Sunday, June 30, 2013


I pulled the plug on another planned MTB race this weekend and hit a hillclimb instead. Vermont has been getting slammed with rain. I don't like riding bikes in mud, and I hate racing bikes in mud even more. So I headed over to Ludlow, VT for the Okemo Mountain hillclimb race, part of the BUMPS series.

I was hoping it would actually be raining, or at least drizzling out for the late morning climb. The forecast called for an abysmal dew point, and regular readers know how well I tolerate heat. When I stopped in Windsor for gas and bio break, my glasses immediately fogged over upon exiting the convenience store. My car said the temperature was only 72F. It could not have been much colder than that in the store (they had great AC). Thus the dew point was very close to 72F, which meant the humidity was close to 100%. No rain in sight either.  Ugh.

Just like the last couple events I've done this season, Okemo was a no-stress event. No PR attempt, no taper, just a solid 30+ minute hammer.  Riding against the clock always maximizes training value. Folks that like to climb are a great group to mingle with too.

I recognized a number of seriously strong climbers warming up - McCarthy, Clapper, Vandendries, to name a few. The humidity at the base was oppressive. This climb was just long enough that I couldn't go race pace the whole way without thermally blowing up. I wondered if Brett R or Bill D were going to do more than just beat up on each other and both beat me this time. I felt a little fresher than for the Kanc TT last week. At least I didn't do a 50 mile MTB hammer ride on Wednesday and work on driveway all day the day before.

We staged in full sun for pre-race instruction. Everybody was dripping with sweat. The neutral start is sketchy. It is a series of chicanes down from the Jackson Gore base area to Rt 103. It is a mine field of wheel swallowing potholes. I lined up late and had no choice but to line up to the outside, which meant I was going to have to sprint across some grass and onto the pavement to not get relegated to the back of the field.

I fared ok at the start, as nobody was in a hurry to be up front. The first two miles is slightly downhill and was into a stiff headwind this time. Nobody wanted to drill it to the base of the climb. I stayed safely out of the wind. In 2009 when there were several young studs present, we averaged nearly 30mph in the first two miles. This time, just over 20mph I think. That will add at least a minute and a half to our time right there. The Okemo climb is great for benchmarking fitness, but not the race start-to-finish with two miles of non-climbing. Your time becomes depending on other factors, like wind and how hard others in the pack want to work, unless of course, you want to kill yourself into the wind for the benefit of everybody else.

We turned onto Okemo Mountain Rd, and the power went from 100W to 500W. I fully unzipped my jersey in anticipation of heat implosion 20 minutes later. About a dozen riders bolted on ahead of me. Happens at every climb. I knew full well I couldn't go that hard in that heat, so I exercised extreme restraint. I knew I would see most of them later anyway.

The first climbing mile was in full sun. It was just brutal. Erik Follen, Gerry Clapper and Charles McCarthy broke well clear of the rest of us. Another eight or so were ahead of me, including Erik Vandendries. Gerry is my age and I'll never beat him in a hillclimb. Erik is slightly younger and I haven't beat him in a while. What was disconcerting was how rapidly Erik was pulling away from me. I normally finish quite close to him.

Around the "Okemo State Forest" grade, as noted by the sign along the road on a sustained 15% grade section, I started reeling Erik in. Hmm, I'm burning up but hadn't really noticed myself slowing down yet. I figured Erik must be in a really tough spot. It took a while, but I passed Erik. There were only the three leaders ahead of me by that point, and I was three-quarters of the way up.

The temperature did drop some as we climbed, and that breeze could often be felt. I zig-zagged across the road to hit as many shady bits as possible. Strangely, I was past the 20 minute mark and didn't feel thermally overwhelmed. With less than a mile to go, I had maybe 30 seconds on Erik and nobody else in sight. Maybe I started to overheat, or maybe I knew my position was sealed and there was no need to continue killing myself, as I backed off some.

I was fourth to finish in 33:49, about 2.5 minutes back from Gerry and 15 seconds ahead of Erik. Relative to my peer group, this was a strong finish despite being a couple minutes off my best.

In 2009, Charles, Gerry and I were also at Okemo. Charles and Gerry were both more than two minutes slower this year than in 2009, when the first two miles was crazy fast. However, I was 1:41 slower this year than in 2009. I PR'd in 2009. Can't read too much into this as far as a benchmark goes. But what is striking is I didn't wilt as expected. Maybe some acclimation was gained from a warm Moab trip in early May and a couple recent weeks of nasty hot weather.

Hazy view to the north just down from the summit

As always, the Ludlow Rotary Club and Okemo Mountain run a flawless event. Feast and awards were promptly held after everybody got back to the bottom. If you haven't tried this BUMPS race yet, seriously consider it next year. After awards, Joey B, Isaac O and I went for a spin. I talked Joey into finally giving dirt Shrewsbury Rd a try, only to find it never re-opened after hurricane Irene damaged it. Bummer. So we did the Killington Stage Race circuit loop instead. Finished with 54 miles for the day.

Brett Rutledge (left) gloating that he medal'd and Bill did not. Bill Dunkerley
edged out Bret at the three previous events they did. The game is on!

I noticed some new signs driving to the race through Newport, NH. I thought wow, we need to get these up in many more places. Why are they only in an obscure place like Newport? They should be placed at both ends of the Kancamagus Highway, where a roofing crew deliberately buzzed us several weeks ago. Most drivers are unaware of this law that has been on the books for several years now in New Hampshire. I'd like to see these signs in the populated southern areas too, perhaps on each major state route that crosses over from Mass (since I live right on the state line). I may have to send a few emails to see if more of these can't be put up.

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