Sunday, May 31, 2009

Bear Brook Blast-off Race Report

Another fine day to go fast on bicycles this weekend, boys and girls. Yesterday was an all-out 50 minute time-trial on pavement. Today was essentially an all-out two hour time-trial in the woods. My legs didn't feel too bad this morning getting up, but I knew some damage lurked in there. I thought a respectable finish at the Bear Brook State Park race in New Hampshire was still within the realm of possibilities.

The forecast was a bit iffy. Since I've become such a roadie, threats of rain make me bail out of MTB races. The rocks and roots might get slippery, you know. It was clear out when I got up. That was good enough to head up. I was amazed at how many people kept filing into the parking lot. It was overflowing. Back in the heyday of mountain biking, I never saw this many cars in the Bear Brook lot. After the race I learned over 300 showed up. Jack Chapman said last year there were about 180. Pretty nutty. Of course, with that many riders showing up, there were bound to be some fast guys. John Mosher (Corner Cycle) and Tyler Munroe (CCB) in my category (Expert Vet-II) were there. Tyler won the category last year. I was certainly going to watch these two.

Very little of the course was in common with the course I last raced here many years ago. New trails have been built, and I think the race organizers made a nice effort to steer clear of the perennially muddy areas. I ridden one lengthy section of new singletrack only once. The most technical part of the course I was fortunately very familiar with. I pre-rode very little of the course before race start.

The expert fields were so large that each age group got their own start. This was sweet. I'd only be drilling it with 20 guys or so to the first piece of singletrack. We went off shortly after 10am, behind the elites and younger expert fields. I filed in mid-pack with Tyler and John ahead of me. The pace of course was completely incompatible with a two-hour TT pace. That's one thing that sucks about MTB racing, is they put the sprint start at the beginning and then everybody limps over the line at the finish. There's some magical starting effort, one that you don't get bogged down behind too many slow guys and not totally blowing yourself apart five minutes into the race. I erred more on the side of blowing myself up. I was definitely feeling yesterday's time-trial. Not sure if it was just nuisance suffer factor or performance was really being pulled down with it.

About 20 minutes of trying to stay with John and Tyler was enough. I fancied the idea that John would eventually slow down, and if I rode my pace, I'll see him again (yeah, right). I think we shelled everybody else clean out of the group. It was hard to tell, as with one minute field spacings, we quickly overtook other riders. Once I got past most of the other younger riders, I was by myself for long periods of time. This was perfectly conducive to time-trialing for two hours. Now I was just out on a hard ride at one of my favorite places to ride. Before completing the first lap, I passed Tyler standing along the trail. At the time I had no idea what happened. Later I learned he snapped his chain. So that meant I only had Mosher to worry about now.

Lot's of punchy hills to wear you down. Wired computer logged 25.5mi.

I reached the lap point, the site of the infamous stairs, and began my second lap. I knew I was slowing down, but I continued to pass other riders. I started seeing more lapped sport and novice riders now too. It's actually easier to pass those guys than somebody that is going almost as fast as you. I might have been going 2x faster than some of the first sport riders I passed. It takes two seconds to pass them. Just call it out well in advance. Passing an expert ride that is 1 minute per hour slower than you is much more difficult. Fortunately, everybody I encountered was very cool about it and made opportunities for me to pass safely.

Half way around the second lap, I catch a younger rider who then picks his pace back up. This was on a long, very fast part of the course. This could be annoying. At first I thought he'll blow, then I'll pass. He didn't blow up. I think he thought he could ride me off his wheel. I stayed 12" off his wheel, drafting at 25mph on a narrow trail at one point. Roadie skills do pay off in the woods. There's no way, with how tired I was getting, that I could have maintained that pace. We climb Carr Ridge together, but alas, he had real mountain biker skills and dropped me on the bony descent. I never saw him again.

Dropping down the stairs again, I got to go left this time to the finish. Good thing. I was done. It was getting warmer and muggier, and I felt some chills. I don't think I was drinking enough, so I was getting dehydrated and starting to overheat. Cramping always follows this shortly. We took a slightly different route back from the lap point to the finish, for 25.5 miles total. I finished in 2:05:04, second out of 12 finishers for Expert Vet-II (42-49) age group. Mosher not only won my age group, he was overall expert winner with a time just shy of two hours. Being a "fun" race for me, I was quite pleased with how well it went. No mishaps, great weather, and great competition.

After the race I caught up with a bunch of guys I haven't seen in a while. A lot of guys that have been away from MTB racing for a while were there today. I talked with Colin R after the race too. The skinny whippet gave me crap about how roadie this course must be because I showed up. He even asked me if I rode the stairs at the lap point. I haven't become that much of a roadie. I was probably winning MTB races when he was still in high school. He did beat me by a minute and a half or so. Being such a "roadie course," he thought a roadie like me would have the advantage today. Guess those few rocks on Carr Ridge slowed me down.

The course was extremely well marked and marshaled. There would be no excuse making a wrong turn here. Organization was superb. I would look for this event becoming a fixture of New England mountain bike racing in future years. I and everybody I talked to had lots of fun.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Waterville Valley Time Trial

An individual time trial is often referred to as a "race of truth." It is called such because team tactics and drafting are removed. Each rider must fend for themselves. This truth is not an absolute, however. A flat TT clearly favors bigger guys that put out raw Watts. A climbing TT will favor small guys that put out high Watts per kilogram. What flavor of "truth" would you like? Both climber and flat TT specialists might do poorly on a technical course with tight turns, so riders with handling skills might come out ahead. Perhaps an honest race of truth somehow mixes all of these elements into one course.

But what about equipment? Pro's pretty much all have the same stuff, get wind tunnel testing, the works. In the amateur ranks, there is wide variation in equipment and how well the rider is fit to his or her rig. I do not have a TT bike. I refuse to go part way by clipping on aero bars. It is an all or nothing deal for me. Unfortunately, equipment makes a huge difference in a fast time trial. There's no way to be competitive with your peer group if you lack the equipment they are riding. To some degree, I resent this barrier to entry. A decent TT setup (bike, wheels, helmet) can easily cost thousands. I can see putting this into a light weight hillclimb bike, as it can be used for road races and everyday riding. A TT bike has very limited utility in my book.

I did the WVTT last year, so my goal was to beat last year's time. The course was extended slightly this year. I used the same bike but with slightly less aero wheels, modest section aluminum Rolf's. I did use my IBC skinsuit for the first time. So all that was pretty much the same. The weather was different, however. It was cooler (cold air is denser, thus slower), and it was windier. There was virtually no wind last year. By 10:07am, my start time, the gusts were picking up pretty good.

