Every February, the ECCC releases the upcoming Road Racing schedule, and sprinters everywhere groan as they look at the names of the hills they’ll have to battle their way up next season; Names like Purgatory, Horse Killer, Stony Lonesome, and worst of all, Black Moshannon. I had a slightly different reaction: I like hills, I’m just not that fast going up them.
It’s kind of embarrassing, since we’ve got some great hills near Hamilton, beasts such as Eaton (short, steep, and punchy), Peterboro (steep and rolling), and Gravity Hill (switchbacks and a never-ending drag to the top). I like to think I know the roads in and around Clinton, NY pretty well, and I’ve grown to enjoy the various ascents and descents of the area. However, when it came time to start the major climbs of the ECCC, with the winter lingering on into a cold and wet spring, I wasn’t quite ready to take on the hills head on.
Things really started to go uphill in week 5, at the MIT X-Pot. Their Criterium had a bit of a hill with a stream running down the side of the road (I definitely rode through that a few times). Little did I know that this hill was just a little preview of the Hell that was to come. I really should have known better – you don’t name a road race Purgatory for nothing!
The Purgatory Road race took place on an 11-mile loop through the Purgatory Chasm and Sutton State Forest in Sutton MA. The last mile or so of the loop consisted of a soul-crushingly steep climb up to the finish. Those poor Men’s A riders had to climb it 6 times (I got away with 3 laps in the Men’s C field)! Passing right through elevation 666′, the climb certainly claimed some victims; there were quite a few DNFs on the day, and I personally saw a rider walking his bike up on the final lap.
Things only got worse for those of us who like flat roads and tailwinds at the Shippensburg Scurry. After a sweet Criterium on the Shippensburg University campus, the ECCC drove over to the Southampton Township Park (PA) for an awesome addition to the spring climbing calendar: the twilight South Mountain Hill Climb. I really didn’t know what to expect from a mass start hill climb event, since I’d never raced one before. Since we seemed to have lots of time, I decided to go ride my bike. I pre-rode the hill climb.
I got to the top in a bit under 40 minutes, really just taking my time and enjoying the scenery. After the two miles of flat prologue, the road wound its way up South Mountain, ascending steadily for about 4 and a half miles before flattening out for a charge up to the finish. When I turned around at the top, I started to see Women’s C riders making their way up for their finish. Uh Oh. I got in my drops and shifted into my littlest gear, racing down the mountain to get back for my race up it. By the time I got back to staging, my race was the next to go off. I quietly got in the back of the bunch and prepared to turn around and go right back up. Alan yelled “go”, and we were off again. Although I didn’t get to see the big climbers sprint for the win, I got to ride my new favorite hill all over again. Would I advise pre-riding the course? When the hill is that good, Oh yes I would.
The titular Horse Killer climb proved to be pretty aggressive in Sunday’s road race, taking out a large number of riders. With three short but painfully steep sections, the crowds turned out in droves to watch the riders battle their way up. My thanks to everyone who turned out to support the racers on that hill and especially to the guy who gave me a big push on my second time up the climb. I needed it.
With the close of the Scurry, we come to an absolute gem of the ECCC calendar, the Army Spring Classic. With a new road race course line up for Saturday and the always-awesome Criterium and ITT hill climb on tap for Sunday, it would prove to be another weekend for the climbers.
The Harriman State Park Road Race course certainly lived up to its reputation as an excellent venue for bike racing. With a never-ending ascent almost right after the start and some beautiful, rolling terrain (with roundabouts!) the race proved to be an instant ECCC classic. I have to mention the roundabouts again, since they made me feel like a Tour rider and were just awesome in general. We entered the first one by taking a sharp right coming down a hill before riding counterclockwise for about 3/4’s of the circle and exiting with another right. We entered the second one after a long straight section of road and navigated half of the circle before taking another right out of it. If anyone from West Point is reading this, please congratulate your volunteers. I have never seen someone perform a more enthusiastic gesture indicating that I take a right out of a roundabout.
Alas, the end of the road race meant that we were soon to face the pain of Stony Lonesome road. Many cyclists may not be familiar with this climb, since it ascends more than 700′ from the banks of the Hudson up to the West Point Ski Area on the military reservation itself. Suffice to say, it was a long ten to twenty minutes as riders fought their bikes and wished for a lower gear as they climbed to the top. Coming back down, we were all very careful to keep to the 25 mph on-Post speed limit. I haven’t heard that anyone got a ticket for going UP the hill that fast, but I certainly decided not to risk it when it came time for me to race. I stuck to a more sedate 14 mph average speed.
With the end of racing in Week 7 of the ECCC Road Race season 2013, we look forward to what’s coming right up. This weekend we’ll travel to Rhode Island for the RISD/Brown weekend, and then it’s off to Penn State for Eastern’s and Black Mo. I’m terrified of returning to ride up that mountain twice for my 40 mile road race. I’m thinking of the depths of the pain cave we’ll all be in on the second lap, as the leaders start their accelerations. I can’t wait.
– Brandon Wilson