My 2011 hill climb race season got underway last night in Wilmington, N.Y. with the famed ascent of Whiteface Mountain Veterans Highway. The Whiteface Mountain hill climb is the opening event of the BUMPS Northeast Hill Climb Championship. This is how Doug Jansen describes Whiteface Mountain on his great Northeastcycling blog:

“Whiteface Mountain is located just outside of Lake Placid. This climb is the next closest thing to Mt. Washington. About the same distance, a little less vertical, so not quite as steep. Just means you go faster, not easier. View from the top is spectacular. Start the climb from the town of Wilmington at Routes 86 and 431. Climbing starts off with about 8-9% grade for first three miles. It flattens some around the toll booth area, then resumes at 10% average grade for the next three miles before tapering off again. Best part of this climb is the descent. Road surface is fairly good, long straight sections with few sweeping turns. There are a few frost heaves to watch out for though. Descents are supposedly pacer controlled, but loosely. If you don’t leave with one of the first few waves to be released down, you pretty much can go at any speed you are comfortable with. Use extreme care when overtaking slower riders, who may unexpectedly swerve to dodge frost heaves. The lower three miles of the descent are full-on speed fest, where you’ll develop fatigue from clentching the bar so tightly.”

The Whiteface climb is my favorite climb in the Northeast. It was my traning ground for the Etape in 2009 and a regular training destination in 2010.

Whiteface Mountain Profile

Although I have climbed Whiteface Mountain almost a dozen times, last night was only the second time I did the hill climb race. When I first did it last year my power meter’s battery died about five minutes before the start so I do not have a power file for last year`s race. I do know that my buddy Bijan and I had the exact same time and had the same weight. His average power for the 2010 race was 250 watts for 1:03 hrs so I guess that was my power too – assuming our bikes have the same weight. Last year`s race was a huge disappointment for me as I did not even match my previous one hour power record of 260 watts set at the CTS camp in Buellton, CA in February 2010. This year`s race was the complete opposite.

Having just come off doing the Amgen Tour of California with 21 other riders and the CTS crew I knew I was pretty fit but I had no idea how fit I was.

Although hill climbing is “my thing” I felt I needed to confirm a few things with my CTS coach Jason before the race. Talking to Jason would also give me an opportunity to catch up with him about his one week old daughter Lila and his wife Marcia. So on Thursday I gave him a call. I needed to discuss race strategy and energy management.

My approach to hill climb racing had always been to target a specific average power output and to stay as close to that average as possible. But since being told (politely?) by Chris Carmichael to keep my &%@?+!< power meter in my back pocket I have been spending more and more time training without any reference to power. On the Whiteface climb, I wondered: “Should I use the “old approach” or the “new approach”? In other words, should I use a power reference or “should I race”? When talking to a CTS coach you always have to decode the information they give you. They never tell you: “do this” or “do that”. They give you the information but you own the decision.

After talking to Jason I understood that he wanted me to go for it. After riding with me for a week in California and reviewing dozens of my power files since then he probably felt good about my time goal for Whiteface and all he needed to do was to give subtle reinforcement for me to believe the data. We established a simple race plan: “Stick with the leaders at the start and see what happens, don`t go insanely above threshold, hide from the wind and stay with other riders to keep the competitive juices flowing”. Simple. It was then up to me to execute on the plan.


5:50 pm Departure

After warming up for about 30 minutes, I lined up at the bottom of the climb at about 5:15 pm, 35 minutes before the start of the race. I biked at an easy pace in the parking lot, chatting with fellow racers Steve, Louis and KK. I was in the second wave of my age group, 40 to 49.

5,4,3,2,1, go.