My bib number was 3. This meant I was third fastest guy from last year that registered this year and was third to last guy to go off. The two guys behind me were much faster than me last year and would surely pass me early with their TT equipment. One was Patrick Ruane (Sunapee/S&W). Brad Ek (NHCC) was #4 from last, my 30 second man. This was perfect, as I beat him by 8 seconds last year. I figured I would pass him on the climb out, then he'd steamroll by me on the descent back. Whether he'd take back those 30 seconds and beat me in the end was up in the air. Or so I thought.

The WVTT profile. Little ripples at lower elevations are not really there.

I push off, and it didn't take long before I realized I was going too hard. A diagonal head wind had something to do with this. It was taking my speed down and I was over-compensating. The road is quite open and I could see Brad almost continuously. The deal was, he wasn't getting any bigger in my field of vision. I pass my one minute guy, but Brad still looked like he was 30 seconds out. I think it was Patrick that passed me just before the steepest part approaching the Waterville Valley village. He passed me decisively. Then the speeds drop to less than 15mph and all the aero goodies lose their effectiveness. I'm pretty sure I took a few seconds back from Patrick since I gained on him on a constant grade. But once we topped out near the village into a gusty headwind, Patrick and Brad were both gone.

Like last year, riders that were near me beginning the descent put incredible time on me during the descent. Of course, they all have aero equipment. The speeds on the return trip are very high. I saw a max of 43.1mph. Aero is hugely important at these speeds. Unlike last year, nobody passed me on the return. The only two staged behind me passed me heading out, and only one rider I passed was well behind me. Initially, there was nice tail wind heading back out of the village. Much of the course dealt with crosswind. But due to how mountains shape wind flow, we had some more headwind coming the last few km's into the finish too.

I finished with a 49:27.15, almost a minute slower than last year. The course was extended a claimed 600m this year, making it an even 20.0mi (32.2km), so times should be slightly slower on average. But the wind was the biggest factor. Here's some stat's:

2008
19.7mi (31.7km)
48:32.0
70F, calm winds
24.35mph avg
2009
20.0mi (32.2km)
49:27.15
63F, moderate NW wind
24.27mph avg

So very nearly same average speed on cooler, windier day. I'll take it. Very good chance I averaged higher power and had a better race this year than last year despite not placing as well. It is interesting to note that I averaged 19.7mph heading out to exact half-way point (right at taking left to loop through village), and I averaged 31.7mph coming back. Combination of gradient and wind was behind this. Last year I had max speed of 38mph, this year 43mph. The average speed is pretty impressive I think considering I rode cannibal, it was breezy and there's about 1100ft of climbing on the course. Don't think I got girled either.

Doing a little "research" on the web, I could expect a full TT setup to boost my average speed by at least 2mph on this course. A boost of just 1mph could have netted me a win in my age category. Does this bug me? Just a little. Does it bug me enough to drop some serious nickle on a TT rig? Probably not. The so called race of truth is more like a race of best setups in the amateur ranks. There are some stage races I'd like to participate in sometime. No TT bike = not competitive in the GC. I keep threatening to make the plunge. Maybe this year will be the year.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

In

Last summer I decided I wanted to do more mountain bike racing in 2009. I've done one MTB race so far, bailed on another. I will likely do the EFTA Bear Brook race this Sunday. I figure the Waterville Valley Time-Trial on Saturday will be a good opener for Bear Brook. Of course, I don't own a TT bike, so I'll be one of the very few there riding cannibal. I placed second in my category last year. I see a couple nemesis signed up I'll never beat if they show up with aero equipment (Petro and Wonsavage, both who've nipped me at the line for separate wins at Bow). All good fun though. Nothing motivates you more than racing against a clock when your result gets publicly posted.

I suppose I do have some "A" race events this year. One is the Vermont 50 mile mountain bike race. I kept pestering Dave Penney about when registration opens, as it fills quickly. Prior year racers like Dave get email heads up. The deal was, I went up to the Kingdom Trails Monday, totally forgetting that registration opened at 7pm that evening. I remembered half-way home when it was already almost 7pm. I freaked. I parked and went straight to my computer. Fortunately my Active.com account still worked. I got the confirmation screen that I was in and was relieved. A few minutes later, I get an email stating that 756 were registered about an hour after it opened. I think normally they shut it down at this level, but the race director was letting another 100 in. The VT 50 does not do waiting lists. They over register the race, knowing a percentage will not make it race day. Very efficient and simple. They sold 850 spots in probably less than two hours. Unbelievable. Mt Washington took about three days to fill this year. The VT 50 is not cheap either at $125.

I last did this the VT50 in 2001, the last year it was an EFTA sanctioned championship series race. It was my first full season racing expert class, and I placed 10th overall. Here's what I logged in my race diary about it:

September 30, 2001. 50 miles with 8100 feet of steep climbing makes this the grand daddy of races in the EFTA series. Had repeat perfect weather of last year – heavy frost on ground but warming to sunny 60 by mid-day. Course was slower this year with more singletrack. Took one nasty wrong turn that cost me at least five minutes. Talked to some riders after the race that were lost for 45 minutes and dropped out of race. Many poorly marked turns and intersections.

I suspect the course is well marked these days. I'd dearly love to improve on my overall finish. There was stiff competition back in the day, and there are a bunch of really fast guys racing it these days. My overall fitness is improved quite a bit I think from 2001. I'm not so sure about hammering five hours off road fitness. All my epic rides have become roadie oriented. I used to do 50+ mile off-road rides all the time. Need to bring those back into the mix, especially if I plan to do the Tahoe-Sierra 100 miler also in September.

These late season endurance events should give me all the motivation (and excuses to the wife) for doing regular epic rides, on and off road this summer. Really looking forward to it.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Singletrack Solitude

So how do you cap off a fabulous weekend of riding and rollerskiing? You hit the best singletrack in the northeast. Sunday I was feeling a bit hung over from hammering out 6-gaps on Saturday. Cathy and I took the tandem over to the Nashua River Rail Trail for an easy 40km out and back. It can be a test of patience riding there on a busy weekend, especially when tandems like to cruise at 25mph with minimal effort on flat terrain. Little three and four year olds can look right at you and proceed to ride right into you. Just as tandems take a while to get moving, they also take a while to get stopped. Kids will be kids I suppose. Of course, their parents think we are the bad guys despite their oblivious rug-rats running us off the trail.

After 80 minutes of getting the legs functioning again, Cathy and I hopped on other sets of wheels. She donned rollerblades, I rollerskis. Not exactly an ideal recovery activity the day after 6-gaps, but it had been two months since I last skied. My thumb is even just starting to get back to normal after crashing at Sugarloaf multiple times. I'm pretty sure now that I fractured it. Still hurts to squeeze a Gu or use thumb shifter on MTB. I V2'd a lite aerobic 21.2km. Focusing on maximizing glide on each leg, I was amazed at how improved my balance was compared to last fall when I started ski training. Can't say Sunday was beginning of 2009/2010 ski season training. The riding is going way to good right now.

