the mt. washington hillclimb

One of my “res­o­lu­tions” for 2010 was to join a cycling team and start rac­ing. I have fall­en a lit­tle short on that task: although I trained all win­ter and even took a bike rac­ing class, my sum­mer sched­ule filled up so quick­ly that join­ing a team start­ed to seem like a waste of mon­ey. But months ago, when snow was still falling and every­thing seemed pos­si­ble, I seized upon a moment of mid-win­ter hubris and signed myself up for one epic race: The Mount Wash­ing­ton Auto Road Bicy­cle Hill­climb.

For some back­ground, let’s turn to a descrip­tion of the course from a Sep­tem­ber 2004 arti­cle in Out­side mag­a­zine:

The Rock­pile, as Mount Wash­ing­ton is unro­man­ti­cal­ly nick­named, tow­ers 6,288 feet above sea lev­el. We’ll be climb­ing the upper­most 4,727 feet, over a mere 7.6 miles. (For per­spec­tive, one of the tough­est races in the Rock­ies, the Mount Evans hill climb, near Den­ver, ris­es 7,000 feet over 28 miles.) With an aver­age grade of 12 per­cent and sus­tained stretch­es of 18 per­cent (high­way grades rarely exceed 7 per­cent), Mount Wash­ing­ton is steep­er than L’Alpe d’Huez or any oth­er climb in the Tour de France, Spain’s Vuelta, or the Giro d’Italia. Mile for mile, it is arguably the tough­est one-day bike race on the plan­et.

There are a whop­ping 72 turns on the Auto Road course, and the longest straight­away is only a few hun­dred yards—on dirt. Most hill climbs ease off at the top, allow­ing rid­ers to drop into a more mus­cu­lar gear and enjoy a burst of accel­er­a­tion. Not on Wash­ing­ton. In the final 100 yards—a sec­tion alter­nate­ly called the Corkscrew, the Lad­der, and the Wall—the grade steep­ens to a hor­ri­fy­ing 22 per­cent.

So there it is. Why did I sign myself up for this again? It’s true that I enjoy rid­ing on hills. And I do score rea­son­ably well on that gold­en met­ric of hill­climbers, watts per kilo­gram of body weight. But this is start­ing to sound a lit­tle intim­i­dat­ing. There’s no coast­ing: if you stop ped­al­ing on this hill, you’ll fall off the bike. And at a “race pace” of 5–6 MPH, draft­ing isn’t much use either. Will I even be able to eat or drink? Will my cus­tom hill­climb gear­ing pro­vide the right ratios for effi­cient rid­ing?

The Mt. Wash­ing­ton Auto Road is not nor­mal­ly open to bicy­cles, but to help answer some of these ques­tions, the orga­niz­ers allow for one unsup­port­ed prac­tice ride a month before the race. And with the actu­al race com­ing up on August 21, that prac­tice ride is hap­pen­ing this Sun­day. More to come!

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July 16, 2010 July 16, 2010 cycling by Scott [permanent link]