Wow, we're five for five with spectacular weather for hillclimbs this year. That can only mean one thing - 60mph wind, sleet and lightning in two weeks on Mt Washington! We had pretty near ideal conditions Saturday morning for the sixth running of the Equinox hillclimb. 60's at race start, maybe 70F in the sun further up above the clouds. Many riders marvelled at the view when reaching the ridgeline in brilliant sun and seeing nothing but silver below. The morning fog and low lying clouds took longer than usual to burn off.
Cathy and I drove out Friday night. We stayed in a budget motel just north of Bennington. Place was decent for the money, but I could not fall asleep there. I shut the TV off at 10:30pm. 1:30am I'm still staring at the ceiling as wide awake as can be. I think somewhere around 3am I dozed for a bit, only to wake up again at 4am. Could not fall back asleep. Makes me wonder if there's caffeine in that XXX flavor of Vitamin Water I chugged in the evening. I deliberately curtailed coffee earlier in the day so that would not be a sleep issue. Anyway, since I was awake I got up before the alarm went off at 6am. Was not in the best of moods.
I brought Starbucks coffee from home, but rooms did not have coffee makers. There was a single-serving maker in the office two doors down. The deal with those things is they make slightly discolored water. Two cups was not going to get me going. Fortunately, there was a Stewarts on the way. Low grade gas station coffee at best, but at least it had a little more kick to it.
Lining up, the usual fast old guys are there. Gerry Clapper (Williams Cycling) was sure to put a couple minutes on me. John Bayley was there too. I've never beaten these guys in a hillclimb. Charlie Casey was sure to antagonize me. I managed to stay ahead of him at two races so far this year, but he seems to edge me out at least once per season.
Equinox has the best prime of any race in New England, period. $500 cash prime for the first mile. How many crits have $500 primes? KOM payout in a stage race? Nope, not even close. I thought Gerry might have had a chance at this. The deal is, you have to finish the race to collect the $500. I believe most if not every time in the past, the prime winner was not the overall winner. The climb goes another 4.4 miles past the 1 mile prime.
The elite wave goes off. Surprisingly, things go like a road race, all cordial like. About 10-12 of us stayed together. About half way into the first mile it gets really steep. Then guys start testing each other. I just sit back and watch. An elite rider I didn't know, Jake Hollenback (CRCA/Empire Cycling), took the prime. Gerry and Ian Gordon (I think) scoop up Jake after the prime and continue at their pace. In the mean time, John Bayley and Jeff Johnson (Battenkill-United) have put some distance on me. Jeff has a habit of going out harder than I, and thus far I have always reeled him back in. This matters, as he's only a few points behind me in the BUMPS series.
It wasn't until past the two mile mark that I caught Jeff. It was just in time for him to shift up to his big ring for the one and only dip on the climb. I have only a tiny granny ring and spin out. With Jeff to ramp up the speed a notch further, I was able to draft faster. That was perfect, saving me all of a whopping second.
John Bayley was now solidly pulling away from me, as expected. The problem was, Jeff was still dangling just seconds behind me at the three mile mark. I ceased to put more time on him. Even worse, I see two more riders gaining on Jeff. I could still see Gerry and Ian occasionally up further, so I knew my pacing was pretty steady and my climb was going reasonably well. A hillclimb ridden properly should be done with complete disregard to what other riders are doing. If I was already riding at my pace, I should not try to "go harder" to stay ahead of whoever was come up past Jeff. You'll pay those kilojoules back with interest later in the climb.
Sure enough, it was Charlie Casey and a NEBC rider I did not know. It was only a matter of time before Charlie passes me and I lose another spot. This will not reduce the number of BUMPS points I get though, it just means the number Charlie gets will be higher. Charlie and NEBC rider both inched past in the last mile. The NEBC rider then really put the hammer down and dropped Charlie.
The large crowd up top was very lively. It is always so nice to hear when all you heard for the last 40 minutes was your own wheezing. I crossed the line in 41:40, about 24 seconds shy of last year's personal best. It was my second fastest time in the six years I've been racing this mountain. Hard to find fault with that. It was a good effort, and I felt good afterwards. Turns out the prime winner Jake also took the overall win, maybe a first. Gerry Clapper was second overall, very impressive at 48 years old, with 21 year old Ian only 10 seconds behind him. I was seventh, exactly three minutes back from winner. Jeff finsihed 19sec behind me. Charlie and Jeff had a good day, PR's I believe. If I only looked at how I placed relative to them, I'd say I had a bad day. Since I finished so close to my best, it is clear that they were faster, not that I was slower. Now I just have to figure out how to stay faster than my competition that is getting faster!
Andy Holzman and the Manchester Rotary Club always pull off a flawless execution of this event. The food up top hits the spot (including donuts and coffee!), and burgers, dogs and chicken with other fixin's for lunch at the bottom. Results were promptly posted and even on line within hours after the race.
Look at that sky! I forgot to put sunscreen on while socializing at the summit and got burned.
Hopefully I have a good race on Washington in two weeks, don't break wheels, and don't let Charlie claim too many more points. I should still be wearing the leaders jersey. I've done five races now, and best of five count. As more riders do five races, several guys will percolate up towards the top. There's a chance I could clinch the BUMPS win on Mt Washington. We'll see who shows, whether there's anybody that could take wins on the final two races to knock me off the top spot. After Washington, I will have done all of the Cat 1 and HC climbs, which earn more points than the Cat 2 climbs like Ascutney, Okemo, Burke and App Gap.
Having taken my lightest training week of the year this past week, I figured what better way to get back into it than race again on Sunday. I'll be hitting the Masters 45+ in Bow. I always do this race the day after Equinox. Sometimes my legs are no where to be found. The last two years I've nearly won with close 2nd place finishes. We'll see if the stiffness in the legs dissipates or lingers. Takes a lap or two to tell.