Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Mt Ascutney Hillclimb Race

Sorry it's taken me so long to get a new post up. I know that I won't get any sympathy for saying this... I've just been too busy cycling (aka creating content for the blog) or more to the point, too exhausted when I'm done cycling to be able to do any blogging!

After a fabulous weekend in Northampton doing the Grand Hundo and seeing RT in concert, I faced a dilemma. Strava was having another climbing challenge, but this one was pretty ambitious and only a week long. It started on the Sunday after the climbing-intense Grand Hundo, and ended the following Saturday - or so I thought.  We had a race up Mt. Ascutney on Saturday, to be followed by a pretty hard week doing Quadzilla - Staged. We were also in the midst of a heat wave. The logical thing was to ignore the challenge and get some rest. But I can't seem to resist a challenge and I decided to try to fit in a few extra climbs during the week. I did at least pass on the temptation to try to do more climbing on Wednesday than any other female in the world. This was enforced by some pretty violent storms in the area that day, not to mention the brutal heat wave.

So I did a few long hilly rides on Tuesday and Thursday, and then Friday I climbed up to the Water Tower in Arlington 10 times to get another thousand meters in the bank. I had figured between warm up before the race, the actual climb, and a little riding in the afternoon, I should be able to comfortably hit the target on Saturday.

Still John chastised me for not resting!  Why would he care? Well we were racing on the tandem! We had planned to take the tandem for Quadzilla and given the timing, decided to spend a few days in Vermont after the race, and then drive out to Ithaca. To simplify logistics, we decided to bring just one bike. The powers that be in the hillclimb series don't seem to think much of tandems and pretty much penalize us for riding one, by giving us each one point, regardless of our time. But it's likely that neither of us will even do 5 races that would count in the series this year, so we figured we could have some fun with Mt. Ascutney. And at least this year there is a tandem category. The last time we raced the tandem up Ascutney, we were initially told that we would not be allowed to ride the tandem! In the end, they let us ride, but we had to compete in the men's 30-39 category!

Now I really don't want to sound whiny, but I've just got to say this. Riding a tandem up mountains is effin' hard! And it sure would be nice if there was a teensy bit more recognition of that fact. One of the reasons that more tandems don't show up for hillclimbs is that ... well ... it's effin' hard. But it may also have something to do with that lack of recognition too. OK, down off soapbox now.

Our previous race on Mt Ascutney was in 2008. We rode up in 35:21. We have a lovely new tandem. And we got some superlight high performance tires for the race - that I swear are not much thicker than inner tubes. We are both in pretty good shape this year. I'm probably in the best climbing condition ever. So we figured we could better our effort this time around.

The day started cool and with no wind on note. It was cool enough that I decided to wear my black RSC wool jersey which can be a bit toasty on the hot days. We warmed up for a while down at the ski area, and then lined up for the start, with all the gals and the old guys.

Marti Shea took off like a rocket, and was probably at the finish line before we hit the first mile marker! I was riding without data. When I went to put on my Garmin, I discovered it had been on all night - not sure how it happened, but it would be useless to me for the race. Maybe with data, I would have dug deeper, but I do think I was giving it everything.

Photo by Pat Hendrick

Photo by Pat Hendrick

Photo by Pat Hendrick
But when we crossed the line we were 5 seconds slower than our record. I guess we forgot that we had set that record the same year that we set a blazing fast time up Mt Washington. So maybe it was a respectable time after all. No other records fell this year. So despite what seemed to be ideal weather for breaking records, most times were slower. 

As the only tandem, we collected our medals for winning, along with some delicious cheese and salami. Then we had a literally screaming descent back down the mountain. We regrouped at the bottom with Dominique and Cristine and planned to have lunch and hit some dirt roads in the afternoon.

Glorious weather continued all afternoon

The ladies still love their cyclocross bikes for the Vermont dirt roads.

At some point during our ride, we noticed signs and aid stations for the Vermont 100 running race that was taking place that day. Those folks are pretty hard core, running for up to 30 hours! The next morning, while having breakfast at the fabulous Brownsville General Store, we were easily able to spot folks who had run, simply by the way they slowly walked and moved into the store. But we were indistinguishable from them with our appetites, as we devoured omelets and pancakes.

A view of Mt. Ascutney from the other side!

By the end of Saturday, I'd overshot the climbing challenge by 1000 meters. It was good to have knocked off another challenge, since these Strava challenges are probably helping me with getting into better shape this year.

After that great aforementioned breakfast in Brownsville on Sunday, John and I headed south toward Chester to ride more of our favorite dirt roads. It was a bit hotter and stickier than the day before, but still glorious. I was a bit surprised when I uploaded data to Strava that night to see my challenge figures go up as well. Turns out the challenge went through Sunday, so I overshot by almost 3000 meters! Ah well, it's got to help for the next adventure!


  1. Really handsome photos of you guys and very enjoyable post as usual. Besides climbing hills all the time and being born with the right genes, any particular techniques that you rely on for improving hill climbing? When you're doing multiple climbs, are you out of the saddle frequently? Is racing a tandem up hill harder than a single bike? Pardon my woeful ignorance:)! Thanks for sharing. Jim Duncan

    P.S. Thanks for the RT info and link in your other post! Guess I've led a sheltered life.
    Jim Duncan

  2. My tip for getting better at climbing hills - climb more hills.

    I tend to climb seated. For me it's just more efficient. Getting out of the saddle is handy for stretching and using different muscles or powering over something short (especially on fixed gear with rolling terrain)

    For a pure hillclimb, the effort to get a tandem uphill is, I believe, harder. Our times tend to be the average of what we would do solo - so slower for John and faster for me. But I also work a lot harder on the tandem than on my single - partly because I want to pull my weight and partly to disprove some folks expectations that a tandem can't do it.

    For rolling terrain, tandems have a real advantage when you use momentum.

    Stay tuned for the report on Quadzilla - loads of brutal climbing there!

  3. I second the great photos comment! You both look very svelte too. Looks like you are enjoying the new tandem. Thanks for posting.

    Ed Hass
    Reston, VA