When I awoke Monday morning at 8:30am, I felt like death. I was sweating in our air conditioned bedroom. I had toyed with the idea of hitting the Kingdom Trails earlier in the week but wanted to take a wait and see approach. Wolfed down some Cheerios, gulped a really dark home-brewed Starbucks, checked the weather. Zero percent chance of rain. High of 60 for East Burke. In my caffeine altered state, that weather report pretty much clinched it. I was going to hit some dirt. Cathy had to work all day, so I was free to go. The Titus Racer-X was still prep'd for the Windsted Woods race that I bailed on.

It takes less then three hours to reach East Burke, VT, and that includes coffee, gas and #2 stops. Pulling in, I noticed a very dusty Rooter-mobile. I assumed correctly he was doing a race/ride weekend up that way. With a 100+ mile trail network, I thought the prospects of crossing paths with him was slim.

All great Kingdom Trails rides start from town and summit Burke Mountain to get the legs warmed up. No matter if you were still reeling from the hardest ride in the east two days prior. My legs felt surprisingly strong. I hit sections of singletrack on the way up, like Camptown. It was a pristine day out, mostly sunny, no humidity, windy to keep black flies down, and cool. In fact, it was downright cold at the summit. I never even stopped, being only in short layers. I froze in my sweat saturated state descending back to singletrack heaven.

Closeup of Burke Mtn trails

I believe this was the first time I've taken a dual suspension bike to the Northeast Kingdom. I was amazed how well the Racer-X flowed over the techy stuff on Dead Moose Alley. Further down I flew through some of the bonier sections of Moose Alley. It was easy to clean everything and carry more speed. The bike was perfectly dialed. I crossed over VT 114 to hit Nosedive and White School. It was nearly two hours into my ride when I encountered my first other riders. I got back to my car still feeling fresh. Grabbed some more fluids and munchies and headed out for another two hour's worth.

The guys at the KTA office told me Sidewinder was even improved over last year. I thought that would be hard to beat. That was a must do. And Tap-and-Die. And Rim, Fenceline, Kitchel and more. Tons of cool stuff over on the Darling Hill side. The deal was, each time you rip down one of these amusement park ride trails, you had to climb back up Darling Hill to rip down the next one. The vertical stacked up.

North view from half way up Burke

At the top of Sidewinder, I ran into a group of maybe 10 teens. They asked if I had a pump. I reluctantly said yes. I asked "do you mean to tell me that between the 10 of you, you don't have a single pump?" Nope. The kid that flatted doing monster hucks off stacked lumber deserved to walk six miles back to his car. So I stopped. So now how many spare tubes do you think they had? Yep, you got it. He did have a patch kit though. For a double pinch flat. I think they managed to kill about 15-20 minutes of my time. Oh well. Moments later I passed one of them on Sidewinder. He muttered something like he went over backwards. He, he, he. There is no trail like it anywhere I've been. A true masterpiece. I thought about doing it again but my time was running out.

Switchback on Rim Trail

I still had to work my way all the way back the other side of Darling Hill. I hadn't been on Rim in a while. Before some of the newer trails like Tody's, Tap-and-Die and Sidewinder were built, this was one of my favorites. Climbing back up on East Branch, I think I got my heartrate up higher than climbing Lincoln Gap on Saturday. As I was nearing the junction with VAST on narrow, bench-cut trail, I came eye to eye with the biggest black bear I've seen in New England. I bet he was a 400 pounder. I had no where to go. Fortunately, he took one look at me and decided he didn't want to have anything to do with me. He bolted. You could never out-ride a bear in the woods. You are minced bear meat if he wants a piece of you. Getting a picture would have been cool, but living to blog about it has greater value.

Profile and grade. Note sustained 25% grade section on Burke. Hard to keep front wheel down.

As I finish every Kingdom Trails ride, I worked my way up to top of Kitchel for the bermed blast back down to town. I was running on fumes by this point. It was a good point to end the ride. I think that was one of my best KT rides ever. I felt like I pretty much had the place to myself. Almost like riding in Colorado. We're really fortunate to have riding this good within a day-trip reach. My Garmin logged a vertical mile of climbing over 35.4 miles distance in 4:04hrs time. I had no lower back fatigue like I typically do riding my hardtail that long. I think the Racer-X will see lots more use this summer.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Quest for Kilojoule Dominance (aka 6-gaps Ride Report)

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)
Dan Massucco
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.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

6-Gaps 2009 Prep

The stage is set for this year's Memorial weekend tour of the gaps. Due to increased interest, riders will be starting out in three separate groups at different times on Saturday. Hopefully this keeps everybody moving at their own comfortable pace. A small C-group plans to do their own thing starting in Warren at 6:30am. A B-group plans to start in Rochester at 7:30am. 10 riders plan to join that group, most of them mountain bikers that compete in 100 mile races. The A-group leaves at 9am with 15 riders. Looking at the A-group roster, there's no doubt after the ride I'll feel like I've been beaten about the head with my own legs that were ripped off during the ride. With any luck, the A-group will catch the B-group before the end of the ride so we can finish together.

At one point, I had at least 35 names interested in riding Saturday. Kind of scary. I got a lot of emails like "where do I sign up?" or "how much does it cost?" I kind of freak when I get those, as the rider's expectations may be way different than what the ride entails. Of course, the ride is completely unsupported, and it is not a no-drop ride. There is no sag-wag or sweep at the end of the day. When I send my first email out to the list of interested riders I collect over several months, no doubt some are scared away. Later this summer there will be a semi-supported 6-gaps ride. Learn about the Chet Warman ride.

What I would like to do for next year is start a dedicated 6-gaps forum. Riders are looking for others to ride with all summer long. A forum linked to the website would make it much easier to find ride mates. If it gains traction, it would get me out of the loop (and out of the way!). I don't mind answering email. I get many hundreds each summer. Peaky periods seem to be around 6-gaps and the Mt Washington hillclimb race. The Mt Washington race already has an active forum. A 6-gaps forum hopefully would enable more riders to plan their own epic events.

What is interesting is how many other people like myself are organizing 6-gaps group rides throughout the summer. One guy that rode with me a couple years ago is organizing a ride with riders coming in from as far away as Alaska. The ride has really gained notoriety. It will be my seventh year organizing a ride. In 2003, Joey Bracchitta and I did the loop in about 8.6hrs riding time, or over 11hrs elapsed time. We did stop for a sit-down lunch midway. I think those days are gone, as the Hill Junkie ride has morphed into a throw-down. It's all good though. I'm not getting any younger. 6-gaps, along with maybe the D2R2 ride, are the hardest things I do on a bike each year. It keeps you honest. You are reminded who the boss is. It's them hills in the Green Mountains.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Success at Lake Sunapee

I've raced Sunapee three times in the last four years. A good finish there seems to elude me. In '05, I placed 22nd in the 4/5's. In '06, I placed 7th in the M35+. I wussed out in '07 due bone chilling rain. Last year I placed 19th in the M45+. The course favors neither pure sprinters nor pure hill climbers. Neither does the Turtle Pond course, but I've won that one two times in a row now. I trained hard for the past week, slept poorly last night, and pretty much was relegated to the fact Sunapee was going to be a race of survival for me.

