Joining me would be Dave Penney, who is riding wicked strong this year, and Jon Speer, a top Cat 1 rider from the southeast. Jon gave the local strongmen a run for their money at Wompatuck on Tuesday. What was I thinking?
This was the first cool day since May at least. Maybe since February. Suited me well, since I was stuck in AC for nine weeks straight. We hit Kinsman Notch first. I stayed with Jon and Dave, thinking that was way harder than I should have gone and I'll certainly pay for it later. The other two were just warming up. I learned Jon possesses many skills. Texting while climbing a mountain pass is one of them. Heading down the other side of Kinsman, I learned Jon knows how to descend. He has this formidable position on the bike that a) leaves nothing for the wind to push against, and b) leaves nothing for riders behind him to draft. You know how descending is supposed to be, right? Where the guy up front kills himself putting out massive Watts and those in tow are coasting and riding brakes. Dave and I were confounded later in the ride when neither of us could stay on Jon's wheel hammering while he coasted up front. Granted, Jon has a bit different body geometry that more easily let's him achieve this aero position, but it shows I have a lot of room for improvement.
Turning onto Rt 116, we hit all those nasty little rollers. Dave loved lighting it up on these. Each one was more nails in my coffin, as I could not simply hide in the draft. I knew at this peaky pace, this ride would not bode well for me.
We wasted no time getting to Rt 18, the climb up to Cannon Mountain. This short bugger packs a punch, something like 1000ft in two miles. I knew enough to throttle back from the start if I was to finish this ride. Dave hit it hard with Jon in tow, but then Dave either caved or Jon turned it up another notch or both. I still went pretty hard, near my Mt Ascutney pace last weekend. I crested the top 40sec behind Dave and minutes behind Jon.
The loop takes a bit of bike path to bypass I-93 and link up Rt 3. Rt 3 is nice, as it is about 9 miles of mostly slight downhill to the village of Twin Mountain. I planned to be a parasite on Dave and Jon's wheels.
Dave and Jon on Rt 302
We stopped at the Irving station on Rt 302 by Bretton Woods. The ride was not yet half over, but I was three quarters cooked. Not a good situation, as once we bomb down Crawford Notch, I was fully committed to the remaining two climbs. I went down the 13% grade of Crawford at well over 50mph, yet Jon became a tiny dot in the distance in just seconds. WTF! It took Dave and I a good while to catch back on.
Bear Notch Rd was just repaved. It wasn't in that bad of shape climbing from the Bartlett side to begin with, but I bet it is a superb descent now. The other two said they were going to take it easy on this one. Yeah, yeah. Everybody says that. In fact, before the ride, Jon commented he's "ridden hard all week" and is "only a sprinter". Those are code words for "you're in for a serious ass-whooping." Dave set pace initially, and I thought I can do this, I'm not cramping yet. Then Jon takes over, and the pace continuously inched up for the second half of the climb. I threw in the towel about 2/3 of the way up. I recall last year I was the guy stringing others out until nobody was left on my wheel on this climb. At this point, I knew I was screwed on Kancamagus Pass. I was done.
It was fairly warm now, and I nearly emptied my two water bottles already. After the brief Bear Notch descent down to the Kanc, there's about 5 miles of nearly flat riding before the steep stuff starts. I had nothing left. Half way up, I realized my pie plate 34t cassette with 38t ring did not go low enough. The ride had degenerated into full-on death march for me. Interestingly, I had a 21mph average going into this climb, easily a PR pace for this loop. This was due only to scabbing off the efforts of others when not climbing. But when you go 6-8mph for half an hour, a PR finishing time is obliterated. My averaged dropped to 19mph. I became one unhappy person slogging up. Walking would not have been much slower and might stave off cramping that was certain to come anytime.
I bet Jon and Dave were ready to send search and rescue for me by the time I reached the top. Now just if I could hold a wheel on the way down, I'd be all set. It is 14 miles, all downhill, back to Lincoln. But remember what I said about Jon's descending prowess? Dave and I were left scratching our heads again. We regrouped part way down, where Jon towed us back. After some recovery, I thought I was good to take a solid pull. Silly me. 30 seconds in, my left leg cataclysmically seized up. I tried right leg pedaling with left unclipped. That immediately sent my right leg into spasms. I was in a sorry state with just 4 miles to go. The other two graciously waited for me as I worked the spasms out. This happened a couple more times before reaching the car.
So what was my riding time? 4:41hrs, exactly one minute faster than last year, which I thought was a blistering pace. But last year, I did a lot of the work and was able to slay the climbs. Clawing my way back from injury this year, I barely survived the climbs and shamelessly sucked wheels the rest of the time. Wheel suckage does work, more than making up for my diminished ability.
So glad that was over with. What does not destroy me, makes makes me stronger, right? I debated whether there was any value in going to physical therapy that evening. I feared my ankle would mushroom. There was barely enough time to go out for dinner with the wife, so I didn't even ice my ankle. Surprisingly, I did not swell up at all. In fact, the PT staff said my ankle looked really good. When I told them what I did in the morning, I just got blank stares. I guess they don't have too many patients that go on 94 mile mountainous bike rides a week after getting out of a cast.
It was great to finally meet Jon, who's spending time with family this week. We tried on a couple other occasions to hook up, both here and in North Carolina. It's rare to meet someone who excels in crits yet thrives in epic mountain fest rides. Perhaps when I'm in better form, I can join Jon in one of the timed hundred milers that are very popular in the southeast.