Monday, October 3, 2011

Allen Clark TT

While most of New England fixated on Gloucester this weekend, I did a little time-trial in the northern Green Mountains of Vermont. It is the Allen Clark TT, which goes up the east side of Appalachian Gap. I fully depleted myself during the ride in the Whites on Friday, not caring about the impact it would have on Sunday. Sometimes I treat hillclimbs as A-events, like Greylock this year. That just sets you up for disappointment if you don't do well. A fail safe attitude is to not care about results. Let's face it, riding a bicycle really hard up a big hill is just plain fun. So what if you are a few seconds off some arbitrary goal.

The forecast for Sunday went from nice midweek to sucky. The weather had been quite nice in recent years for the Allen Clark event, so we were due for sucky weather. It rained almost the whole way there with a temp in the 40's. The rain stopped by the time we hit central Vermont and it stayed mostly dry for the event. The road was moist from misty air.

Folks are starting to take this TT seriously. Lots of TT gear there on Sunday. Some folks donned just the helmet. Others went further. The first three miles of the course climbs gradually. Stronger riders will average over 20mph on this part. I suppose TT gear and position could trim several seconds off your time if the bike was light so you wouldn't pay the savings back by having to carry extra weight to the top. I used my trusty Trek 5900 with semi-aero, not so light wheels. I do not own any aero equipment. Hope to change that some day.

Even the juniors take the TT seriously

My legs felt like poo warming up. I did the best I could with the warmup. Tired legs need longer warmup than fresh legs. I went off at 10:38:00 with Brett Rutledge 30sec behind me. Great. How do I always get staged as the 30sec guy for my riding buddies?

I was going to race in knee warmers and long sleeve jersey. Once warmed up, 48F didn't feel too cold. I ditched the extra layers and raced in shorts and short sleeves.

I caught my 30sec guy in 90sec. That's was a confidence booster. We were staged by age, not category. I passed many riders on the way up. I didn't have my usual top end that lets me go out too hard easily. Yet when I hit the 14% grade section near the top, I was already fading. More than 30 seconds slower than last year was the result. I felt neither good nor bad about that. Results were posted later that evening. I still managed to snag 2nd place in my age category, with former Olympian Duncan Douglas taking the win. Duncan overall won the BUMPS challenge this year.

I didn't stick around for awards or results to be posted. I had secondary agenda for heading north. I threw two mountain bikes in the back of the car. Brett carpooled up with me, and we planned to ride up Mt Ellen, the highest peak in the Sugarbush Ski Area at over 4000ft elevation. I had limited intelligence on bikeability of the service road to the summit. Mapping software suggested there would be some heinously steep, sustained grades on the way up. That's what granny gears are for, right?

Lots of fall-line climbing on Mt Ellen

Brett and I quickly swapped shoes, headed up German Flats Rd, then to Mt Ellen base area. From there, the service road starts. The grade quickly kicked up to 15% without relenting. We were near the cloud line, so the road just kind of disappeared into the clouds going right up the fall line under the lifts. Rather demoralizing. Too much so for Brett. The TT left his legs in shambles and he capitulated.

I soldiered on alone. Turns out the 15% grade at the bottom was just a teaser to draw freaks like me in. The grade soon went up to 20-25% and stayed there. With my GPS, I knew I still had to climb about 2000ft in the next two miles. Visibility was very poor, my glasses kept fogging up, and the road surface turned from gravel to broken, large rocks. Wet rocks on 25% grade can be tricky to not spin out on.

For a while, I entertained the idea of cleaning this climb, meaning not stopping or putting a foot down once. But shortly after passing the Glen House, the grade kicked up to 40%. That was completely undoable. I was forced to hoof it. My time was running out, as we had a hard cutoff for Brett to catch a plane in Boston that evening. Walking 1.8mph was never so hard.

30% grade of this was unsustainable

I was able to get back on my bike again after this fall line section (follows upper section of lift line two photos above). But still, the grade was over 20% and I was lucky to go 2.5mph on the bike. This was serious mashing. The 27 minute TT plus 40 minutes of seriously hard mashing were enough to push my quads into cramping. That had to be a new record in how quick I brought cramps on. I was just a few hundred feet from the summit, which was completely invisible. I had to claim it now even if I was a few minutes late getting back to the car. There was one more brief hike-a-bike section just before the summit. I suspect the view from there is spectacular on a clear day, but I was lucky to see the top of the chair lift 50ft away.

The descent was going to be treacherous. I had to get down fast too. No walking. I dropped pressure to 15psi (measured when I got home). Gotta love tubeless tires. I rode the steep, loose rocky bits with confidence, although I bet if it were nighttime, I could have seen my brake rotors glowing red hot. The water bars on such a steep grade nearly send you over the bars. It is like riding into the side of a building. They command big respect. I made it back to the car with 10 minutes to spare.

View of valley after dropping below cloud deck

During this climb, I needed only two saddle positions. Climbing, I had to keep my weight forward. My chest was over my bars, and the nose of the saddle violated my nether regions. Descending, the saddle was slapping me in the chest. I risked having the rear tire snag my chamois.

Grade peaks out at 40%. Speed bottoms out at barely measureable.

I'd say Mt Ellen was the toughest ski area road I've ever done. It gained over 3200ft from town, but 2000 of those feet are gained in just 2 miles on loose rocks. There's also a service road that goes to summit of adjacent Lincoln Peak that I'll have to try sometime. It might be slightly less strenuous. Overall, it was a successful day. The rain held off until we started heading back home.


fabian said...

My quads burned just reading this!

Mookie said...

I think this was the climb you were telling me to do when I asked you if Mansfield was accessible. It's too bad that you're doing the world's longest CX race. We've got a good group doing Great River Ride.