Mount Ascutney, VT – Due to the increasing popularity of the Mt. Washington hill climb and park management noting a dramatic increase in riders training at Mt. Ascutney, the park decided to hold their own race from 2000. It was my first hill climb race. 90 riders competed in the inaugural event, and thousands have participated over the last decades.
As you can see from the comparison graph below, the first 1.5 miles of Ascutney gain significantly more vertical than any other climb. There reportedly are short but sustained 19% grade sections. I find Ascutney a more grueling climb than Washington. It’s only half the vertical so you push harder in the race knowing the pain will be over in 30 minutes.
Ascutney has some very tight switchbacks and a few frost heaves, so care must be taken on the descent. Since much of the surface has been recently repaved in 2005, the descent is much more enjoyable. It’s still a good idea to reduce tire pressure and stop for rim cooling, however. Many riders have blown tires off their wheels descending this mountain.
You can ride Ascutney anytime for a small use fee. I have taken my mountain bike up Ascutney on a couple of occasions. There is some brutally rugged off-road riding around the summit of the mountain, which rises a couple of hundred additional feet above the parking lot at the top. This is the best mountain in New England to test your Mt. Washington race gearing on when you’re a well-trained cyclist. Ascutney is also a popular hang-glider launch mountain. For more info, go to VT Parks and look for the link to Ascutney events.
No other climb presented here gains over 1000 feet in the first 1.5 miles, or in any 1.5 miles section like Ascutney does. A very good warm-up is required before racing this mountain. There may be a couple of brief sections around switchbacks between 1.5 and 2.6 miles to let up just a tad, but the only significant break is around the 3.2-3.5 mile area. There is actually a brief downhill here. This poses a big problem to many riders though. It is too easy to back off, maybe even coast briefly in this section. Don’t do it! What happens is the final pitch gets exceedingly steep.
You think there are only a few tenths of a mile to go, but how hard could it be? But when you back off and recover, even if for a moment, it is very easy to go deeply anaerobic when the pitch turns steep again. Because this is near the end of the climb, you quickly hit deflection big time. This is the term often given to the condition when lactic acid rapidly builds, then the athlete must back way down to recover.
It’s like hitting a barrier and deflecting off of it. This results in a net loss in time. It is better to maintain at least moderate power through the easy section, then resume steady hard pace on remaining steep section. You avoid going too anaerobic this way, which should net you a better finishing time. Check out also this post about the “Crank the Kanc” bicycle race that occurs each year in May on the beautiful Kancamaugus Highway in New Hampshire.