All told, I have been to the top of Mount Kearsarge on a bike almost forty times. I would have thought I’d had enough of it this year having done it five times in one day back in May, then twice more over the summer as I dialed in my bike setup for Mt. Washington. But of course not. The stage was set for the first ever race up the mountain this past Saturday; a show I couldn’t possible pass up the chance to attend.
I really hadn’t put much thought into my bike setup. My PR on the hill is 27:21, which I did five years ago on my hill climb setup. My best since then was a 27:36 that I pulled off this August on that same bike. Knowing the race route started 4.5 miles before the climb begins, I knew a proper road setup would be in order, and figured I’d run conventional gearing, just like the studs who would crush this thing. I did manage to put a 28t cassette on. I couldn’t work the derailleur rub out of it in 39×28, and I was out of time. When the going got bad enough that I needed it, I’d just turn up my music and drown out the sound.
Because I am a cocky moron, I lined up right behind the front row with the fastest possible people.
We take off, and it is a weird dynamic. I expect to see someone just fly off the front, and my expectation was that when I would see that happen, I would concede to letting them go, and be all “c’est la vie!” and race my own race.
Instead, a break forms immediately. I see this, and start sprinting around guys to get into it, thinking “oh hey, if I get into that break and grab a wheel, I won’t need to work as hard”. And so I am in this break, and well into it, still in my big ring, and I feel the grade pitching up gradually but can’t see it because I’m enveloped by a small pack. And then the grades of the opening climb are in the double digits. And I am like, oh. I really need to shift now because this is NOT sustainable. We are doing this thing where I know we are going waaaaay the hell harder than it seems. Pop.
So the break goes away about 2/3 of the way up the Indian Museum climb, and I am already out of the saddle, already in the red, not a great situation. I’m slowly being overtaken as the grade mellows out. Frustrated and motivated, I am constantly getting up, working to put some time into this first half of the course. I couldn’t find wheels I liked. I’d either find them too slow (so I’d pass them, only to later get passed by them on the mountain), or perfectly suitable, and I’d just ignore the opportunity (because I’m stupid and impatient).
The opening mile of Kearsarge proper saw me still trying to recover from my opening-round stupidity. As such, I’m really not turning my easiest gear well at all. And it’s ratchety and loud, and I’m definitely not sneaking up on anyone. Mind you plenty of people are sneaking up on me. I really toiled in that first mile. As I grind away, here come the patient ones, happily spinning their triples. One guy had this really, really enviable SRAM XX setup. That would be good right now. My compact would be good right now. Maybe not trying to recover on what is basically a mile of Mt. Washington would be good right now.
In spite of things, I get my shit together to mount the fastest final push I’ve ever put together up there. I cross the line 43rd overall in 44:55; 27:27 of that on Kearsarge itself. Six freakin’ seconds off my PR. If I hadn’t suffered so badly in the opening mile, I would have crushed that PR. But of course that wasn’t going to be possible, since I decided to start the race in [IDIOT MODE]. I think we had 86 in the field, so mid-packing a race full of firepower and/or higher intelligence is a perfectly fine result for me.
To illustrate how wrongly ass-backwards I executed, this how I appear in the Strava record books per-mile:
Mile 1: 8th/150
Mile 2: 24th/150
Mile 3: 38th/150
Mile 4: 46th/150
Mile 5: 57th/135
Mile 6: 74th/144
Mile 7: 76th/146
Mile 8: 56th/138