I was psyched to find ideal weather. It was just warm enough that long layers weren't needed. That meant probability of cramping should be low. A pretty nasty east wind was brewing up though, and that would surely play a factor in the race.

At the Wednesday night Exeter Cycles ride, two guys approached me about Sunapee. One was Michael Claus (OA/Cyclemania), the other was Keith Button (NorEast Cycling). Michael thought it would be great if OA could get Stuart Abramson in a break with me. I have no idea if Stuart knew about this or not. Keith hung with the killer lead Exeter group Wednesday and took 2nd at Sunapee in '07. He was interested in working with me too. Yeah, this would be cool, but what are the odds of that really happening?

I knew of Stuart from hillclimb races. He smoked me on Mt Washington a few years ago and will probably do so again this year. I see he's signed up. But I didn't know him by face. Lining up, I asked a random OA/Cyclemania guy which one Stuart was. That proved to be a very valuable piece of info. The fields were limited to 75 riders this year due to road construction. I shuddered when I saw the funnel we'd have to go through at high speeds on the drive in. Our field max'd out. There were at least 10 OA/Cyclemania guys there. I had three IBC teammates with me, Kevin Young, Mike Harris and Brian Anderson. I guess Paul Curley (Gearworks) was doing the same thing as I before the race, asking my teammates "which one of you guys is Doug Jansen?" I spoiled his sprint finish at Turtle Pond a couple weeks ago.

We go off at 9:20am. I'm shivering to start, but I knew the internal fire would be roaring in a few minutes. We no more than go "live" after getting out of the rotary, than OA sends a guy off the front. It wasn't Stuart. They have other contenders in the ranks though. Should I worry about it? Look around. Is anybody else worried about it? OA didn't seem to be blocking and the guy didn't drill it. Perhaps they were just testing the waters. In the first few miles, a few more of these launches occurred, most of them with an OA guy in them. There would be no point in going with a break if there wasn't an OA guy in it. They had enough firepower to viciously gun down anything that didn't represent them.

Our field survived the big hills on Rt 11 intact. We veer off onto Rt 103A. This begins the next series of rollers with a couple nasty ones mid way. Stuart lights it up on the steep one. It is still early in the race, but I felt maybe this could be the move. It only will be if I meant it when going with Stuart. Amazingly, Keith was right there too. So was Tyler Munroe (CCB) and Rick Sorenson (Battenkill-United). I'd love to take credit in initiating the move, but that goes to Stuart. The pace was surreal. We crested the top with a huge gap to the field. We had the right teams represented and no spoilers (you'll have to guess who they are). Hammer time. Keith completely killed the descents. This helped the nascent split to stick. Tyler played the role of crew leader, as we certainly weren't very synchronized to start. Once we got a paceline going, we began to grow the gap, just barely.

The nice thing being in a small break so early was that we weren't going to get squeezed through the ringer merging onto Rt 103. We could go nice and wide and hammer all the way through the construction. Climbing on Rt 103, the field was always in sight. I had moments of doubt. I think the others did too. You gotta try though, right? It ain't over 'till its over. We get back to the big rollers on Rt 11. Keith starts having trouble and we lose him. Now we have most of a lap to go with just four guys and the field maybe only a minute or so back. We were fighting a vicious wind here too. I'm learning this can actually work in a break away's favor. Nobody likes to work into the wind. You need really strong team commitment to continue hammering into the wind to bring back a break. If not, the "let the other teams do it" mentality takes over, and a dedicated break away group rides away. I think some of this went on today.

Two laps of this gives about 4000ft of climbing

On the last part of Rt 11, we caught the Cat 4 field. This was a mess. Traffic was backed up behind them. This meant we had trouble bombing down the one hill plugged with traffic. With just four riders, we got around the large field fairly easily. I think the Master 45+ main field had a little more trouble. Not sure if we had a net advantage or it was a wash.

Our break away gets into the Rt 103A rollers, where we started the break. Now I'm not feeling so great anymore. I had been setting pace on most of the climbs. My tendency was to go too hard for the other guys. We all needed each other, so I had to throttle back just a tad. Now I felt early cramping coming on. How can this be? It was so cool out and only 90 minutes into a race. True, the last 60 minutes have pretty much been threshold+ time-trail effort. I didn't expect it though. I just pretended it wasn't happening. I think the other guys were getting tired too, as I sensed more coasting or soft pedaling on the descents. I came up a few times to max out the speed on descents. This is one place the field usually does not work at all, and we couldn't afford to waste this "bandwidth."

We passed another sizable group, maybe dropped 35+'s. They latched on. Our follow car had some words with them about that. We round the corner through the construction one more time. On the ensuing Rt 103 climb, I could see our field not far back. As long as we continued to work it, I thought we'd be ok to the finish. Sensing the fatigue in my break mates, I contemplated going early on the four-step climb on Rt 103. If I failed, I figured the worst I'd do is fourth place anyway. Then I thought if I stayed with the group, I'd surely be able to beat one of them up the finishing grade and at least claim a podium spot. I'm sure the others were thinking these thoughts too. I tested the waters at one point. I don't think they would have let me go without a fight. I decided to ride this train all the way home.

Finally, we reach the high point on Rt 103 before descending to the rotary. We don't see the chasing field, but I know they are just below the lip we came up. We all sat up anyway. I got stuck up front with about 1km to go. I coasted all the way down to the rotary. Still up front. We coast around the rotary. Still nothing happening. We soft pedal into the bottom of the finishing climb. I think we slowed to about 10mph here. Either Rick or Stuart said "so now what?" Nobody wanted to go first. It was one of the more extreme games of cat and mouse I've experienced in a race. Then I think it was Rick that said "hey guys, they're coming!" Oh crap. He launched, I grabbed his wheel. We were maybe half way up the initial steeper part at the bottom. To my surprise, Stuart and Tyler did not respond as quickly. The grade slackens for a bit, then there is one more little steep bit to the line. There's that moment in a race that's like "shit, I could win this thing!" - that extreme moment of adrenaline. Should I try to go around Rick now on the flatter part? It was still a ways to the line and he could draft me for several seconds and come back around. If I waited, I was afraid Tyler or Stuart would catch back up. I went for it then. Rick wasn't able to grab my wheel. I had a few bike lengths on him when I crossed the line for the win. I nearly fell over after crossing the line. I no more than stopped and whoosh, the rest of the field came though. If we had dicked around any longer, we surely would have been swarmed.

