The Mt. Washington Hill Climb is considered the toughest hill climb in the world. Here are the stats:
Summit Elevation: 6288 ft.
Base Elevation: 1565 ft
Elevation Gain: 4727 ft.
Length: 7.6 miles
Grade: avg.12%; extended 18%; final 100 yds. 22%
Road surface: 65% paved, 35% packed gravel
After realizing last year that I was a strong hill climber, I set this race as a big goal for the season. I trained hard all winter, did lots of hill repeats at Bolton Valley and App Gap, and built up a super lightweight 13 lb. “climbing” bike. A special thanks to Ian and Paul from Fitwerx for setting me up on the ultimate Mt. Washington bike.
In preparation for the big race I did the practice ride four weeks ago. It was a perfect day: sunny and winds out of the west at about 5mph. Weather conditions on Mt. Washington don’t get any better than that! In my first run up the mountain, I clocked a time of 59 minutes, and this included a 1 minute stop at mile 6.5 to fix a slipped rear skewer! I was pleased with the effort and knew I was ready. I used my 30×25 for almost the entire ride. This gearing worked pretty well, but since I am a spinner, I could have used a little more on the steeper sections. For the race I decided to throw a 27 on.
We got to the base of the mountain around 5:45am. We were going to give my friend Kevin a ride down so we used his car as base camp. I unloaded my stuff into Kevin’s car and we sent Crystal up the mountain early to get a parking spot at the top. I had gone through meticulous preparation in making sure I had everything I needed, but I made a critical mistake and sent my spare bike and wheels up with Crystal not thinking I would need them. I went through my standard 45 minute warm-up and then pulled up to the start.
This is where things start to get interesting. As I put my foot down, I get this weird sensation that my rear tire feels a little soft. My heart sinks. I reach down and squeeze the rear tire….definitely too soft! I quickly run over to one of the cars and grab a pump from someone. I pump the tubular back up to 130 and run the tire over my fingers…there is a piece of metal lodged in the tire that is causing the tire to leak. There was no way this wheel would make it an hour to the top. As a year’s worth of preparation flashes before my eyes, I go to plan B: I need a new wheel and fast… the race starts in 3 minutes! I see Phil Wong’s teammate Greg and he says Phil has a spare wheel in the car. I throw the wheel on quickly glancing at the cassette hoping that it might be a 25…no such luck- it is a 23 and there is no time to switch to my 27! This race just got a whole lot harder!
I get back over to the start line and take a few deep breaths to try and calm myself down. “BANG” The gun goes off. Tom Danielson, Phil Wong, Drew Miller, and Genevieve Jeanson take off. I let them go as my plan was to go a little more conservative in the first half as I overcooked the first 3 miles of the practice ride. After the first mile Scott Fiore comes by me and I get on his wheel. We pull back Miller by mile 1.5 but the other 3 are quickly pulling away from us. I was glad to have a wheel to stick on as the first 2 miles were pretty rough; at times I was struggling to stay on Scott’s wheel. By mile 3 I start to feel a little better and I pull by Scott to take over the pace work. He sticks on my wheel for the next mile but by mile 4 I have started to put a gap on him. Mile 4 is also our first western exposure as we come through the tree line the wind starts to pick up! As if this climb is not hard enough, now we have to deal with the wind! The next 400yards are tough with a full western exposure on our faces. I estimate the winds are blowing 15 to 20 at this point. I continue on and for the next mile the winds are not an issue as we are protected by the face of the mountain.
As I come through mile 5.5 I am greeted by a blast of wind, fog, and rain. Conditions just went from bad to UGLY! The winds are now blowing 30-40 mph but they are now more of a side/head wind! Visibility is about 30 feet, and taking your hands off the handlebars to grab some water was not an option! With the wind and my 23 I am really starting to bog down. I am having trouble getting my heart rate up and I begin to think this climb is never going to end. I hit mile 7 and the weather has continued to get worse. Winds are blowing 50mph and I can barely see anything in front of me now. Keeping the bike tracking straight is really an issue. I hit the 22% grade at the finish and my legs are about to explode. I can feel my rear tire slipping on the super slick pavement, but I make it to the top and finish. What an incredible ride!
Conditions at the top are CRAZY. Within a minute of stopping I am freezing cold. It had to be 45 degrees up there! Crystal runs over and gives me some warm dry clothes to put on. I finished in a time of 1:01:40 and was 4th place overall. I was the 3rd Male so I made the podium presentation at the bottom!
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