Sunday, May 13, 2012

Wachusett Hillclimb

It seems the shorter they are, the harder they hurt. On Saturday, the opening volley of the 2012 BUMPS challenge was held at Wachusett Mountain. It has been a few years since any kind of cycling event was held at Wachusett. The summit road reconstruction is now complete, and the result is fabulous. Wachusett is a new addition to BUMPS and is the shortest climb in the series. It doesn't make it any easier. You just go harder and faster.

New pavement! This is the descent.

I understood BUMPS age group categories went by age on December 31, just as USAC does. Individual events still have discretion to use race day age if they wish. I did not know this. I turn 50 in August and registered in the 50-59 age group. At registration, they had me in the 40-49 age group. I didn't really care what age group I was in, as it is me against the mountain anyway. But I did want to go head to head with Gerry Clapper, who was registered in the 50+ age group. Gerry is a phenomenal climber, and I was feeling a bit cocky, thinking maybe I could stay with him. Or at least turn myself inside out trying. Alas, it was not to be. I went off with the younger group with several other worthy contenders.

The mass-start course is different than the time-trial route used years ago in the Wednesday night series. We started further down Mile Hill Rd. The downhill with 40mph hairpin turn most of the way up is also gone, shortening the course. So I expected times to be a minute or two faster.

I lined up second row behind Greg Larkin, Ulandt Kim, Jeff Johnson, Marti Shea and others. I think they've all beaten me at one time or another in these things. The first kilometer or so is flat to gradually rising. Drafting was significant. I wasn't sure if anybody was going to nail it from the go. We get the 3, 2, 1, go.  Ulandt drills it and started pulling away immediately. Jeff led the chase until things got steep. I was maybe 5-6 back. Slowly, one by one, riders started fading back until nobody was between me and Ulandt. I stood and started mashing a big gear and big Watts. I caught Ulandt and rode right past him. Four minutes in, I was passing riders from the first wave that started five minutes earlier.

I was in my element. Wachusett is really a sprint climb. I figured it would take around 16 minutes. I could throw my fast twitch and VOmax at this thing and maybe do ok. I hammered long stretches out of the saddle. This is uncharacteristic of me, and I think the running has something to do with it. It feels more aerobically efficient when the grade is steepest. Greg, Marti and Jeff were never far back though. At one point about half way up, I had a moment of doubt. I had been at the hurl threshold almost from the start and I thought implosion was imminent. Didn't happen. I hit the finish at 16:15. I could barely talk after I recovered. The dry air, high pollen and hardest breathing since a Weston sprint race did a number to my throat.

Approaching the summit

Finishers accumulating at the summit

I finished fourth overall.  Mark Schwab from Colorado won. He used this hillclimb as an opener for the Pro/1/2 Sterling road race, which he had to scramble to get there in time! Tim Ahearn was second, and Gerry Clapper finished third. All sub-hour finishers on Mt Washington. I didn't want to burden my bike with a PowerTap wheel, so I don't have a quantitative benchmark to compare to. Qualitatively, I usually finish about about 7% back from Clapper. Assuming Gerry is in good form right now, I did quite well finishing only 3% back from him. Could going off in his wave have forced me to muster another 3% in performance? Probably not. I thought my effort and pacing were pretty solid. If I can do 3% back from Gerry on Mt Ascutney in July, I will easily beat my PR. I've been racing Ascutney since the inaugural event in 2000.

Base area from part way down. Mt Monadnock peak on left.
Wapack Range towards right, were I did running repeats
on Pack Monadnock the next morning (ouch!).

The event drew about 200 participants, which is excellent for a first-time event and considering the Sterling road race was going on practically next door the same day. Joe Tonon/Destination Cyling pulled off a flawless execution of the day's activities, which included a kid's race, post race BBQ and awards. It will definitely go on my calender again next year.

After lunch, JoeyB from Connecticut and I went for a tour of the surrounding hill country.My first Vermont Six-Gaps ride was with Joey many years ago.  We headed up on the western flank of Wachusett on W. Princeton Rd, which to my surprise, was gravel. No problem for skinnies though. We bombed down through Princeton center, then over to Justice Hill Cutoff. Rigor mortis had already set into my legs. How could a 16 minute effort do so much damage? Freaky. Just as we approached the intersection of North Row and Heywood, the Pro/1/2 field of the Sterling race went by.

We dropped down into Leominster and then started working our way back via Elm St (500ft climb) and the classic Hobbs/Pine climb to the state park entrance. Joey was game for the summit again on such a pristine day. This time the gate was closed, as the park hasn't officially opened yet. It was nice to bomb that 1000+ feet of vertical a second time.  We finished with 38 miles, 5000+ feet of climbing in 3:15 riding time.  A very satisfying day.


DaveP said...

You need to put up the pic that was posted on FB of you holding hands with Greg and Kim for the awards ceromony, that is really sweet. Everyone looks so happy.

Hill Junkie said...

Dave - I specifically left that photo out so you'd have nothing to comment on, and you still had to comment on it anyway!

Keagan Dog said...

Nice Ride Doug!! Did you use your Garmin? Would like to see where they started and finished you guys. Do you think the new pavement makes the climb any faster?

Thanks much,

John M.

Hill Junkie said...

Thanks John. I did not use my Garmin either. I believe this track accurately depicts this year's race. The start was at first gated dirt parking lot you come to on right after turning off Rt 140. We did not finish at the very summit, as it is mostly fenced off for new lookout tower construction. We finished in lower parking lot maybe 50 vertical feet shy of high point. I would expect the race to finish at the top next time, adding maybe 15 seconds. I doubt the new pavement makes the climb any faster than a couple years ago before they started tearing things up. But it sure makes the descent a lot faster!

jason_ssc1 said...

I've done the Wachusett climb twice now. Both times were at the end of September last year and this year.

As I was about to enter the park last year, a park employee motioned for me to come to him. He warned me that cyclists had been ticketed the day before for going 50 on the descent. He said the fines were $200!

Limiting my speed to 35 last year and 40 this year sucked but with the official speed limit at 20, I was intimidated by the potential for a fine. It was a waste of beautiful pavement! At least Mountain road when you exit has no such limitations. I topped out at 49MPH there. The pavement isn't nearly as pristine on it though.