The Mount Greylock Century. An event that despite being around since the 1970's, is one of New England cycling's best kept secrets.
I say that because on almost any level you want to rate this low key open participation ride, Greylock and the surrounding Berkshires deliver the kind of experience true road cycling affiiciandos long for through long northeast winters spent riding a windtrainer watching video of Alpine Tour stages.
|Three big climbs....and a sting in the tail! Now that's what I call a real bike ride (and a great T-Shirt too!)|
Add in friendly laid back, smiling event staff from the Berkshire Cycling Association and the impromptu but highly appreciated post ride bratwurst and beer, and I'd say you've got more for your $40 than any other event you'll ever do on two wheels. On the fast Eddy cheap prick value for dollar award scale, this event is off the charts.
I won't use the overused adjective epic. No, as rides go, it's a paradox wrapped in an enigma, with a riddle attached...or something like that anyway.
I've been a fan of the 'epic ride' since long before the Rapha Continental made them fashionable. Used to have a subscription to Cicloturismo - the Italian 'magazine for practicioners.' Had to stop after a while,as it was driving me nuts, for I was too envious over the bounty of events our Italian friends could choose from. Every big name climb over there in France and Italy is a sought-out magnet for multiple cyclo events.
Despite cycling's recent growth, it's always been odd to me that there aren't more 'sportif' participation events in New England that take in our regions big climbs. The storied Gaps of Vermont and the Notches of the White Mountains remain remarkably untouched by the Gran Fondo/Cyclo phenomenon. Sor far anyway. Despite the terrain to support one, we don't have a Nove Colli, a La Marmotte or a Maratona Dolomiti.
The Greylock Century might be the closest thing you can get within a few hours of New York or Boston to riding the parcours of one of the big mountain stage 'Cyclosportives' that abound in Europe, but are amazingly rare around here. No doubt some great sportif participation cycling events are emerging, but no organized event I know of in this region has nearly the vertical of the Greylock Century.
So here's the Riddle: Why does this 'classic' participation event that's been around since the 1970's only attract about a hundred riders (n.b. my guesstimate - I know that only 79 pre-registered). Perhaps it's the nomenclature. "Century" after all does have its tourista connotations. Maybe it's the start-when-you-want format? I wonder if it were named the Greylock Gran Fondo, would it draw more interest?
Or maybe it's just too hard: This ain't your average charity ride - a parcours like this is definitely sportif to the max. It's a tweener, not a race... not an easy recreational century ride.
Last year I suffered through the day, getting dropped on all the climbs by my three Flandria Cafe mates. So after a text inquiry from Maarten only a few days before, I decided at the last minute to try it again. This time with better form but still a healthy dose of trepidation.
From the start, the guys started drilling it, motoring a fast tempo approaching TTT style, single file with strong pulls to the base of Greylock. I kept my pulls short. Waaaay too early boys.
|Tom at the summit.|
At the summit of the highest paved climb in Massachusetts, the predicted heat wave hadn't materialized. The sun was out, the air was cool, and there was a chilling breeze. Waiting to regroup for the obligatory team photo, I was wishing I'd brought a vest for the descent. Maarten and I went looking for some old school newspaper for the chest inside the Bascom summit lodge.
Click-clacking across the wooden floor at this old New England summit house brought icy stares from the staff. Jeez...Where the heck are those useless flyers or promotional junk papers when you need them anyway? Quickly going back ouside empty handed, I ended up moving my sheet protector enclosed route map from my rear pocket to under my chest. Good enough.
|Cleat-wearing and well chided, |
Maarten exits without newspaper.
The decent down to North Adams is a serpentine hairpin special. The road was recently repaved, and it's about as much fun as it gets on two wheels. I don't know of another one like it in New England.
On this extended drop, Kurt was the Kaiser of the kamikaze dive, leading us screaming through the hairpins just this side of prudence. At the bottom, he'd turn smiling to see five other guys all with the same wide eyed grin you see on ten-year-olds getting off a roller coaster at an amusement park.
Climb two is out of North Adams, up Rt 2 to the Whitcomb summit, the scenic Mohawk trail This one is a long, steady drag between 6-8%. Praying for winged support from my guardian Angel of the Mountains, I channeled my best Charly Gaul imitation, spinning a 40x23 as evenly as possible. Agile, baby agile. 90, 100 rpm. Christian says, "You're not 'Fast Eddy' you're 'Steady Eddy' ". He's right on one count, I'm not very fast anymore. But I'll trade that anyday for the buzz of being able to climb half decent! We all reached the summit pretty much together.
Then comes the long, straight and superfast descent down the Mohawk trail. You rarely need to touch the brakes. Down and down and down, zooming alongside the Deerfield river that's a mecca for kayaking and rafting. As the road flattened out, my mates started to drill it again. "Do you know how much more climbing we've got?" I chided...
They would soon enough, for after the right turn onto infamous East Hawley road there's 6k of super steep climbing, the toughest climb of the ride. The wall bites hard and soon. Maarten found his climbing legs, as he and Christian set a hard tempo on the early part, I hung in, that 25 getting plenty of use. The final 10% ramp up toward a right hand switchback was where the throw down came. I slowly spun away from Christian, and thought I was going to reach the top first... but then started to lose momentum after the turn like a spring toy running down.
Our of nowhere, Tom flies by me, on a bigger gear, his long legs leveraging his Cervelo to up the tempo. Like the scurvy scrappy dog I am, I clung on, and twiddled a little faster. Three times he drilled it on false flats to what seemed like the top, only to reach the horizon or round a curve to see another 300 meters of 'slightly up.' After about the third repeat of this we were saying to each other, 'OK, this has to be the top,' signifying a draw.
I'd forgotten how hard the drag to the top was. Coma-like pain from grovelling up last year must have blocked my memory.
|OK boys, let's go, only 35 more miles of climbing!!|
With the three big climbs tackled, one might think the last third of this ride is a relative cruise. I thought the last 35 miles is actually the hardest part, and I know the guys agreed. There's still a no stop sequence of steep (if somewhat shorter) climbs in Cumington, Worthington and the aptly-andean-named town of 'Peru'. Helps one understand why the experts always say those medium mountain stages in the Tour are so tough. It's not the length of the climbs but the steepness and frequency that combine to just wear you down after awhile. The finale of the Greylock century is kinda like that I think...
Toward the end, we were all just counting them down. Every new wall elicited audible groans, and silent lactic acid screams from legs wringing out their last glycogen molecules.
At the Notchview Reservation at the end, a brilliant sun that had been playing hide and seek was now out. We were invited by the organizers to enjoy the biggest, fattest bratwurst mit kraut I'd ever seen in my life, and an ice cold Stella. In a simple setting that's classic Berkshires. High up, overlooking wooded hills. Silent and serene. A million miles from the scrum of a post-Gran Fondo pasta party, or the beer fest that is the B2B.
One of the guys sipped his beer, looked out over the Berkshires, and breaking the silence, placed the day into perspective.
"That was WAY harder than the B-2-B."