Off we go. I make the break. There are six of us. The pace is fast but I can keep up with the group. I don’t look at the power meter initially and just focus on staying on a wheel. When we hit the one mile mark I look down at my Joule 2.0: we did the first mile in 5:27 minutes, average power 338 watts. My goal was 7:15 mins per mile. Quick decision: 338 watts is not sustainable – that is field test territory, or used to be, we will find out soon enough – I am almost two minutes ahead of schedule, what do I do? Keep going or back off and ride with the next group coming up the hill? Let’s keep going for a bit and see if the pace settles down. We are 7:15 mins into the race – 326 watts- the pace is still pretty much the same. Let’s back off.

Three riders catch me. I get on the last guys’ wheel about 52 seconds after coming off the front group. One of the three guys takes off. I stay with the other two. The pace is not fast enough. I get to the front and set the pace. They come off the back. After 16:30 mins of racing I am alone and I am going to spend the next 40 mins alone – well, sort of.

When I pass mile 6, I can see number 461 in front of me.  My age group. “Let’s catch him”. Number 461 was one of the six guys in the initial break. I step it up and I finally catch him. I stay behind him for a bit. I then go to the front and purposely set a pace that is not too hard, a kind of  “good and steady, let’s work together” kind of pace. About 75 meters from the Lake Placid Turn I wave at him to go ahead. He catches the bait. The Lake Placid Turn is one of the most windy point on the course. “Perfect, he will shield me from the wind”. After the turn we hit a tail wind. “Goodbye number 461, it is time for me to go”. I step it up one notch and after 30 seconds I look back: “He is not coming with me”.

Right after mile 7 I see number 483: my age group again. That was the guy from the group of three who took off. I guess he went too hard too fast. “Let’s catch him”. I do. The guy is breathing hard. Right away I feel confident I am about to move up another position in my age group. “Don’t be cocky Lambert, recover before you make your move”. I do. The guy in front keeps breathing hard. I go to front and hit the pedals hard. The Zipp 202 respond perfectly. I keep the power up, I feel great: 312 watts for 47 seconds, that should do the job. I can’t hear the heavy breathing anymore. I got him. Never breath hard in public!

I cross the finish line in 56:24 mins, 1:36 mins off my race goal. A good day.

As stated above, at the start of the race I followed the lead pack of my age group. During that time I put out 328 watts (336 normalized) for the first seven minutes. I felt fine but thought that they were going a little too hard for too long for my own good. That was my second best seven minute power effort ever. My best ever seven minute effort was during my November 2010 Tucson field test which nearly killed me (339 watts or 340 normalized). In Tucson, I was happy to finish the effort and then recover for a while. Yesterday, I kept racing for another 49 minutes.

Yesterday, my one hour power ended up being 285 watts (289 normalized) compared to a previous record of 260 watts (268 normalized).

I finished the race in 56:24 mins, good enough for 12th out of 92 in my age group and 29th overall out of more than 240 (exact number of finishers not posted yet). Last year I did the same race in 1:03:31 hrs and I finished 40th out of 84 in my age group and 104 overall out of 302.

Whiteface Race Power File

At dinner last night, before the race results were posted, I told the kids and my wife that 56:24 mins would have gotten me 12th place in 2010 for my age group. When yesterday’s results were posted and I saw that I was 12th I immediately realized that I had greatly improved in the last twelve months but that the top ten  finishers had not improved at all. There is hope.

Overall, a great day. I have been training with CTS for five years now and I have made huge gains every year. I don’t understand people who do the same training year after year and still expect adaptation to happen. Why bother?

On Friday night I texted Chris Carmichael, founder and CEO of CTS: “First post Tour of California hill climb race tomorrow in NY state, might want my money back :-)”.

After the race I sent Chris another text message: “56:24 mins, shaved seven mins off last year’s time: keep my money.”

Always the one with a great and quick response, Chris texted me back: ” Great job! We are proud of you….now we can charge you double :-)”

After I stopped laughing, I simply responded: ” Really happy about today, thanks for everything.”

Indeed, thanks Chris and the rest of the CTS crew, especially coach Jason – and previous coach Tim. Yesterday was worth at least double but don’t send me the bill just yet, I have other goals I want to talk to you about.