The hype surrounding this event was plentiful; from the race’s storied history and website forum, to an article in Bicycling Magazine, to just talking to people. All the buildup made me question why I ever signed up for it in the first place. But in the end, I had enough confidence in my ability and fitness that I knew I would conquer “The Rock,” not the other way around. My biggest concern was having a bike with the proper gearing to make it to the top. I was to race in a MMBA Series race at Sugarloaf (the toughest climbing race on the circuit!) the next day and I didn’t want to be toast! The goal was to have the Aegis Shaman (‘cross bike) built up with special gearing, but it proved too problematic to get the right ratio with the stock components and I didn’t want to invest any money into it. So, despite KB&S and Steve’s good efforts, I decided to just ride my Aegis ProAxe mountain bike instead. It had the proper gearing, plus the granny gear as a bailout, I am comfortable on it, and it’s fairly light. Besides, I really had no idea what to expect anyway, so at least I’d be OK for the mtb race. Andrew Freye hooked me up with super skinny tires, I pumped up and locked out the front shock and I was good to go.
The fam and I headed out mid-day Friday to spend the night in Gorham, NH. Babs secured perfect lodging after realizing we were too far away from North Conway shopping! She and the kids hit the pool right away while I went to register. We then had a great meal in town, played at a playground and checked out some trains, then it was night, night. There’s nothing like having the kids around to distract you from the next day’s looming pain!
We rose and departed early (6am) for the base. Because bikers aren’t allowed to ride down the road, rides back down have to be arranged and these vehicles must leave and be parked at the summit before the race begins. So Babs and the kids dropped me off and I warmed up while they drove up to wait for me at the top. Neither Babs nor I had ever been to the top of Mt. Washington before. Unfortunately, the weather was not favorable so there were no good views. To make matters worse, it made for difficult driving conditions and seeing Babs’ pictures of the ride up and the kids huddled in the back of the truck at the top really made me appreciate their efforts that day.
Going into the climb, I was considering it a training event. I had no real sense of what previous racers’ times meant and where I might stack up. The race is not a USA Cycling sanctioned event (hence Tyler Hamilton’s presence) so there’s no breakdown of ability categories (except for the Top Notch group which was any licensed Pro or a rider who previously finished the climb in under 1hour 20 minutes), just age groups. At one point Jack Bailey offhandedly said I could probably do it in 1 hour 15. So that was my mark!
My group was the 2nd wave after the Top Notch group. As we sat in the staging area they announced the big names up front like Hamilton (former US Postal rider with Lance at the Tour de France, current doper) and Ned Overend (class-act former mountain bike pro and still going strong at 50+). It rained for a few minutes but then stopped before we began. The cannon went off and we headed up and up and up!
I was in the top-10 at the beginning, then top-5 mid-way, then I latched onto a guy in my group who was maintaining a steady pace similar to mine so I decided to sit in behind him, not knowing whether there would be windy conditions ahead where drafting would help. I knew 1 guy from our group was way out front and then we were 2nd and 3rd. To be honest, I really didn’t think it was too difficult, until the end. I stayed in the middle ring until the last mile when I had to drop it into the granny, but then mid-cog in the rear. My heart rate was in the mid 170’s, which was good because I didn’t have to redline it and I was near the front. It did get a little breezy above the treeline so I was glad I was shielded by it thanks to the guy ahead of me. The last mile was the most difficult. I was in the granny and I don’t remember looking at my HR, so I was probably going harder. The guy I was trailing was strong and he was pushing the pace on every rise, I ended up not being able to match him on one of his bursts, so I concentrated on maintaining my own pace and negotiating the terrain. At one point I went by a Top Notcher and he remarked on the fact that I was not only riding a mountain bike, but shock too! Hey, “Run what you brung” I said.
The finish was epic, and probably what everybody remembers most either because they’re so happy they’ve made it or because it’s so steep. All I’ll remember is the fog because I couldn’t see more than 10 feet in front of me! I had no idea what lay ahead and this was the steepest set of switchbacks I’d ever encountered! People were cheering all over the place, but I just couldn’t see them. I must have looked ghostly too, riding in the white KB&S jersey. I took a former hillclimber’s advice and at a particularly ridiculous switchback, I took the longer high line so as to maintain momentum. They way people were cheering, I kept thinking the finish was right there, but I just kept pedaling into oblivion! I didn’t know whether I should be sprinting or what. Then finally, a clock emerges and a line and the next thing I know I see Babs and the boys and someone is putting a sweet blanket on me. A sub-1hour 10minute time was my reward, and I finished 3rd in my wave.
I was a little delirious and couldn’t think of anything but somewhere to ride to spin out my legs and get the kids more clothes. Babs had to park pretty far down the road so after I regained my senses, I thought to capture the moment and get a picture at the tippity top with the boys. We then made our way down to the truck and hung out while waiting from others to finish and I did my spin. The ride down was sweet, especially since there were breaks in the clouds/fog and we had some pretty cool views. Turns out the weather really improved and while we were at the base, the summit was totally clear, figures!
There was a huge turkey lunch set up with all the stuffings, literally! The boys were champs and had good times with a turkey leg. While I was eating and digesting the event, I started thinking, there was no group or ability designation, just time to determine the top-3. So, even though I was 3rd in my group, which was comprised of my and a couple of other age groups, that didn’t account for any 35-39 year-olds in the Top Notch group. Sure enough, when the results came out, I was listed 4th. 35 year old Tyler Hamilton bumped me off the podium! I guess I need to hit the juice, he broke the age group’s time record! A week later, I checked the standings again and now I was listed 5th! Apparently they must have found some other doper in the Top Notch group!
Anyway, I am very pleased with my time and placing. It was a fine weekend and I may make another stab at it next year, as a 40-44 year old in the Top Notch group. I’ll lay out a spike strip for Tyler while I’m there! Babs was the ultimate team manager/driver/photographer/supporter/and mom. The boys made the most of their environment and were great. The bike was a good call, hey it’s a mountain right? Ride a mountain bike! Actually I’ll probably set something different up for next year. It’s all about the time now!
Next up is MMBA #5 at Sugarloaf.
Turkey Leg prizes for ALL!