Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Check Newton's off the List

“The winds at the summit are currently a calm 10-15 mph, visibility is 65 miles, and it is looking like a beautiful day on top of Mount Washington.”
Those were the words of the race director about 45 minutes before the start of Newton’s Revenge, a race up the famed Mount Washington Auto Road. While I heard the words and enjoyed the idea of idyllic weather, I also cringed knowing the weather gods heard the words as well and I was sure they would look to show just how futile predicting the summit weather could be.
I had signed up for Newton’s Revenge back in the winter when I had had great intentions of rolling into the 2009 cycling season in great shape and having trimmed down to a nice 180lbs. That was of course prior to falling down and going boom at the end of the ski season that left me doing nothing (other than enjoying adult malted beverages) for a month and a half and not getting onto a bike for real until mid May. That left me coming into the season at a legitimate Clydesdale weight, and far from being in shape- but it didn’t matter- I could ride my bike and that made everything A-OK with me.
Toeing the start line I looked up at the Mountain that I’ve had so many great adventures on, mostly in the winter. I thought back to the night my wife and I and a group of friends did a night ride up the road to above tree line, talking our time and enjoying a beautiful summer night. I thought about all the Toughest Two’s I’d raced in (the hillclimb TT portion of the Porky Gulch Classic Stage Race- a race worth doing). But at that moment I realized that today I was riding all the way to the top. Not stopping at two mile, not stopping at tree line, but going all the way to the top- 6288 feet in 7.6 miles.
The cannon fired and we were off. I took it very easy in the start as I had forgone doing a really good warm up with the intent of warming up on the hill. That had more to do with being lazy than it did being a good strategy. I soon found myself spinning my 22x32 and enjoying the gear but not the lack of speed.
I was racing on my Salsa Chilli Con that had gone through a couple changes for the race. The crank had been replaced by a Truvita Stylo 180mm with a 22t chain ring. The rear end of the bike say the SRAM 10 speed cassette give way to a 9 speed cassette 11-32. With that change the Rival derailleur was swapped for a SRAM x9 with I had tried to operate with a 9-speed Dura Ace shifter. For whatever reason I couldn’t get the Dura Ace shifter and the X9 to play nice, so off came the drop bars and the flat bars with the X9 shifter made their way to the bike and all the shifting issues were resolved. I was running bar ends (Ergon grips, the greatest grips of all time) and found the position quite comfy for the climb.
Back to the race, not much exciting happened in the first hour other than being passed by the fast age groupers who started behind me. A couple of them were breathing so hard as they went by that I just couldn’t believe they would make it to the top. Of course I realized that when I usually “race” I breath that hard as well- ahhhh the joys of approaching the event as a tour!
Once about the treeline the views were fantastic. Looking out into the Great Gulf, and being on a bike on the road gave me a great opportunity to dream about skiing next winter, especially when I looked over and saw snow over on Jefferson. I noodled my way up the mountain, not moving very fast, but moving up the hill one turn of the cranks at a time. Newton’s Revenge is a bit smaller race so there were times that I felt like I had the road all to myself, of course that was until a group would catch me and blow by me from behind.
At about the five mile mark I started having some cramping in the thighs and lower back, I decided that walking for a bit to stretch out my back would be a good idea. I would give myself about a minute of walking before I would jump back on, the irony was that when I was walking I found that I gained on a few riders ahead of me, only to just maintain or slip back once back on the bike!
As I rode up I thought back to when I worked for the Summit Road Company, and did press for the big Hillclimb the first time Tyler Hamilton won the event. I rode in the back of one of the vans with the doors open yelling splits to him as we went up, the only problem was the splits were junk as they were being called down to the driver via radio and then yelled to him from me and half the time I couldn’t hear the driver that well. Tyler seemed fine with that and went on to crush the record and drive away with an Audi A4. I thought of how fast he road up that hill, and how slow I was going. I decided I was having a much better time as I got to really enjoy the scenery!
The road is unrelenting, averaging 12% for 7.6 miles, with a finishing kick of over 22% that you have a hard time keeping the front wheel on the ground. You can see the road go up ahead of you and it can get discouraging, then you can see the road below you and your realize how far you have come, it’s pretty cool.
I saw my wife about 500 meters from the summit and she gave me a good boost of encouragement. I then knew all I had to do was make the finishing “wall”. As I started up the wall and struggled to keep my front wheel down I started to panic as I had removed my rear brake to “save weight” (how much does a set of Avid canti’s weigh?) and realized that if my front wheel came up and I started to go over I didn’t have a way to stop it- that was good motivation to push up and through as fast as possible.
I cleared the wall and road across the finish line to get my medal and famed fleece blanket. The winner had been up topside for over an hour, but all the racers are great about cheering everyone on. I found my wife and we did the walk down the stairs to the car where I got cleaned up and just sat and looked out and New Hampshire below my feet. It was a pretty amazing view, and one that was that much better because I earned it on a bike.
I can’t wait to do it again next year.


Sparkplug said...

Nice job Sven! And fun report too :-) I cannot imagine how tough it would be to bike up the road. I am super impressed!

bluecolnago said...

i got tired and breathless thinking about it. you 'da man! :)