Archive for October, 2009

Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hill Climb 2009

| October 4, 2009 12:42 pm

by Alison Chaiken

In The Complete Guide to Climbing (By Bike), author John Summerson wrote about Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb: The most difficult road bike hill climb in the U.S. and perhaps the world, this road is only open to bikes during the annual hill climb race usually held in August and at times for several hours for a practice ride shortly before the race. No concession to gradient was made as it starts out steep and never lets up all the way to the top.

Woot! I had to try it. That meant getting up at 4:45 AM on February 1st, 2009, as the registration opened at 8 AM Eastern Time. In 2008, the 600-person field filled in 7 minutes. The fact that my family lives near Mt. Washington in northern New Hampshire meant that the race could be part of a longer vacation. A friend of my father’s told him that the gradient was so steep that cyclists had to stand the entire way. As a Low-Key Hillclimber and veteran of many Almaden Cycle Touring Club “billygoat” hills of gradient greater than 20%, I knew that I would not have to stand for much of an average-12% climb. Nonetheless, the 4725′ elevation gain over 7.4 miles was a bit scary, especially when paired with the 22% finish, reminiscent of our local Mt. Diablo’s 16% finish. You do have to wonder about an event where the winningest riders in both the men’s and women’s categories are under long-term ban by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

According to Summerson, Mt. Washington has the toughest 5-mile climb in the U.S., with an average 12.1% slope over that distance. The Angliru featured in the Vuelta a Espana goes up at an average gradient of 10.1% over 7.8 miles, while the infamous L’Alpe d’Huez of the Tour de France rises up 8.4% over 8.1 miles. By comparison, local lung-buster Alba climbs 2050′ over 3.9 miles for an average 10% grade, with the fearsome Bohlmann-On Orbit rising 2337′ over 4.7 miles for a similar 10%. Mt. Washington thus has about twice the elevation gain of Bohlmann-On Orbit over significantly less than twice the distance. As a frequent climber of these Bay Area hills, I normally ride a 52-39-30 in the front and an 11-27 in the back and definitely had occasion to use my lowest gear at Mt. Washington.

The race was on August 15th, 2009. I flew out to New England on the 13th and stayed with my brother. Jim Chaskin of The Bicycle Outfitter packed my bike up and shipped it, and thanks to help from friend Michele Rae, UPS figured out where it was and delivered it on the 14th. The night before the race, my father, brother and their wives and I stayed over at the Mt. Madison Motel in Gorham, NH.

The morning of the event, I drove out to the Glen View Cafe at the base of the Mountain and had breakfast with a few other participants. Mt. Washington is famous for its bad weather, but August 15th dawned clear and warm. The summit was clearly visible from the base, and riders could see how nearby and high it was!

The race start was amusing because I showed up in my Alto Velo kit, and the P.A. announcer clearly thought I was one of the Webcor women pros. A Colavita rider I spoke to was very friendly as she clearly was wondering why she didn’t recognize me. We 500+ riders went off in five flights all initiated by a loud gun. I was in the 4th of 5th flights, presumably based on the estimated time (90 minutes) I submitted.

At the bottom - Credit: Philbrick Photo

At the bottom - Credit: Philbrick Photo

As noted in the press coverage, the day was beautiful, and riders were actually hot at the bottom. The road surface was mostly smooth and wide in the first five miles. While I could tell that we were definitely going uphill, the variable 10-15% grade didn’t seem any worse than going up Hicks or Montebello, because it wasn’t. There were two kilometer-long stretches averaging > 14%, on one of which I did stand a bit, but for the most part I was taking it easy and conserving my energy. I was pretty nervous when we hit the dirt/gravel section at about mile 5, but since there had been just a bit of recent rain, the roadbed was packed and traction was good. I rode on the embedded-gravel section in the center of the road since
I was worried about slipping my traction wheel when the dirt turned up, but then I was nervous about flatting on some of the sharper-looking rocks. Everyone definitely breathed a sigh of relief when they got back on pavement at about mile 6.5.

About Halfway - Credit: Philbrick Photo

About Halfway - Credit: Philbrick Photo

By this point, the road was a bit narrow and twisty. The views were spectacular since the day was so clear: 360-degree panoramas of all of the craggy and green Presidential Range. By this point, I was having a fabulous time and knew I was going to make it all the way to the top, so I picked up the pace a wee bit. The whole way I was passing riders who were resting or walking, and now I started passing folks who were still riding. As we approached the summit, we entered some mist.

Final Climb - Credit: Philbrick Photo

Final Climb - Credit: Philbrick Photo

In the last mile, I started to go past a lot of spectators. There had been scattered fans all the way up, but as we got into the last half-mile, real crowds were lining the road. At about a
quarter-mile out, I saw that my brother had chalked my name on the roadbed! That really surprised me, and I clicked up a couple of a gears and accelerated, which caused a couple of spectators to hoot encouragement at me.