Finally, the Sunapee curse has been broken. I thought a win here today was a very long shot. Luck plays a role in bike racing. We happened to have the right guys in the right place at the right time, although three of us were watching each other. I learned after the race that my teammate Brian blocked for me. No doubt Stuart's and Tyler's teammates did the same for them. I talked with Mystic Velo after the race. I guess they and Gearworks put in a lot of chase effort. We had a superb break away group. Everybody worked hard, and I wasn't the only one having cramping problems at the end. This was possibly the hardest earned win for me yet and one of the most satisfying. I believe it was my fastest Sunapee race to date, around 1hr, 53min. I have a topic for a future post brewing. It will be on how ad hoc alliances are formed during cycling races. Not sure if this happens in other sports or not. It certainly makes cycling more sophisticated than stick and ball sports.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

New shoes test ride

Had some time to kill on my off-Friday. I stopped by the shop today to pick up special order parts and look at shoes. I previously posted how disappointed I was in the high-end Sidi Dominator 6's I bought less than two years ago. I've had some knee tweakiness this spring, and I'm pretty sure it is due to the near complete destruction of the Sidi treads. My foot rocks on the pedal, which no doubt causes abnormal knee alignment. I don't seem to have a problem when I do long, 10,000ft rides with my Speeplay pedals. Only my worn out SPD shoes/pedals have been giving me problems. I'm very careful to keep all cleat adjustment variables the same between shoes, such as fore/aft, side-to-side and angle. I ride strongly splay footed. This means my toes point outward. I need to adjust the limited float SPD pedals such that my heels bang the crankarms in the centered neutral position. The Speedplays have something like 30 degrees of float, which I love.

I decided on Shimano 230's. They are heavier than shit but built like a tank. The treads feel grippy and consists of very large blocks. They won't wear like dainty racing treads do. I was really looking for a lighter weight pair of racing shoes, but I don't even have a decent pair of training shoes right now for off-road. These will be perfect. The price was such I could have bought two pairs of these for less than the Sidi's. They'll probably last at least 2-3x longer too. The 230's use the custom fit heat/vacuum molding process to achieve "broken in" fit right out of the box. Earlier Sidi's, such as the Dominator 4's, fit like a glove right out of the box without any whiz-bang shaping process. I thought I'd give the Shimano's a try anyway. My only complaint with the Dominator 4's I've used for 8+ years was sole flex. I prefer a very stiff platform if it fits well. The Shimano 230's are very stiff. They use what appear to be token bits of carbon in the sole. The Dominator 6's utilize a full carbon sole, the ultimate in stiffness and weight. To bad the treads and uppers didn't hold up.

I spent an hour getting the cleats just right and went for a short ride on the Titus. They felt perfect immediately. Nice and stiff mashing out of the saddle too. You don't really notice shoe weight on the bike. They weigh 50% more than the lightest MTB racing shoes. This might cost a minute or two during a 100mi, 12,000ft MTB race. I won't worry about that for now. I did a nice little loop that included some Merrimack River trail and a segment over Seavey Hill behind my house. Still in recovery mode for Saturday's race.

Speaking of races, I had to head back to Exeter Wednesday night for my weekly dose of punishment. Many of the usual suspects were there, nearly 30 or so to start. We did a Rt 4 single-hump/Swain Pond loop. Longer and hillier than last week, and stiff wind just to mix it up further. Pace started out much more civilized, at least until it came my turn to pull. I took the first long hard pull to wind things up a bit. The pack pretty much stuck together until we got to the Rt 4 hill. Don't know why, but splits always happen there, and it is before we even get to the hill. The young guns were doing the schooling again. Somehow I managed to latch on with four kids that peeled off the front. We had large gap cresting the top. Shortly after, Robbie King brings another handful of guys up to us. The riff-raff was ejected. The throwdown was on. It was touch and go for me hanging with this group. It was uber windy in places, and we couldn't echelon across the road and block traffic. That meant even riding in the pace line, you were catching wind. I struggled to pull through a couple times. Lose concentration one instant and allow a gap, game over just like that. We had a core of 10 guys or so that drilled it home. Robbie went early for the sprint at the end. He faded as the rest of us swarmed him. I shamelessly hopped on promising wheels all the way up the finishing grade. That netted me fourth. I felt that ride was way harder than a week earlier when we averaged 27mph. This week I logged 25.8mph. This ride was longer with more hills and it was very windy. There's no way I'll be recovered by Saturday for the Sunapee road race. I had pretty severe case of DOMS getting up this morning.

I probably won't do Exeter next week. Too much too close to 6-gaps. As Solobreak once put it, our ride format tends to be last man (or woman) standing. I may opt for a Charlie Baker TT night instead. How much damage can a 20+ minute cannibal effort do?

Saturday, May 9, 2009

100x1002 Season Opener

While most roadie folks were at Sterling today, a few of us went out on a Hill Junkie ride. I've done Sterling once, last year, and the course didn't excite me much. It is a lot of laps around a small circuit with moderate amount of climbing. Seems to favor sprinters over climbers. So to get my fill of climbing and maybe a little training value thrown in for good measure, Dave P, Glen F and I headed over to Mt Ascutney in Vermont.

The state park was still closed. Just as well. This meant there was reasonable chance we'd have the mountain to ourselves (hangliders have key to gate and can enter any time). It was raining on the way up, only misting at Ascutney. Roads stayed dry just a mile north of Ascutney. The weather actually worked out well.

Dave brought his newly acquired PowerTap device and planned to capture a baseline FTP during the first 20 minutes of the climb. It would be an interesting experiment, as he is just learning how to pace with power feedback. It is quite revealing for new users actually, as almost everybody goes out way too hard at the beginning of a TT, and when steep terrain levels off a bit, it is almost impossible to keep the power up. I had no PowerTap and wasn't even going to time myself. My legs were still wrecked by Wed/Thur training.

Dave got his numbers, quite impressive I might say. Seems he has been putting his time while unemployed to good use. Back at the bottom, we loaded the bikes up with bottles for the big loop. Plan was to hit Tyson Road, aka "The Alps," the dirt Shrewsbury/CCC climb, and then finish ourselves off on Okemo.

Funny what a 20 minute TT can do to your body when you still have a boat load of climbing to do. Dave didn't exactly bounce back from that stellar effort. I know exactly how that goes. Been there many times. We all put in a pretty good effort on the steeper, upper portions of the 1200ft Tyson Rd climb. I was still feeling pretty good. The descent down to Rt 100 is always a blast, but not without risk. Seems the one hairpin corner always has rocks or gravel on it.

Glen summiting dirt Shrewsbury/CCC Rd. Smooth as pavement here.

