Mt Washington Hillclimb Race Report

Mt Washington Hillclimb: On August 18 Team Sixcycle-RK&O’s Tom Mikolinski competed in “The Toughest Hillclimb in the World” – The Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb. In addition to capturing the entire race on video, he posted his report on the race below. Also check out his garmin file at the link below (including the elevation chart that only goes one direction).

Mt Washington Hillclimb Race Report from Team Sixcycle-RK&O’s Tom Mikolinski

This year I participated in the Mt Washington Hillclimb Bicycle Race. Once a year a this race is held on the auto road of Mt Washington…the highest peak in the Northeastern United States at 6,288 ft, holds the record for the highest wind gust directly measured at the Earth’s surface, 231 mph, and a yearly average temperature of 33.9 degrees (with no temp over 72 degrees ever recorded). The route is 7.6 miles in length, has an average grade of 12% (that’s 4,800 ft) with extended sections of 18% and the last 50 yards is an amazing 22%! Based on those facts, one may ask why a big diesel engine, suited for the flats racer, would take on such a challenge. Well, for precisely that reason, it’s a challenge. Gearing is a big factor in this race. A ratio of 1:1 is definitely the norm. Running my standard 39/26 would not be an option today, so I pulled the derailleur and cassette off of my mountain bike to set me up with a 39/36, which received about 85% of the workload.

The weather on the day of the race could not have been more ideal. There was little to no wind, with temps at the base in the mid 50s at 8am and the summit was in the mid 40s. For a long slog up a mountain it doesn’t get any better than this. This race is a big deal for most everyone that participates in it. The field is limited to 600, split up by age group, with the first wave containing the “top notch” riders (a spot earned by posting a time of 1:20 or lower in a prior year). Some big names show up to prove themselves every year. Tinker Juarez was once again present this year, and seems to be a fixture in this fine run event every year. Tom Danielson still holds the course record with an astonishing time of 49:24 in 2002. My goal for this year, not having specifically trained for it, was between 1:20 and 1:30. I knew the power numbers I was capable of putting out for that length of time and if I could hold it I should be able to hit that range without much of an issue.

Each wave goes off with the blast of a cannon…a bit shocking while you’re still waking up. I was in the second wave, the 30-39 yr old group. My goal was to dial in my wattage early on and just stay there, foregoing any of the adrenaline that tends to take over at the start of a race. The first 100 meters are the only flat we would see on the course and then it immediately went up hill at about 12%. I settled in to my power zone and sure enough, one by one, I started picking people off that decided to sprint at the start. A ride like this, while very physically demanding, is also very mentally demanding. Ticking over the pedals at 60 rpm, going 5.5 mph for upwards of an hour and a half requires a certain level of mental resilience. It is a foreign concept to us flatlanders who may climb for 5-10 minutes at most in virtually every ride that we do. Once you settle into your own rhythm, you just plug away until you reach the top.

At the half way point I was looking at a time of 37 minutes, so doing quick math in my head, I started believing that a 1:20 time was attainable, giving 6 extra minutes for the second half. Unfortunately that math doesn’t quite work out as the second half is the more difficult half. Not only do you begin to feel the efforts from the first half, but the pitches are steeper and then the altitude begins to become a factor. At right around the 1:00 mark I started noticing a significant decrease in my power and a much more labored breathing pattern. The mountain was taking its toll. I just tried to settle into a rhythm my body would allow and keep turning over the pedals. With 1km to go I was at 1:20, so knew a time in my range was now obtainable. After a few steep pitches that forced some off of their bikes, we approach the final right hand bend up to the finish. After 1:20+, the prospect of finishing at 22% was certainly daunting, but the hundreds of cheering spectators gave you that little bit extra to make it through. I crossed the line with a time of 1:26, definitely very pleased with my effort, and convinced that with the right training 1:20 is obtainable.

There are not many out of competition organized rides that I participate it, and even less that require climbing for an hour and a half, however this is a wonderfully run event, in a beautiful location, and I will be back to get my “top notch” status.

Mt Washington Hillclimb Race Garmin File with Elevation Chart from Sixcycle

Click image to view

Mt Washington Hillclimb Race Video

Mt Washington Hillclimb Race Information

Tin Mountain Conservation Center / Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb Race Homepage: Click Here

About Tom Mikolinski

Tom Mikolinski began racing mountain bikes in 1994 and raced through 1997 reaching the semi-pro level. After 10 years away from competition, Tom returned to racing, this time on the road. In addition to racing regularly on the road, Tom is a CAT 2 off-road.