Mount Wellington Challenge

Today I raced the Mount Wellington Challenge time trial, billed as Australia’s toughest time trial.  It’s a 21km course from Longley to the summit of Mount Wellington, with a total climb of 1141m.  I had been wanting to do this time trial for some years, but always had something come up – a cold, travel, family commitments.  This year, I registered in early February to make sure I could not back out!  This meant I took it all far too seriously.  You can just keep reading to see that for yourself!
Mount Wellington from Ridgeway
My training for the ride was really just my usual commute – with just one hard ride, the Gordon Dam Doddle, thrown in for good measure a few weeks earlier.  In that ride, we climbed 3800m over 160km, in rain and drizzle.  It was a really tough ride, definitely the hardest ride I have ever done – and very, very good preparation.  In reality, I only joined the middle day of the ride – some of the really tough boys did a day on either side of it as well!
A couple of days before the ride I jumped onto my Strava account to look up my best times for various segments of the ride.  Strava makes it brilliantly simple, using a Garmin GPS, to identify climbs and compare performance over time and against peers.  I ended up with a table of my personal best times for each segment, which apart from the first little ‘warm up’, were all between 3.5km and 4km long.   I used this table to try to understand how hard to ride each section of the climb, on which sections I could make up the most time, and where I could maybe recover a little:
Segment
Distance
Gradient
Best Time
Best Speed
VAM
1.7 km
5.7%
5:43
17.4 km/h
1039
3.9 km
5.7%
10:01
22.1 km/h
1282
3.6 km
-1.8%
5:21
40.1 km/h
N/A
4.0 km
6.8%
14:37
16.6 km/h
1126
3.5 km
8.5%
16:36
12.5 km/h
1063
3.5 km
7.3%
14:50
14.3 km/h
1048
1:07:08
(Note that the actual course is a few hundred metres longer – the segments do not all start and end at precisely the same points.)  The first thing I picked was that I was not going to match my best time from Leslie Rd – Neika.  The VAM of 1282 for this segment was clearly way above average, and so trying to match that would probably cost me too much for the remainder of the ride.  Next I looked at how to best make up time, and realised that I would be better off saving some energy and recovering on the Neika – Fern Tree segment, which is slightly downhill, because cutting 6km/h off my speed would cost me less than a minute overall.  Conversely, working harder on some of the steep sections could well help me to improve my overall time:
Segment
Gradient
Best Time
Best Speed
Speed vs Time
Longley – Leslie Rd
5.7%
5:43
17.4 km/h
Leslie Rd – Neika
5.7%
10:01
22.1 km/h
Neika – Fern Tree
-1.8%
5:21
40.1 km/h
-6.4 km/h = +1:00
Fern Tree – Springs
6.8%
14:37
16.6 km/h
-1.0 km/h = +1:00
Springs – Chalet
8.5%
16:36
12.5 km/h
-0.7 km/h = +1:00
Chalet – Summit
7.3%
14:50
14.3 km/h
-0.9 km/h = +1:00
I did not expect to match the 1:07:08 overall sum of the individual segments – these personal bests were made over the year in various shorter rides, and to get a personal best on each segment in a single ride was definitely unrealistic.  After looking at the numbers, I realised that a 1:08:00 – 1:10:00 goal was probably a good target.  Of course I told all my mates that I was aiming for 1:15:00 – no need to set expectations from them as well!
To ride 1:08:00, I had the following targets in mind:
  • 18 min to Neika (achievable)
  • 6 min to Fern Tree (within reach)
  • 44 min to Summit (ambitious!)
Now the weather for the two weeks prior to the race was atrocious – it is rare to have snow on the mountain in February and March, but we had 3 days with snow on the mountain, and plenty of other days with miserable weather.  So I was watching the weather with some trepidation – Mount Wellington is a hard enough climb in good weather, let alone in freezing rain!  Fortunately for all, the day dawned as a beautiful, crystal clear, calm and sunny – a great Hobart March day.
I hopped on my bike at 7am and rode from our house in Ridgeway gently down to the start line in Longley.  I was keen not to wear myself out before the time trial.  While waiting for the event to start, I bumped into a good number of friends – Ant, Phil, Iain, Piers, Dave, Jonno, Les – and we all ragged about how sick we were and how we probably would get atrocious times, and how it would probably be blowing a gale on top, and the usual stuff that road cyclists use to try and manage their own expectations!  Surprisingly enough, the event started on time.  Riders were going off every 15 seconds, starting at 8:45, and I was number 161, which meant I had quite a wait.  About 20 minutes before my start, my mate Ant and I started warming up on the hills behind Longley, along with many other riders.  We rolled back into Longley just a few minutes before the start.
This was the first time I’ve had an assisted start – where a steward held my bike so I could start with my feet clipped into the pedals, and not waste “precious” seconds clipping in.  Fun!  Phil was starting a minute before me, and Ant 30 seconds ahead of him.  I knew I was not going to see Ant at all, but I had some vague hope of seeing Phil in the far distance at some point on the climb.  For some reason, there were 2 riders missing between me and the rider ahead of me, so I left 45 seconds after him.  I started off pretty gently – aiming to keep my heart rate below 165 for the whole first half of the ride (my maximum HR is about 185).  This I nearly managed, with my HR just nudging over 170 for the last kilometre of the initial climb.  Once I reached the gradual descent from Neika to Fern Tree, I eased back a bit, rehydrated, and sucked down another gel.  At Fern Tree, my wife and daughters waved and cheered me on, which was fantastic!
After Fern Tree the real climbing started.  A brutal ramp greets you at the start of Pillinger Drive, which is agonising after the previous gentle section – bumpy roads from tree roots eat up your momentum, and narrow road with a car coming past meant I had nowhere to manoeuvre.  Fortunately, this rough stuff does not last long: all too soon the climb sets off in earnest, sitting on 7% up to the Springs.  From Fern Tree to the Springs the road winds through the heavily forested lower sections of the mountain, beautiful, gum trees overhead, birds calling.  Not that I noticed!  A short respite in the gradient at the Springs ends nastily with the hardest part of the climb averaging 8.5% for 3.5km.  This section is the most feared section of the climb, across the face of the mountain, exposed, with a rough surface, and long straights punctuated by gentle corners that you negotiate only to be greeted by yet more long straight steep climbing.  Plenty of agony here in bottom gear, just trying to keep cadence up, trying to stay motivated to keep pushing the pedals as hard as you can.

