Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Greylock Uphill Time Trial...

Saturday morning I decided to put my recent cycling form to test at the Greylock Uphill Time Trial presented by the Nothampton Cycling Club in North Adams, MA.

I woke up early Saturday morning because I was skeptical of my the directions that MapQuest had given me to the race. Being from the area originally I was certain that it wasn't going to take me two hours and fourteen minutes to get to the race. However, I have always been apprehensive on the mornings of races and decided to err on the side of being early. Preparation went well and I was loaded up and out the door at 6:45 saving myself time for whatever pitfalls that could potentially lie ahead.

The first hour of the drive was a snap and I was utilizing the full benefits of my turbo-charged Swedish cycling nerd wagon on Interstate 91. I was basking in the glory of an inordinate amount of a dark roast mix of Demon Roast and a large bag of recently purchased espresso beans. Needless to say the pulse of caffeine coupled with the excitement of the race made the drive an adventure. Tool was blasting and the familiar goosebumps of good legs began to swell. I honestly had a very vague idea of what to expect at the race but I was sure that whatever happened that I would be competitive. Through the low lands of Franklin County the weather was fairly status quo but once I hit the climb of Witcomb Summit the conditions rapidly deteriorated. Suddenly I was engulfed in mist and fog and the thermometer plummeted into the mid forties. Given that I was expecting a warm Saturday morning in response to the Friday night weather it quickly became apparent that I was going to be under prepared for the weather.

Upon arrival the typical nervousness and jitters ensued but I was calm in my understanding of my fitness. Uphill bicycle races present a fairly atypical crowd even for endurance athletes. Nearly everyone is painstakingly thin was gear paired to the absurdly difficult task at hand. Watts per kilogram rein supreme in this world of specifically tailored equipment and cookie deprived adults. After obtaining my number I quickly set up shot and set about warming up for the race with the knowledge that I was going to be at my red line or beyond for potentially forty plus minutes. Going into the race I had a vague goal of breaking forty minutes but the weather conditions seriously put doubts into my mind as I have never been a great cold weather racer. My body has always gone into overdrive burning extra calories to keep my body temperature up causing me to have quicker than usual bonks on cold days.

I set up the trainer and installed a crappy wheel on the Tarmac. I was uber paranoid Friday night an not only brought a trainer wheel but also my Hed Jet 6 wheels in case I suffered a flat in the parking lot. The Tarmac was set at 15.02 pounds with Zipp 404 carbon clinchers and standard gearing for the nine mile assault on the summit of the highest point in Massachusetts. I warmed up for thirty minutes on the trainer in my kit with a thicker Craft jacket while rocking out to some very, very old school brutal Tool. Twenty minutes into the warm up I did a hard acceleration bringing my heat rate into the low 180s. Given that my legs felt great and my heart rate easily climbed I knew I was on a good day. After thirty minutes I took a bathroom break and switched fully into my race kit and took some nutrition before a final five minutes of up-tempo trainer riding. After switching out wheels I was off to the start. Warm at the core but chill with the nip in the air. I had no idea what the weather was at the summit or what I may face on the way but I was sure that I was going to put a big effort in on the mountain.

While waiting in the last minute before my start I noticed a gear drop that was loaded with bags and warm clothing for the summit. I knew that this was a sure sign that the conditions were terrible at the summit but it was far to late to head back to the car so I put it out of my mind and focused on the task at hand.

Time Trial formats have always been thrilling for me for one reason in particular. I LOVE CATCHING PEOPLE. Everyone that you catch in a time trial heightens the experience and reinforces the idea that you are riding well. At the mark, on the end of the count down, I set out on a blind climb with no scouting, with nine miles of road and one hundred and eighty six riders up ahead.

Greylock is a lot like the first Rocky movie. After withstanding the initial barrage, things quickly ramp up and hit you square in the face with a section of 17% grade. Any delusions that a rider has of not riding at maximum heart rate are ill advised and silly. The only function a heart rate monitor serves is that a rider needs to regulate that they don't have a heart attack. I quickly found myself in the mid 180's with the occasional alarm sounding telling me that I was in the danger zone of 190 bpm. While finding a rhythm I quickly set into the mind numbing routine of catching everyone in sight. Around the time I entered the park proper I noticed a substantial drop in the temperature and a noticeable rise in the moisture in the air. At the same time, somewhere around catching the tenth person I came onto the wheel of Gerry Clapper. This guy was an absolute monster on the steep ramps and seemingly could inch away at his leisure. On the standard grades I easily caught back up and would gain an advantage before we would hit the next steep section. Through the switchbacks and hairpin turns it was easy to envision myself in the Alps riding in the Giro in the rugged Italian spring. The awful death knell of lactic acid slowly crept in and tried to render my powerless but every time it was seemingly ready to take hold I held it at bay with the relaxed memories of horrendously hard summer training. The allure of Greylock is that the grades significantly lessen the last two miles and work right into my wheelhouse. I had caught and passed Gerry yet again on a "flatter" section and as we approached one last ramp I knew that I needed to make a strong move to break his spirit. My impulsiveness and inexperience reared its ugly head and I dropped the chain in my best Andy Schleck impersonation. The panic set in as I remember that I was on a borrowed bike and didn't have the nerve to simply jump the chain back on. The cold weather and sudden shift in movements cramped my calves as I jumped off to reset the chain. I quickly remounted and set about regaining the lost ground. The shot of adrenaline in my system  helped my catch and dispatch Gerry as we entered my playground at the top of the climb. Suddenly I was on the three to four percent grades where I can make massive watts and make up for my inexperience on the steeper ramps. Snot, spit, sweat, and tears blew off my body with every torturous pedal stroke as I neared the summit which was obscured by clouds. As the exposure increased so to did the winds over the last half of a mile. I could feel my body seizing up and I had put serious thought into managing the effort. Through the line and it was over. I quickly retrieved my phone and stopped Strava to try and measure the effort.

Over the course of the next five minutes I attempted to regain control and assimilate everything that had happened the previous forty-five minutes. Suddenly as the adrenaline wore off I realized that I was freezing. Summit temperatures hovered at forty degrees and I was soaking wet in a thin layer of spandex with a wet helmet on my head. I brought a set of thick arm warmers to the summit so I bundled with whatever minimal warmth they provided and set out on the decent. Within the first minute I could feel my sweat laced helmet pads beginning to freeze. Within five minutes I was sure that I was on the direct path to hypothermia. I wanted to stop so badly but I knew that every additional second on the climb made me more susceptible to the cold. I only saw three other riders descending the mountain and was mind numbingly desperate for heat. My poor circulation had left my hands completely white and my core temperature caused my to shiver and spasm with such lacking control that I worried about crashing. Back at the Swedish nerd wagon I stripped out of my wet lycra and bundled to the best of my ability before spending fifteen minutes on my heated seat with the heat on full blast!

The awards and post race meal were top notch to say the very least. Any time you can walk away with FREE Berkshire Brewing Company beer it's a great day. I ended up forth overall in 42:07, exactly twenty seconds off the podium. Thirty dollars in prize money in my pocket to top it all off! Considering the chain drop and being on a bike that was not properly fitted I knew that I could have been second or third in my first BUMPS effort. Since the race I have committed to buying the Tarmac and am looking forward to many adventures. I'm looking forward to Kearsarge next weekend and the challenge that it will bring!



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