can mash. I can't.
I settle into my pace of astronomical hurt. This was brand new territory for me. I had no idea if my effort was sustainable or not. What I failed to recognize last year on this course were the hundreds of nuances in gradient change. It was no where near constant. Parts were 15%, parts were near 0%. Never constant. When you have gears, you subconsciously shift. You don't feel the grade the same way. I had to stand all the 15% stuff. That is not how I normally climb. Slowly but surely, I began reeling victims in. By the two mile mark, I was amazingly in 4th place overall. I caught the 3rd place guy at roughly 2.5 miles into the 4.3 mile race. I asked a spectator if the two guys in front of me were the leaders. Yep. They were way up. Interestingly, one of them was the kid that pushed me back at the line. He was fast enough that I no longer thought he was a dick.
I tango'd with the guy I passed for 3rd place a good while. We'd hit flatter parts, I'd spin out (at 10mph!) and even had to coast a few times. He'd catch me. Every time I spun way up, my HR and respiration would skyrocket. Every time it got nasty steep, I'd have to stand and drive burn deep into my quads like I've never experienced. I had no idea of my pace at this point, just that I was in 3rd place overall.
At the three mile mark, the grade gets seriously steep through a series of switchbacks and does not let up. I dropped my antagonist for good through this section. I even started gaining seconds on guys in first and second place. I never entertained catching them, knowing the finish would come too soon. I crossed the line in 3rd, only a minute back from winner. My time was 37:15.5, just three seconds from last year's overall winning time, and two minutes faster than my time last year. Mission accomplished. I was pretty psyched. My thoughts went from total disaster a minute or two into the race to thinking maybe there really is something to this singlespeed stuff.
After a number of other riders came through, another singlespeeder came through. A spectator noticed and remarked, "Wow, did you see that? He was on a singlespeed!" Guess she missed me. I'm not sure what the next fastest singlespeed time was, as there is no singlespeed category. I'm sold enough I may try it on Mt Washington next year. One of the faster geared riders couldn't figure out why I would come back the second time with a singlespeed, like didn't I think it was hard enough the first time? Then I told him I was two minutes faster without gears. That was more information than he could process. It made perfect technical sense to me. Geared riders are at a weight disadvantage. Just don't expect me to be faster at Bear Brook on a singlespeed.
A little further analysis (I'll spare you the details) suggests that more went on than just weight savings. If my geared bike last year was five pounds lighter, I should have been only about a minute faster. I was two minutes faster. I suspect I went harder because I lacked bailout gears. In other words, I'm not as disciplined with gears as I think I am. There could also be some mechanical efficiencies. It is well known that singlespeed drive trains are more efficient than derailleur based drive trains. That might be a percent at most, but that is good for half a minute here. Last year much of the road was loose. This year recent rain left it a little spongy. Hard to say which might have been faster. You certainly did not have to worry about rear tire slipping when standing. I just might be more fit this year too. I did, after all, PR a couple climbs earlier in the season. I would definitely come back again next year singly geared. Same gear too. I might manage to take another pound or two off the bike.
Jim Fredericks and crew did an excellent job pulling this thing off. I think he said over 650 riders and runners were pre-registered, an event just in it's second year. Most events that grow this fast have major growing pains, but I didn't see it here. I believe Jim has been organizing major ski events for a long time, so he's a veteran organizer. Good food, cash bar. It took a while to get awards underway. I got a classy custom pottery mug, Darn Tough socks and a little cash. Jim said he'll work on the cash part of it next year to attract more talent. Just in case you are wondering, the fastest runner beat me by two minutes. On dirt, runners reach parity with riders at around 10-12 percent grade. It's a weight penalty/rolling resistance thing. On pavement with road tires, parity comes at a much steeper grade, around 17%.
So how do you top off a great hillclimb event? You pound out some more hills, of course. A group of four of us had a 72 mile loop in mind with about 7000 feet of climbing. It entailed Bolton Valley Access Rd, Bolton Notch Rd, then finishing over Smugglers Notch. Deal was, awards started late, so Dave P, Alex and Paul started without me, doing an out and back over Smugg's and then scooping me up. I joined the other three as they were coming back up Smugglers Notch. Paul bolted through the ridiculously narrow curves at the top. The road is only one lane wide with a lot of traffic coming up. You can't see around the house sized boulders the road literally is paved right around, like the boulders are there for decoration. No way was I chasing Paul that recklessly. Alex was right behind me. I brake coming into the third or fourth switchback to avoid some bad pavement and take the inside line (any other line is suicide here). I hear a skid past my left side and a hard crash as I finish rounding the switchback. Dave, who was riding behind Alex, yells "stop!", then "call 911!"
Oh no, not again. Dave and I dealt with another mishap two year's ago when Bill Dunkerly crashed in the White Mountains. I get to Alex and he's trying to get up. I had him sit right back down. His facial injuries were pretty horrific. He went straight off a switchback into a rocky embankment. Fortunately there was cell phone coverage up there. It took 20 figgin minutes for the ambulance to get there. I would think Stowe or Jeffersonville are 10 minutes away on either side. State police were there quickly, as well as a former or off-duty Stowe EMT who just happened by or maybe heard it on the radio and was very helpful. Alex's injuries maybe looked worse than they really were, but we did not know at the time. A severe smack to the head is always serious.
Alex was able to walk to the ambulance. Turns out he sustained multiple facial fractures. I think he said they put in 22 stitches. Initial prognosis is surgery will not be required, but he will be seeing a specialist on this. Paul was able to take Alex's car to the hospital and drive him home that evening.
Alex did comment to the others something seemed awry with his front brake moments before crashing. I wonder if the cable was slipping in the clamp screw. Post impact inspection suggests the cable might have slipped, but the impact could have caused that too. The right lever (rear brake) was completely mangled. Without full front brake performance, there is no way to safely descend those switchbacks. Inside gradients are at least 20-25%.
That put a damper on the day. Always leaves a sick feeling in your stomach when a rider goes down like that, because you know it could happen to you too. Shit happens. On the flip side, it could have been much worse, say a car was coming at that instant, or spinal injury. We wish Alex speedy recovery.