We headed north on Rt 100 about 8 miles to pick up Shrewsbury/CCC road. It was still gated. Not good. The last time we encountered a gated seasonal road, we had to dismount about every hundred feet for fallen trees. Plus it was really soft that time. The sign on the gate said something about soft conditions, foot traffic welcome. Great. We gave it a go anyway. Turned out it was only a little soft for our 23mm tires. The one-lane gravel road was actually smoother than most of the pavement in the area. And there was no dead-fall. It doesn't get much better than that. This was the second major climb of our ride where we had the road to ourselves. This one gains over 1000ft at 10-12% grade. Without auto traffic on it all winter, it did feel like riding two flat tires. It was work, but doable.

Once we got past the gate over the top, auto traffic packed the surface much firmer. We rocketed down. When we got down to Rt 103, we were expecting tail wind. Mother nature was playing tricks on us. Headwind heading west, now headwind heading east. Go figure. We gradually climbed about 700ft into a vicious headwind on this road. Slow going. Most of this gain was dropped in just a couple miles before picking up Rt 100 again to head into Ludlow.

By this point, Dave's goose was cooked. He opted out of the Okemo climb. He wanted to avoid crossing the dubious training value threshold. Glen and I were not going home without doing Okemo. I was scared. It was now very muggy out, and I feared the cramp demon would make an appearance. Dave camped out at the deli sipping espressos while Glen and I killed ourselves at 4mph up another 12%, 2000+ foot climb. This time we could not go fast enough to ditch the black flies. We were clearly on the doorstep to dubiousness.

I noticed a lot of snow in the terrain park areas of ski runs. Looked enticing in my overheated state. Reached the top, took a couple obligatory photos, then headed down. Glen was not far behind. I stopped at the snow. Just had to flop down on it. It is not normal to be so hot and still have snow to lay in.

Our fears were now Dave would be rested and abuse us over the remaining 20 miles with one modest climb back to the cars. Normally Rt 131 can be cruised at high speed with minimal effort. Not today. The wind was sure to always be in our face and got stronger in proportion to our fatigue. Wind, you suck! Anyway, we made sure Dave took his share of pulls, having done about 2150ft less climbing than Glen and I.

The ride took longer than expected. I think part of it was softness on Shrewsbury Rd. And Dave killed himself for the first 20 minutes and wasn't himself thereafter. I logged 93.3 miles in 5hrs, 41min riding time. It includes warmup and putzing around at the tops of climbs regrouping. Topo says 11,550ft of climbing, plus my warmup gives nearly 12,000ft of climbing. I know this is high, as Rt 131 is nearly all downhill, yet Topo gives about 700ft of climbing on this part of the course. It is safe to say Glen and I did over 10,000ft of climbing and Dave did over 8,000. The title of this post suggests 100 miles, but we didn't quite get there. We cut a little bit out to meet time commitments. Turned out to be a great ride with decent training value if you plan to do 50 or 100 mile MTB races later this season as Dave and I do. 6-Gaps is in two weeks. That clearly taps into the dubious regime. Expecting a large turn-out, with three different start times this year based on anticipated riding time. Then a few of us plan to do an inaugural Berkshires Boondoggle 100x1002 ride on June 6. So many fun places to ride in New England, wouldn't you say?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Fastest Exeter Ever?

Had a chance to slip over to Exeter for their rendition of Wednesday Night Worlds this evening. Looking around the staging area of Exeter Cycles, I figured I was in trouble. The group looked decisively younger than last year. Or maybe I'm just getting really old. Anyway, it looked like most of the IF elite team was there, including Robbie King, a bunch of Nor'East elite guys, Metlife guys, and more. Could have been a Pro/1/2 race lining up.

After John Gromek gave the ride "sermon" replete with thou shalts and thou shalt nots, we're off. The 2.5 mile ride out of town was stop and go with about 30 riders. With such a large group, John is very sensitive about us not alienating Exeter residents by violating traffic laws or plugging up the roads. So it was a slow process getting out of Exeter with rush hour traffic.

Once we crossed Rt 101, the hammer drops. The speed went to 30+ mph and stayed there for most of the ride. Riders were getting popped left and right on the rolling terrain. I hung on for dear life. About half way into the ride I found myself with about 12 riders in the lead group. I think there was only one other master in this group. The rest looked more like my son's age. The pace became much less peaky, as we had a nice paceline rotation going. The pace we were holding was nuts. I'm amazed I was able to pull through. We picked a few riders up along the way that short cutted to get back on. Approaching the "finish," we had about 15 riders going for the sprint. A couple guys went early, but I think Robbie got them. I was probably about 7th.

I did not start my computer after we got out of town. Those that did said we averaged 27mph. This isn't a race with marshalls at corners. There were many intersections were we stopped or slowed way down. That means were were flying the rest of the time. It wasn't flat either. The Exeter rides usually aren't this fast this early in the season. Wonder what would have happened had we done one of the big hill loops? Hanging on in a ride like this is a great psychological boost. Maybe I was just intoxicated with endorphins. Either way, I'll have to get back there more often. Punishment this good is hard to come by.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Mt Mitchell

The gloomiest of forecasts held true for today. We awoke to steady rain. Radar showed little hope for a dry ride in the Asheville area. As I said in yesterday's post, today was do or die for a Mt Mitchell assault. I had really hoped for an epic today, including a 2500ft dirt road climb and a loop with more climbing through a town called Little Switzerland. Brett has lower threshold to lousy weather riding than I do, so if I wanted riding company, a minimal Mt Mitchell ride would have to do.

It poured the whole drive over to Marion, a town 40 minutes east of Asheville. We parked just north of Marion at about 1200ft, which is about 1000ft lower than our hotel in Asheville. The net gain to the summit should be over 5400ft, if indeed this beast is the tallest thing this side of the Rockies.

Kitting up in pouring rain sucks. Knowing you will be out in the stuff 4+ hours sucks even more. At least the climbing starts right away. It was fairly mild too, so at least we didn't need any extra layers on. I wore a hi-viz shell to avoid getting tagged on the short bit of Rt 70 we took to start the climb.

On this Sunday morning, traffic was very light on Rt 80 heading towards the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP). A car every few minutes or so was it. The climbing is very gradual for the first several miles. The road follows a trout stream. Very scenic.

Summit portion of climb.

About 10 miles into the ride, we finally get to the real climbing. Rt 80 kicks up with a vengeance, maybe 8-10% grade for the last 3.5 miles or so. Brett said he wasn't doing any intervals this ride. Guess I had to then. After yesterday's sub-5000ft recovery ride, my legs had a little spunk to them. I drilled the last 1500ft or so of Rt 80 approaching the BRP. I figure I held something like 340W for 20 minutes, less than Mt Ascutney race pace, but hard considering this was the fourth day riding in big mountains. My legs were seered by the time I hit the BRP. Going to be a short ride due to weather, so might as well go for non-dubious training value, right?

Rt 80 switchbacks up to BRP.