View of the last wall before the road narrows and the pavement deteriortaes

View of the last wall before the road narrows and the pavement deteriortaes

I came around the final big turn and saw the last wall, which is as steep as Cat’s Hill, but 50 yards long, with two hairpin turns and several big potholes. If those challenges weren’t enough, I saw that the road was only 12-15′ wide, and at the edge were not barriers or course marshals, but spectators with flailing arms and baby strollers. Yikes! I was reminded of
photos of Liege-Bastogne-Liege or the Tour of Flanders:

The Muur van Geraardsbergen in Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) for women. At least there's a rope between the riders and the crowd. Photo taken by Lander Vandergucht.

The Muur van Geraardsbergen in Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) for women. At least there's a rope between the riders and the crowd. Photo taken by Lander Vandergucht.

I had plenty of energy to put on a sprint to the finish, but I was scared. I stay seated, and moving my eyes rapidly between the spectators and the potholes, ground up the final climb. I bobbled in a giant pothole but did not go over. As I hit the first hairpin, I heard my family screaming, “GO ALISON! GO!” They must have been inches away from me although I hadn’t seen them.

Okay, it was hard.

Okay, it was hard.

Later on my family told me that: a) the woman’s overall winner Sue Schlatter had fallen on the same pothole while standing and pumping; and b) spectators had knocked over a unicyclist who was insane enough to ride up Mt. Washington. I’m glad I was conservative on the final bit as, hey, I already had road rash at the start! I rolled around the final bend and over the finish to have attendants grab me, put a blanket over me, and hand me water. Awesome.

I was 12/17 in my W45-50 category, which includes the top two women’s finishers. In retrospect, I could have gone about 10 or 15 minutes faster than my 108-minute finish, but I was nervous about the gravel section and the 22-24% finish and went quite slow at the bottom. My tracklog on Google MyMaps includes my warm-up as well as the race.

After the event, my family gave me a ride down, as racers were not allowed to descend. Hell, a lot of cars are not allowed to drive up!

Half the cars in New England have a sticker.

Half the cars in New England have a sticker

All in all, the race was a wonderful experience. I forget how beautiful New England is between visits. I totally recommend racing
in front of your family even if they are not sports fans.

For contrast, read men’s overall winner Phil Gaimon’s report. (Alison Chaiken)

Insomnia, Mosquitoes Good For Something – White Mountain Double

| October 3, 2009 1:36 pm

by Vince Cummings

I decided to do a new double century called the White Mountain Double to get my third official double for the year in the Triple Crown series. This ride climbs to the top of White Mountain after a flat thirteen mile warm up. The climb gains 6000 feet in twenty miles. After that the ride skirts near the northern boundary of Death Valley heading east. Then it swings north for many miles before turning west and heading back southwest over a long climb and through Benton to the start/finish in Bishop California.

I really like the Bishop area so I took some vacation days from work and went up a couple days before Saturday’s ride to acclimate to the altitude and to explore the area. All the weather reports I heard were for record high temperatures all over the area for Saturday.

By Friday night I was a little apprehensive about the heat. I also had an upset stomach due to too much carbo loading. I went to bed fairly early but could not sleep much.

The ride had two ride starts. The first start was at 4:15 for the predicted slower riders and the second was at 5:15 for people who felt that they could finish the ride in 14 hours or less. I felt fairly confident that I could finish within 14 hours since I finished the Eastern Sierra reroute with about 1500 more estimated feet of climbing in much colder but just as harsh conditions as I expected to find Saturday.

At 2:15 AM I wasn’t sleeping though so I decided to try and make the early start. One thing I learned on this ride was that it is a good idea to check the tires for damage as soon as possible after getting up. I waited until about a half hour before the ride start to find a thorn in my front tire. Fortunately I had a new Michelin Pro Race 3 with me and this was a good excuse to put it on with a new tube.

I made it to the ride start on time and we rolled south down Highway 395 on time at 4:15 am. I led for awhile but fortunately someone else came to the front for most of the ride to the foot of White Mountain. I stopped to take off my vest at the turn off to Death Valley Road right before the start of the climb. This allowed me not to have a dry vest when I got to the top and it kept me from racing up the first climb.

After about 10 minutes I got a good rythmn going and I was able to pass most of the riders who got ahead of me when I put on my vest. I stopped at the first bathroom though and this took about 10 minutes. Then I stopped at the rest stop to fill my bottles.

Even with all those stops I only counted about 10 riders in front of me. So I wasn’t feeling too bad about the ride when I got to the 10000 plus foot paved summit of White Mountain ( a dirt road continues to near the 14000 foot plus summit).

I checked in at the summit station and put my vest back on. The descent wasn’t too bad and it was getting quite warm already.

The next stop was at the same aid station to make sure I had enough Perpeteum to last the next aid station. I stopped again at the bottom of White Mountain Road to drop off my vest and a thermal shirt and my back tail light to have them transported to near the final aid station where I would pick them up later.