On the mountain top
Once I reached the Chalet, at 1000m, things got a little easier.  A section of smoother road gave me the encouragement to go up a gear.  Soon after that, the roads curves onto the top of the mountain.  Should be flatter, right?  Unfortunately not.  It stays steep until the very end, not quite as steep as the previous section, but enough to be debilitating.  A gentle northwesterly wind proved to not be too big a hindrance, and just gave a little push for the last kilometre.  I finally crossed the line with a result of 1:10:43 – far exceeding my expectations! [edit: as many riders have noted, official timekeeping appears to have been out by 3 minutes so am using my Garmin time, not official time now]

At the summit on another, more typical day!
Looking at the individual segments, I rode the first section significantly faster than I ever had before, without pushing myself.  I was pleased that I managed to make a personal best also on the hardest part of the climb, without losing too much time on other sections.  My average heart rate for the whole time trial was 164.  Note that there is a few hundred metres missing in the segments which adds up to an additional 1:20 in the overall time, and that’s why the numbers don’t add up exactly – see the ride on Strava for full details.  Campbell Flakemore, the fastest rider of the day got a sub-53 [query: this may be out by 3 minutes as well] minute time.  I’m a long way short of that!
Segment
Distance
Gradient
Best Time
Yesterday
Heart Rate
Target
Achieved
Longley – Leslie Rd
1.7 km
5.7%
5:43
5:06
163
18:00
16:48
Leslie Rd – Neika
3.9 km
5.7%
10:01
11:24
167
Neika – Fern Tree
3.6 km
-1.8%
5:21
6:04
154
6:00
6:04
Fern Tree – Springs
4.0 km
6.8%
14:37
15:08
165
44:00
46:15
Springs – Chalet
3.5 km
8.5%
16:36
16:33
166
Chalet – Summit
3.5 km
7.3%
14:50
15:08
164
Segment total
1:07:08
1:09:23
1:10:43
After a rip-roaring descent back to Longley (in which I made another best time and topped the charts on Strava, yay!) I managed to pick up two spot prizes – a Genesys jersey, and a Malvern Star coffee mug set!  After the presentations, I carted my haul of goodies back up the hill, tagging along with a bunch of TIS riders, through Neika and thence back home.  77km, 1800m.  All in all, a great day!

Descending!

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