The rain had pretty much tapered off at this point. The sun was trying to poke through. Weather was looking positive. We had no idea if thunderstorms were back-filling this micro-hole in the gloom.

The climbing continues at a brisk pace heading south on the BRP. Eventually it tops out, rolls a bit, then you get a big descent. These kinds of descents are morally destructive. You hadn't reached the summit yet, so you know you have to earn that lost vertical back a second time. Coming back, I think this divot registered 450ft. Anyway, after this dip, it was all up to the summit, something like another 8 miles. The road was drying in places, and holes opened in the clouds to reveal that we were in between layers of clouds.

From around 3500ft on BRP looking south early in ride.

We finally see a sign that the BRP is closed in one mile. That must mean the Mt Mitchell summit road is less than one mile away. Yesterday we biked up the BRP to the closure from the other side. I stopped to eat some Clif Bloks, and Brett came hammering by. Apparently he got a second wind. I didn't know at the time he was starting an interval. Yesterday I said I would hide his PowerTap. I forgot to.

My legs were not feeling so great anymore after the threshold effort earlier. I still thought I'd catch Brett before the summit, since it was still several miles at moderately steep grade. Nope. I kept seeing tire tracks on the dry bits of pavement between wet patches. We hadn't seen another cyclist yet on this ride. As we passed 6000ft elevation, the temperature plummeted and the wind kicked up something fierce. I was still in short sleeves but barely maintaining core body heat working hard. Brett reached the summit parking area before I caught him. I hit the summit parking lot in 2:29 riding time. We soft pedaled the first 10 miles or so until the climbing got steep. The parking area is still 100-200ft shy of the summit. A paved path goes there but was clearly marked foot traffic only. I think the guy at the open-air shop told Brett we had to walk our bikes up. I did. I was not going to miss it just because I couldn't ride to it.

Twin Tunnels on BRP.

There was no view from the platform at 6684ft. Fleeting instances revealed the summit road a few hundred feet below, but that was it. It was so windy you had to hold on. Temp was probably around 50F. It felt very much like the summit of Mt Washington. Globs of cloud came whizzing by at something like 60mph. Pretty cool if it wasn't for the fact we were freezing.

The gift shop was heated. We got some hot cocoa. I picked Cathy up something special. Additional weight would help me out now, right? Glad I had a dry heavy weight jersey and wind shell to put on. Could have used full finger gloves and knee warmers too, like Brett brought along. I asked if any other cyclists had been up yet today. Nope. The woman said earlier in the morning it was pouring buckets. So I guess in a way, we really lucked out. Thus far the rain early in the ride was inconsequential, and it looked like we could begin the descent on semi-dry roads and no rain.

Brett around 4500ft on BRP.

The first 1200ft of plummet sucked. Some really dense clouds moved in. We couldn't see more than 100ft at times. On a good day, I'm sure you could rip 40+mph down the state park road. Today anything much over 30mph was fear of death. I kept thinking about the deer we saw earlier. You'd never be able to stop in time if one of these were standing in the road. Brett was totally shivering by the time we got down to the BRP. Even though I had more exposed skin, I think the dry thermal layer I hauled up paid off.

Proof.

At least it was noticeably warmer already at this elevation, around 5400ft. Continuing the descent on the BRP, we were in and out of the clouds. My glasses were useless. I was blind without them and blind in the fog anyway. More heavy braking was required on what probably would be wide open bombing on a clear, dry day. We get to the divot where we dropped 450ft early. This meant we had to climb now. My legs completely forgot how to perform this function. That had to be the slowest 450ft I climbed in a while. But once over that, it was nearly all downhill back to the cars.

Fleeting instant of view below from summit.

Getting down to junction with Rt 80, we were out of the clouds for good. The first 3-4 miles down Rt 80 were going to be a real hoot. Pavement was still very wet here, maybe the rain stopped here only short while ago. There were probably over 100 turns to be navigated at 8-10% grade. Wicked fun. It would be wickedly funner if dry. Eventually Rt 80 levels out and the ride is about over. Brett had no interest in adding the Little Switzerland option, and having tenderized my legs on this ride, I had my fill of vertical for the day too.

Summit of Mt Mitchell with clouds from BRP.

So there you have it. Doubting Nor'Easterners doubt no more. My GPS said summit of Mt Mitchell was 6679ft above sea level. This is nearly 400ft higher than summit of Mt Washington. This is a remarkable climb, but so was Clingman's Dome and Roan Mountain, also both over 6000ft.

I finished the ride with 3hrs, 52min riding time. Total climbing was 7021ft. Distance was 60.1 miles, which included a tad of looping back or through scenic vista lots. Brett was quite happy with the training value of this ride, so I guess it wasn't dubious. I was happy to hit this climb even though making an epic out of it didn't work out today. So for this trip, we hit two state high points. Brasstown Bald will have to wait for another trip. We fly back Monday. Hope to get short ride in early before boxing the bikes up, but only if it is not raining. More heavy squalls have moved through this afternoon since finishing our ride. They really need the rain here, so not all bad. Brett is taking his coach, Andy Applegate, out for dinner tonight. Ought to be interesting.

Spooky looking entrance to Twin Tunnels on way back down.

For Thom P.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

BRP Recovery Ride

Major weather related nastiness was bearing down on the southeast again this morning. After talking with Jon from Chapel Hill area (who we hoped to ride with on Mt Mitchell this morning), we decided it might be better to wait until Sunday. Besides, Brett needed a breather from two days of threshold efforts. I'm going to hide his PowerTap to put a stop to this madness.

So we opted to ride right from the hotel early, head up Town Mountain Road to the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP). Our goal was to beat the rain. When we first booked this trip, we were not aware of a closure on the BRP between Asheville and Mt Mitchell. It was about 20 miles out. We planned to ride to the closure, maybe explore one of the side gap roads depending on weather and legs.

Starting out on Town Mountain Road was steep. Brett seemed to take right off. If this was going to be recovery day, I was going to go as easy as possible. I was in my lowest 34x27 gear and still going upper end of tempo pace for about 1000ft of vertical. The grade levels off about 1200ft above our hotel. Town Mountain Rd rolls for a bit, then drops a few hundred feet down to the parkway. The parkway resumes a more rolling nature before it kicks up at 4-5% grade for the next 10 miles or so.

The green line, somewhere around 4000ft I'd guess. Trees above here have not started budding yet.

The closure on the BRP is due to rock/mud slide, maybe from a hurricane a few years ago. Not sure. It was gated and posted closed to bikes a few miles from the actual repair sight. Brett and I decided to ride past the gate. Seems locals do the same. After another long tunnel, we come around the bend to see equipment and men on this Saturday morning. Didn't need any trouble from them, so we quickly U-turned and got back out of sight. This was about 3300ft net gain from our hotel and 20.5 miles out. It still hadn't rained but it was looking ever more threatening.