After about 6 more miles of very fun descending I was finally at the low point of the ride and the long flat desert road stretched out before me. At this point there was one rider about 1/4 mile in front of me and I was riding with another. We caught the other rider (Jim Poppy from Palo Alto) but the other rider didn’t want to work as hard so he fell back.

We filled our bottles and headed toward Gilbert Pass. I was climbing pretty well at this point and Jim fell back. After the climb though he quickly caught me and we worked together for a few miles (maybe only 5 miles). This was tiring and boring for me though. Even though it is faster to work with two riders it is so monotonous that I chose to go slower instead and let Jim keep a faster pace.

The next rest stop was at a bar appropriately called “The Boonies.” After a 20 minute break there I took off and Jim took off a few minutes later. By now the desert road was getting a little boring and I had developed an annoying habit of looking at my cycle computer every 30 seconds. At this point I started making a mental note to look at the computer as little as possible and just concentrate on the scenery. This strategy worked quite well especially after a short climb dropped me into a beautiful desert basin surrounded by painted mountains. This was at mile 110 and I was feeling a second wind which lasted all the way until the next stop which was the smoothie station.

I arrived at the smoothie station a few minutes behind Jim. A couple fast 5:15 am starters caught us there. After a smoothie and a fresh dose of sunblock and fuel I was ready. Now it started to get hot. As I started the climb the two 5:15 starters passed me. This was first time anyone had passed me since the start of the White Mountain climb 100 miles ago. Jim was well ahead of me too. But no one really took off at light speed and I kept them within sight (as much as I could see with all the sweat dripping sun block into my eyes). This was another 15 plus mile climb and I was very unprepared for it. Although I was still climbing at a decent pace it did throw my calculations for the ride off.

At the next station I could feel a mild bonk (is bonk an adjective?) and the heat was starting to slow me as well. I let someone park my bike for me and I took a seat with a cold cup of water for about 10 minutes. When I got back on the bike I noticed that my computer had been zeroed out. It’s a newer cateye and it has a hair trigger on all the functions so it’s best to leave it on “distance 2” because if that gets zeroed out the other information stays. On all the other functions a simple touch can wipe out everything but distance 2 and total odometer. I only mention this because I think it may be a better idea to decline an offer of help with my bike on doubles. I think just gently laying the bike down is a better idea rather than letting someone else touch it or spending time trying to think of a good place to keep it standing.

Back on the bike I hit the last climb of the day and I was still climbing ok but definitely not fast. The downhill into Benton was the easiest part of the ride. I passed the rest stop and came to the foot of the last climb of the Eastern Sierra reroute. Fortunately at that point one of the ride volunteers came driving up and told me I had missed the stop. I took another 10 minutes at this stop and was anticipating the promised tail wind that I had enjoyed for the final 37 miles of the Eastern Sierra reroute earlier this year.

That wasn’t happening on this day though. I rode by some flags and they were flying straight into my face. So I went into survival mode. The two 5:15 starters who had passed me earlier had stopped at the rest stop for an extended break because one of them seemed to be suffering from too much water retention, with similar symptoms to the ones described by Russ Steven’s on his Hoodoo attempt. These were two riders who probably could finish a ride like the normal Eastern Sierra Route in 11 to 11.5 hours or better. As I geared down for my struggle with the headwind they passed me at about 19 to 20 mph. I thought about grabbing their wheel since I am sure they weren’t going full speed but thought better of it since I was getting pretty tired by now.

Once I hit mile 190 I knew I would get my Triple Crown for the year so I decided to take a break or two on the way in. I pulled over just after the sun went down at a place that looked comfortable and safe to rest a few minutes. I felt something on my leg, looked down, and the mosquitoes were getting ready to inject. Needless to say this kept me riding into Bishop which led to a shower and dinner at a reasonable hour and a fair nights sleep. The next day I was feeling better than usual after a double and stopped to explore the June Lakes area and Bodie State Historical Park.

So if I had a good nights sleep before the double I would have started at 5:15 and probably not been much faster throughout the ride. If it wasn’t for the mosquitoes coming out as the sun went down I would have stopped one or two times in the last ten miles. Thanks to both of these things though I finished exactly at 7:00 and was able recover enough to enjoy the drive home.

The double itself was nice. Good support and friendly staff at all the rest stops. The route was difficult because after the first three climbs there is a 70 mile (approximately) trek north which on this day was into a headwind. The headwind wasn’t so bad but the ride had a fairly small turnout (83 started) so there wasn’t much help for the headwind. Of course the predicted tailwind from Benton to Bishop turned into a strong headwind as well which probably cost me about a half hour at least. Anyway, all that is part of cycling and since I didn’t really draft anyone all day, I feel more of a sense of accomplishment for finishing this one which is my toughest double to date.

Here is the link to more information and results for this double…