Birthday Hill & Other B-Rated Attractions: report from Whitefish

Birthday Hill & Other B-Rated Attractions

Whitefish–The Great Northern Stage Race, a two-day event featured the State Championship Criterium, a hill-climb time trial on Saturday, and a circuit-style road race on Sunday, “rain or shine.” Mark Brooke and I decided we could either train or race in the rain, so we chose to race in the rain in Whitefish. They billed the Criterium as the main attraction, which I thought was a bit ironic since it is the only criterium race in the state so far this year. As it turned out entrants had to race the crit to be eligible to participate in the other two events. So I raced my first crit ever and Mark, well, he’s getting so old he had forgotten when he last rode one. Saturday was Mark’s birthday.

For the crit the two-wheeled circus set up the big top in downtown Whitefish near the train depot for a wickedly fun “L-shaped” course. It all started early on Saturday morning with sun breaking through gaps between ominous-looking thunderheads. The Masters B and Cat 5 group started last at about noon. So Mark and I warmed up on trainers under a generous roof eve while watching the Cat 4s slug it out in the rain. Obviously our group was not the main attraction. With more rain threatening to arrive, the spectators, vendors and innocent bystanders (wondering why the streets were closed) began to pull up stakes and pack up their tents and umbrellas and go home. B-rated group notwithstanding, our group of 20+ averaged over 24 mph per lap for 30 minutes on the 0.87-mile course, and with speeds on some laps hitting 28 mph it made the six 90-degree turns pretty thrilling. Thankfully the course had dried out. All I could do was try and hang on and stay out of trouble, working on finding the best line to not get whiplashed and thrashed by the accordion effect that sucks your energy every time you have to sprint out of a corner to catch back up to the pack. We managed to sit in pretty well but made the mistake of dawdling in our decision to move up soon enough for the last lap, which ended up in a massive bunch sprint to the finish. Mark fared better than I, with a power sprint burst that sent his speed readings in excess of 35 mph a max cadence of 166 rpms, according to the report from his Garmin computer at the end. No crashes, a wild finish, and the most thrilling race event I have ever experienced. I was totally buzzed…until I finished the “Birthday Hill” later that afternoon.

The hill climb time trial, also known as “Birthday Hill” for Mark, was set to ascend the 4.85-mile road up to the Big Mountain Ski Area. Although it is advertised as a 6.2% average grade, a portion (the section from Hell) of the road was rebuilt a few years with a steady 9% grade for several miles. It rained pretty steady for the event but with the low speeds we achieved the only danger was possible cardiac arrest. I cursed the engineers all the way up as I choked on rain drops trying to get enough air for each pedal stroke. One Cat 1 had a time in the low 20 minute area, with a Master A rider finished second overall only a scant minute behind the leader. Mark and I chugged along, somewhat spent from the morning and praying not to be passed by a junior female rider who didn’t weigh as much as my bike. Somehow we managed to stay ahead of her. Man, was I glad when that was over.

Sunday the mountains hid behind heavy fog and cloud cover. The circuit race course rolled through a rural area west of Whitefish. With groups doing laps on a 6.6-mile circuit before launching on a 8-mile detour that ended with a 2+mile uphill finish, it gave us a chance to cheer on the other racers as they rolled by the staging area. The Masters B group started just ahead of the Women categories. We ran 5 laps on the circuit in generally dry conditions. I got dropped on the 4th lap but managed to round up a small chase group, which worked hard to not let our egos be rolled over by the gals. Mark and front group split on the final hill. He took the “second elevator” up but overall rode strong all race long and finished well in the Master B group. We both lamented that we need more hill-climbing work. That is where the successful attacks occurred.

On the way home we pondered our mistakes, the suffering on the hill-climbs, and talked about what we had learned and what we could have done better. I’m still wondering why somebody would chose to do that much suffering on their birthday. But those who race bikes are a different bunch with a different “fun” meter. Sore egos and muscles notwithstanding, I am grateful for the experience and cannot imagine what it is like to sit at home on the weekend watching NASCAR on TV and drinking beer.

The old, slow guy.

Randall Green


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