Looks like fair game to me. Another pristine three miles of riding/climbing was to be had after the gate.

No more than beginning the descent, it started spitting rain. Fortunately, it never really did more than this. The road never got completely wet. The tunnels we climbed through were far more scarier bombing at 35-40mph than climbing at 10-12mph. One tunnel was maybe 0.2mi long. It was nearly black in the middle. There could have been a car sized rock fallen out of the ceiling and we wouldn't have seen it. Unnerving to say the least. Plus your sense of balance gets screwed up without the normal visual cues. Peripheral vision was completely dark. The only cue was light at the far end.

The upper tunnel we rode through, around 5000ft.

Before rejoining Town Mountain Rd, we decided to see where Elk Mountain Scenic Hwy went (up, of course). It gained about 400ft before leveling off. We turned around, still hoping to beat the rain back.

The final descent down Town Mountain Rd was a blast. I took a little more risk on this descent than the others. Only a little braking was required, as many of the turns were nicely banked. There was not a straight meter on it. Wicked fun. This pops out nearly downtown Asheville and less than 2mi from our hotel on the east side (through another tunnel on Tunnel Road).

The mythical, elusive Mt Mitchell in distant center of image. The road reconstruction area was just around the bend. Mitchell is really there. But is it really 6684ft above sea level? Hopefully a New Englander can answer this question once and for all on Sunday.

We beat the rain with less than an hour margin. It never rained hard as of 3pm, and it probably didn't rain at Mt Mitchell until much later in the afternoon if at all. You can never tell what the weather is going to do in the mountains, even an hour from now. You just have to go out and ride. I'm a little bit bummed we didn't do Mitchell today. Tomorrow is do or die. Forecast looks the crappiest yet of the four days we're here. Could be a six hour monkey butt inducing rain slog.

For today, we ended up with 44 miles, 4865ft vertical, in 2hrs, 52min riding time. Great recovery ride, eh? So here's our trend:
Thu: 80mi, 9000ft, 4.8hrs
Fri: 64mi, 7100ft, 4.1hrs
Sat: 44mi, 4800ft, 2.9hrs

Looks like Sunday should be about 20 miles, 3000ft and sub-2hrs. Last year in Virginia we logged 33,000ft and 15hrs of riding in the first three days. Mitchell should minimally net about 7000ft of climbing. I'm hoping we can do the full 100+ mile loop with over 10,000ft of climbing. Haven't gotten even one ride of dubious training value in yet on this trip. Hill Junkie trips are usually chocked full of dubious training value rides.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Beech Was A Bitch

Our plans were disrupted again today. This time it was a large storm front moving through the area mid morning. Brett and I opted to hold off riding a bit. We planned to head southwest and ride a Brasstown Bald loop. But southward had gloomy prospects for a dry window. Northward look like it would clear by noon, but I didn't really have any ride ideas ready. E-quaintence recommended a Roan Mountain loop. I had never heard of it. A brief look suggested it was a worthy climb, something on the order of an Alpe d'Huez or Whiteface Mountain in New York. A loop entailed many miles of highway with minimal hill content. An out and back looked more appetizing. Nearby was Beech Mountain, one that Lance Armstrong trained and raced up in the Tour DuPont. We could tack this or another nearby climb on, Grandfather Mountain, if legs and weather permitted.

We left the hotel in pouring rain. It rained the whole drive up to Elk Park, near the Tennessee/North Carolina state line. Breaks were appearing as we arrived though. Then the sun came out. If we pulled another ride off dodging the rain, that would be sweet.

Roan Mountain from Elk Park

The five miles on Rt 19E to Roan Rd (Rt 143) was not an ideal cycling route. Rumble strips on the shoulders, randomly on and off again? 60mph dump trucks 3ft away? Brett was not happy to say the least. But once we got on Roan Rd and into the climb, traffic was near nil. Brett started an interval on his PowerTap again. Silly biker. Our legs were fubar from yesterday's ride. The grade went to about 8% and stayed there for what seemed like indefinitely. We saw a car maybe every 15 minutes. Sweet. Except this pace was not conducive to doing Mt Mitchell as planned the next day.

Looking down Rt 143 from around 5000ft level. Spring up here is weeks behind the valley.

We reach Carvers Gap at 5500ft, not quite yet into the clouds. The right turn at the state line takes us to the summit in less than two miles. This brought us into the cloud line. There will be no view at this summit. Two for two on viewless summits this trip. From when the grade kicked up to the summit took 59 minutes. I was in lower end of threshold training zone during this time.

Looking up Roan Mountain. As we climb, trees became bare.

There was nobody up here. We put the shells on to prepare for the 3600ft plummet. Got to like the climbs and descents around Asheville. This one was another 10+ miles of no pedaling speeds often over 40mph. Very little braking was needed. We suffered the five miles of 19E back to the car to replenish.

Carvers Gap at 5500ft on the Tennessee/North Carolina state line. We thought about bombing down into North Carolina and then come back up for second climb of the day. But I would surely run out of fluids and fuel.

Beech Mountain track.

Brett was very reluctant to do Beech Mountain. He thought it was much steeper. I didn't really know;) I had no time to research either of these climbs. I knew of Beech, but no stats. I knew it gained approximately 2500ft. We gave it a go. I think it was only 10-11 miles to the summit from where we were parked. It was now warm and muggy in the valley. I scarfed down about 500 calories at the car and dumped remaining fluids into my Camelbak.

Six miles brings us gradually up to the Beech Mountain resort access road. Man, our legs were in no shape to push the gears we brought up that grade. It was unrelenting. Sustained 10-12% sections killed us. There were many heinously steep switchbacks heading up to the resort. We finally reached the top of Rt 184, but this was not yet the summit. Skiloft Rd through condos provides the route. Just like the walking path to high point of Clingman's Dome yesterday, this gem of a ribbon of pavement was the climax of the climb. It switchbacked furiously around condos, hitting grades greater 20%. This was like the summit of Mt Washington, except 5x longer. The end of pavement could not have come soon enough. We made it... barely.

Switchbacks on Skiloft Rd. How many can you count between the condos?

Finally, an incredible view. This peak was only at 5200ft, and it was mostly sunny now. The view across the valley to Grandfather Mountain was breathtaking. The view came at considerable cost on the body though. Beech Mtn turned out to be a bitch to climb. I can see why Lance would train on this one. It was much steeper than the other climbs we've done so far. Traffic kind of sucked though. Seems there is new construction going on at the resort. It was now 11 miles back to the car, almost all down hill.

We finished the ride with 64 miles, 7120ft of climbing, in 4hrs, 5min riding time. Tomorrow is up in the air. The forecast is most pessimistic yet. We are the most trashed. Brett has no interest in doing Mt Mitchell on Saturday. I have no interest in a recovery day. Not sure how this will work out yet.

Looking back down the climb from summit of Beech Mountain.