Friday, July 31, 2009

Death Ride Training - Part I

Mostly 8% grade for 8 miles with ~ 2,800 ft of climb

My old riding partner, Bruce, is on vacation, and while watching the Tour de' France we got inspired by the Mt Ventoux climb and decided to have a go at Monitor Pass, the first, longest, and hardest (E side climb) of the 5 climbs of the Death Ride. I should also say, in fairness to riders like Bruce who did the Death Ride back in the day when it usually lived up to its name, the current Death Ride is pretty tame. It used be close to 200 miles and 21,000 ft of climbing. I wouldn't even consider such a ride, but at 129 miles and 15,000 ft of climbing, it is just one hella bad ride I might be tempted to try.

Originally planned for Friday, we rescheduled for Sunday due to persistent rain and wanting to watch Lance Armstrong give it one last shot on the fearsome Mt Ventoux. We got started about 1:00, and it was already 96 degrees in the shade. It was also extremely dry. My guess would be at or below 10% humidity. Our plan was to do the W slope of Monitor and then tackle Ebbetts Pass from the parking lot where hwy 88 "T"s into hwy 89. We should have done Ebbetts Pass as it has a northern and eastern exposure, the road is narrow, lined with trees, and water at a park half-way up. Live and learn!

My water was frozen solid in the ice chest at the start, so I slammed half a 7-Up and hoped for the best. Starting a bit dehydrated wasn't so great. I also forgot to start my Garmin recording, so I was 2 miles and 25 minutes into the climb before the traces start. My Gatorade, spiked with Power Electrolytes proved to be too strong in the hot conditions, so after stopping once to hydrate, fix my dragging front brake, and turn on the Garmin, I stopped again a few miles later to bum water off a nice elderly couple driving a new Prius. I could have easily drained both 12 oz bottles, but I left them half a bottle in case it was their last. The diluted Gatorade went down much easier.

Bruce had left as soon as he was set up, so I had to do the climb alone - we need a little heart to heart on that issue. Not cool! I have to say, except for being very aware how bored I was, the climb didn't seem at all strenuous. I am going to try experimenting with playing some music and see if that helps with the boredom. I was very happy my HR was holding steady at 147 while climbing at 4~5 mph. That's just squeeking under Zone 5, but manageable, and not bad for the 3rd ride in 6 weeks after Hamilton. I rode and trained from November '08, so needed a sustained break.

Monitor Pass is a special place for me. My Ex and I crossed over Monitor on our very first bike tour, and camped overnight by the small lake just before the summit. The east side's switchbacks are big, open, turns that you can carry a lot of speed through. I remember having a blast flying down to hwy 395 with 55 lbs in full panniers, loving the low center of gravity and amazing speed. What an idiot I was!!! The views are stunningly expansive. The valley to the south extends over the horizon.

We didn't go over the top, but did take some photos at the summit marker. With all the rain the trees and grasses were green and creeks flowing. After hydrating until our bottles were dry, we headed back down the mountain. I was having a blast flying down the mountain at over 50 mph in a full aerobar tuck when I ran over a rock with my back wheel.

Within a couple of seconds it was flat and felt like it was sliding on greased glass. It put a serious scare into me as a fall at those speeds can be fatal. I was very, very lucky and got it shut down within a few hundred yards. I'm installing puncture strips on the tires, because this is just not acceptable.

We drove up to Ebbetts Pass to scout it out, and took some pics there too. Bruce faked it in his riding clothes, but I don't like to foul my Karma like that, so changed into clean, cool, loose clothes and took some decidedly unglamorous shots.

After endless hours trying to adjust every imaginable thing, I have given up trying to use a 24T granny on my bike, because it drops the chain often enough that all the paint and then some is now torn off my bottom bracket. The seat tube swells below the water bottle brackets, so I can't use a Deda Dog Tooth, and there isn't enough material on the 24T to safely drill it so I can use screws to pin the chainwheel. I have a 28T that should work fine, but I am going to try a 26T first. Gear charts don't lie.

45 rpm produces lots of muscle fatigue, but not much power

As you can see from the trace, even on the relatively mild slope of Monitor, my cadence was too low to make good power with a 30T. If I had a larger frame I could get by standing, but with my frame I just don't have enough cockpit room to climb out of the saddle, and when I tried it my HR alarm went off within a few seconds. 125% of the power. 200% of the work. All that core and upper body burns lots of fuel and oxygen that starves the legs and burns the lungs.

PS: Kik, Lance Armstrong's Ex, had this special chain restraint custom made to keep the chain from falling past her granny. I don't have carbon "braze-on" dérailleur mounts though, so not sure it will work for me, but I'm looking into it.


Gotta Run..Gotta Ride said...

wow..where to begin. One - you got very lucky. As I was coming down the mountain on Thursdays ride it started raining pretty hard. I maybe maxed out at 15mph...maybe.

I love the steady 8% climbs. It is the 14% and up that I have demons with. Lots of riders like to freeze their bottles. I am just not sold on that one. Freezing plastic is not good(cancer).

LOVE what Kik had designed. she is on to something and should market this.

Great recap of an amazing ride. This is LIVING!!!!

Grey Beard said...

Yes, I was very lucky, too lucky to count on more than once, and yes, rain and downhills don't mix well either. Normally my concern with rain is motorist's visibility out of rain-spattered windows, but braking performance on the bike is critical for high-speed descents.

I often refer to super-steeps, and have been asking myself how to define those. As you indicated, it's usually anything steeper than 8%, but really is anything most people can't climb in stock road-bike gearing - which means a SS is part grade and part length/duration.

Help is on the way there, because I have been looking into climbing gears for the back end of the chain, and am putting together a killer post on that. For compact cranks, 34T front chainrings are just not small enough to handle super-steeps. You can swap out a normal for a climbing cassette in ~ 5 minutes. Stay tuned!

I found the mfg for Kik's device. It is OMG ~ $50, but I might try to find one here locally anyway to see if it will mount properly. The fundamental problem with compact frames is the seat tube puts the derailler back too far, leaving too much distance between the derailler-chain interface and the front of the chainwheel where the chain wants to fall off.

In short, the mfgs are not making front deraillers that will handle low gearing on triple road bikes and carbon frames. Too bad too, because you can swap out a compact for a triple crank in ~ a minute with most modern cranks - IF the front shifter will handle it.