Longer is better.

words by Jay Robbinsphotos by Todd, Oscar, Jay

Longer is better. Or so that’s what Dan Vallincourt told us around mile 90 of our ~140 mile journey from Ride Studio Cafe to Pack Monadnock and back.

But it actually all started a week or two before. The studio team has been starting to think about the 2012 NE Rapha Gentlemen’s Race, which will take place on June 23 somewhere in Western NH (on an intentionally vague route). Since that ride will entail 120-140 miles and around 14,000 feet of climbing on something like 70% dirt roads, a few extra hours of saddle time would probably help. Plus, it’s May, in New England. There are few places on earth I’d rather be riding right now!

So when I told Oscar that I was going to skip the Killington Stage Race this year and that Sunday/Monday were fair game for anything, the gears immediately started spinning. Oscar’s “happy place” is not far from his home. Known as the Hollis Hill Ride, this 100 kilometer route includes some of southern New Hampshire’s most difficult climbs including Pack Monadnock, which Strava lists as 1.2 miles at an average 12.1% gradient. This route in itself is a challenging day of riding and great preparation for any hilly road race.

Perhaps we’re outgrowing that loop, or perhaps we just have way too much time to ride these days, but Oscar decided to link the hill ride up with a loop leaving from the studio.

The result? 141 miles. ~10,000 feet of climbing. And yes, there was dirt.

Yet somehow, on the Ride Studio Café team, those aren’t terribly impressive ride statistics. The endurance team cranks out this caliber ride just because it’s a balmy 35 degree weekend in February. Those guys know how to get in the saddle and stay in the saddle for hours and hours and hours. As far as I know, their rides go 600k or maybe even longer.

Knowing that I’m out of my element on this type of ride, I called Matt Roy for some advice. He reinforced a lot of fundamentals that I’ve always applied to my longer rides, but hearing it come from his mouth really made it stick. Eat every 50 minutes, no exceptions. Set a reoccurring alarm to remind yourself. Top off your glycogen the night before. Maintain your glycogen during the ride. Stick to foods and sports drinks that you can digest. Keep your fluids/electrolytes moving as well. Avoid hard accelerations. Don’t ride the climbs above threshold.

That kind of stuff. We discussed specific numbers as well, like calories per hour and bottles per hour, but those numbers are fairly individual and dependent on ambient conditions.

So Oscar, Todd, Dan, Ward, and myself set out for our big day. And for the first four hours or so we stuck to Matt’s plan pretty well. Then we hit the first climb of the Hollis Hill Ride: Parker’s Maple Barn. While I wouldn’t say we hammered the climb, it was still a much harder pace than ideal for an 8 hour day. My heart rate reached 182, a good amount above threshold. Strava says Oscar set a new PR on the ascent, which means “too much!” since this is a climb he’s attacked at 100% in the past.

When we got to the top of the climb we were smoothly rolling grupo compacto, and a relatively tight group at that. I think no one wanted to show any signs of weakness, so we continued on as if it were no big deal.

This set the tone for how we approached the climbs. Every little kicker, and there are lots of little kickers, was climbed at a little closer to race pace than “all day” pace.

In case you haven’t been, the southern New Hampshire towns are beautiful. Brookline, Mason, Wilton, Milford are some of my favorite stretches. Old New England farms with rock wall property lines are abundant. The town centers include wooden churches, town halls, and general stores that are hundreds of years old. And there are countless winding roads, many of which feel like a tunnel due to the thick uncut forests that surround them. Of course, if you’re willing to tackle some dirt, like we did passing through Russel-Abbott State Forest on Starch Mill Rd, it would probably take a lifetime to explore all the roads around here.

Pack Monadnock would appear to be the highlight of the day based on the ride’s elevation profile. Topping out at over 2,000 feet, it is by far the highest point of the ride. This is one of those climbs that gets me all excited when I think about it in theory, with its 12% average and 20% maximum gradient near the top. Be prepared though, your standard 39x25 gearing may very well suck the fun out of it. Unless you like climbing at a cadence of 25-30rpm for 15 minutes that is. I, for one, had a rude awakening and was quite happy when that climb was behind us.

Have you ever heard that your rims can get so hot under heavy braking that your tube can overheat and explode? I’ve heard that too, but until descending Pack on this day I’d never experienced it firsthand.

Just as we approached the lower hairpin I had my brake levers gripped tightly, and I was thinking about this overheated rim theory and hoping it was a myth. Not 2 seconds later I hear an explosion followed by the sound of carbon crashing into pavement. Todd was unfortunate enough to prove that this theory is in fact legit and paid the price.

Luckily Todd’s injuries were limited to road rash and bruises. His bike damage appeared to be no worse than the blown tube and a bent shifter. And in true hard man fashion he pushed on and rode all the way back to Boston. Come to think of it, I don’t think he even complained once.

The likely cause of the accident was his Zipp 303 carbon clincher with its aluminum braking surface. Our theory was that the carbon did not absorb the heat of the aluminum braking surface, causing it to reach a much higher temperature than an all-aluminum rim.

A couple of borderline-bonky hours later we arrived at the Monument Square Market in Hollis, our lunch spot for the day. I highly recommend it. Their deli was fantastic and their drink options included our favorite, Vita Coco. I alone range up a bill of $21.54 and consumed every last bit of it.

From Hollis to the studio is about 40 miles. Maybe it was the prosciutto they put in our sandwiches, but we knocked that off in right around 2 hours. It helps that Dan can ride at well over 23 mph into a headwind. And that the roads all seemed to be downhill after spending the previous couple of hours on a hill ride route. We even had enough gas left in the tank to contest the final 10 or so town lines at a vicious pace.

Rob, Patria, and Erica were still at the studio when we got back, even though it’d been closed for nearly an hour. Needless to say their hospitality was very highly appreciated as their days were no doubt long as well. I love being a part of their team. A huge thank you to them!

I’m not sure what to make of a day like this. It was hard, very very hard. With the muscle soreness I have right now, two days later, I will struggle to get a proper workout in this week. But that one ride alone may have been worth nearly a week of training. It had Vo2 efforts, LT efforts, plenty of endurance miles (duh!), and even some of the best sprint efforts I’ve made all year. And somehow we actually survived! Hopefully with smart pacing under the direction of our fearless leader Matt Roy, we’ll be in good form for the Rapha Gentlemen’s Race.

One thing is certain though. This ride was a TON of fun.