2014 Mt. Kearsarge Hill Climb

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js Last year after the final Mt. Washington ascent, I decided on a build for my hill climb bike that was supposed to conquer anything.  Basically a compact crank mated to a a custom cassette yielding a 1:1 low gear.  The idea was to tackle any mountain, and the roads that led there.  A few races in the BUMPS series require such a setup; Okemo and Kearsarge come to mind.  And so I had all the parts for this build, and having done zero climbs in 2014, those parts just kind of sat around.

Less than a week out from the 2nd annual Mount Kearsarge Hill Climb, I figured I’d put all those parts together and see what happened.

I also figured I would do zero test riding of this bike.  It shifted flawlessly in the stand, I felt reasonably assured it would be fine.  I mean how could it not be fine.

Race day.

2 minutes and 33 seconds into my warmup, I throw the chain and I’m off the bike.

I replace the chain and actuate the left shifter to bring it back onto the big ring, which ejects the shift cable from the front derailleur.


Having re-secured the cable, we continue up the road.  5 minutes later I am off the bike again, as it appears the cable no longer offers enough tension to actually move the front derailleur.

I am not yet panicking.

But I have a vision of a time, maybe 15 minutes into the future, in which I am panicking.  In stressful situations this is what I do.  In my head I watch this kind of mini-movie of me stressing out, but in present times I am not there yet, which affords me time to take appropriate action.

I work the cable back on.  The reality of having just paid $80 to enter this hill climb assists me in unfucking this situation such that I actually get to participate in it.

Of course now the ferrule is long gone, the end is fraying wildly, what a cluster of my own creation this is becoming.  Technically, I have reattached the cable.  The individual wires spider out wildly, threatening to (and sometimes succeeding to) scratch my leg with every pedal rotation.  It technically works.

I take a few more minutes of warming up and then find my way to the line.  I would call this “inadequate preparation”.

Last year I made the mistake of lining up in the front and following the absolute studs who would go on to win until I popped.  Having no better strategy this year, I decided I would just do that again.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js We crest the Indian Museum climb and I feel like I’m only a little less dropped at than I was last year at this point.  Things could be going okay.  I still need a wheel though.  I need to save something for the climb so I will try to pirate some aero off of someone.

I get on a guy that I recall having been announced at the start as having finished the RAAM.  This was a good way to kill myself really early.  He was a machine.  Smooth, steady, I would hang right on and then a minute later he would shift.  Down.  And we’d keep going.  And then he would shift down.  I was like, holy shit.  This guy just keeps layering on the watts like he’s actually good at racing mass start hill climbs.  Just before we start climbing in earnest, I jettison him on a descent, whereby he simply passes me moments later when the grade begins to pick up.

On Kearsarge proper, I successfully shift down into my 34-34 and I am happy with the cadence.  Much better than last year, in which I suffered mightily in the first mile pushing 39×28.

The problem is, and I don’t know this – I feel better but I am hemorrhaging time.  I would come to learn in analyzing my performance against last year is that I need to turn a gear much harder than I think I should to PR here.  I am a faster masher than a spinner.  Accepting that and moving on would be a really positive step for me.  You know all that shit about “optimal cadence”?  Well mine is low, so fucking deal with it.  Yeah, I can turn 80rpm.  I’ll also never get there.  If I turn 60rpm, I will hate everything I look at and see colors, but I will beat you.

Mile 2013 2014 slower
1 4:18 4:49 0:31
2 3:28 3:47 0:19
3 3:19 3:05 -0:14
4 4:00 4:10 0:10
5 9:27 10:02 0:35
6 7:40 7:53 0:13
7 7:26 8:02 0:36
8 5:36 5:52 0:16

Salient points about these splits:
Mile 1: I am slower because, oh I dunno, I didn’t really warm up.
Mile 2: Probably normal stale performance having not ridden all week
Mile 3: Improvement!  Because I’m drafting the RAAM guy.
Mile 4: Lost the RAAM guy
Mile 5: First mile of the climb, double digit grades, 66cad vs 57cad last year
Mile 6: Probably normal stale performance having not ridden all week
Mile 7: Sitting in a lot and spinning, 75cad vs 60cad last year.  Wow.
Mile 8: Refused to go all in with 1mi to go where I did last year

And I refused to go all in because I raced almost the entire mountain in a cagey masters duel with three other guys.  It was a fucking chess match.  I spun them out in the first mile, they ate me up later, I come back and think I put them away, they’d come out of nowhere and lay it down.  We did this for nearly half an hour.  It was actually really, really awesome racing.  The kind of shit, if we were all decades younger, orders of magnitude more fit, and racing a different mountain in a different country, people watch on TV.

We’re like 500m from the finish and I just don’t have it to go with these guys and take them to the line.  Half that distance and I am clearly resigned, still working hard, but if you had a photo of my face it would have said “I’m done.  You can have it.”.


The bike just skipped skipped skipped as I shifted down.  I’ve neglected to mention up until now that the heart of the cassette has basically been useless the entire race.  It refused to stick under load unless I was on the fringe of the cassette.  It’s what I signed up for.

So I did what I guess I thought made sense, I cast aside all fucks and dumped it to the 12t cog.  The grade is 10% and life was now pretty damn bad.  Even with a 34t ring this is the pain train.

I have 100m to go maybe.  Cadence descends into the 40s.  But I am accelerating where at least one of the guys was not, and I pass him just before the line for 45th out of 72.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js Later I would browse the results and learn that two of the guys I fought tooth-and-nail with were in the 60-69 age group, and the other was actually 70.  My takeaway here is that having climbed zero mountains all year, having raced a handful of cross races in the past few weeks, I have the fitness of someone with almost two of my lifetimes of experience.  Or maybe that I can be assured that three decades from now, I could strive to do just as well as I am doing right now.  Or I could just look in the mirror and resign to the fact that I got whipped by old men.

45/72 this year, which I felt was a lot worse than last year, except that I just looked and last year  I was 43/70.  That is mathematically pretty fucking close to the same fucking thing.  Which is kind of amazing considering that I was a LOT slower this year; 1:38 slower on the climb itself and nearly a minute slower in the 4.5 miles leading to the climb.  That sounds small but in the context of a 40-ish minute race it’s a big deal.

Next year or the year after I will go up that mountain for the 50th time and I’ll sure as hell leave the climbing bike at home if it’s a race.  A setup with 1:1 is fine for the monotony of Mt. Washington.  Hell, maybe for me, even that is too easy.  I’m rethinking everything right now; now that I see that in nearly every single hill climb I do, when I set up for higher cadence, I lose big.  I think back to Crank the Kanc this year, and having went to an easier gear I gave up something like 9 minutes it was 3 it just felt like a lot more.

One thought on “2014 Mt. Kearsarge Hill Climb

  1. Chris…. you're a good rider, you're a good writer, but your mechanical skills….. just start paying someone else to work on your bikes, OK?

    And: just because you have a low gear doesn't mean you need to use it. Both my road bikes are setup full-time with Mount Washington gearing; but when I ride elsewhere I just don't use that lowest gear. That's the point of gearing – you use an appropriate one, not just blindly say “OMG it's a hill, lowest gear”. (And of course running a power meter helps you pick the right one more accurately).


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