Assault on Dickey Ridge

by gbsmith4

For the past few months, my cycling life has taken an unusual turn.  Out went my slightly-better-than-average time trialing career, and in came a (hopefully) podium claiming emphasis on — of all things — hill climbing.

Now, when most people think of hill climbing, they think of off-road mountain biking.  My thrust is even more esoteric: it’s hill climbing, but on paved roads and on a normal road bike.   The most famous is probably the Mt. Washington Hill Climb (, but there are others scatttered across the country.

Of course, if you follow races like the Tour de France, you’re familiar with climbs like the Alpe d’Huez.  Regardless, they all fall into the same genre: go up a mountain as fast as you can.

Fortunately — and the reason I migrated to this area — is that it plays to my strengths.  I’m not big or strong enough to win flat time trials, but I am strong enough per my weight to do well going up hills.  In other words, for my relatively skinny frame, I can generate a decent amount of power.

Anyway, my training has been going well, concentrating on both getting stronger, and getting as lean as possible.  Out went the cake and cookies, and beer consumption was cut substantially.

But, to give myself a further goal, I started to use to pick out a course I thought I could do well on.

It turns out there’s a beauty of a climb about an hour from me, in Front Royal VA.  Many of you know the Skyline Drive as a scenic route, but it’s also a climbers dream: about 6% of steady grade, spread over 4 miles, with very little traffic.  Perfect for a time trial, the route is known as Ascent to Dickey Ridge.  For my purposes, it was going to be an all out assault.

I went out about a week ago for a test ride.  Just good, standard pace on my normal road bike.  As you can see below, I clocked in just under 24 minutes.

You’ll note number one was a Pro, btw….

Now I had a bogey: anything under 20:33 was my target.  It was then easy to figure out what power and pace I needed to hit that number.  I concluded that with a solid — albeit hard — effort, I could break 20:30.

I then spent the entire past week visualizing the climb.  I thought about when I would eat, where I would park, and how long I would warm up.   I also had a secret weapon: an ultralight road bike that’s been so tricked up it weighs barely over 10 lbs.

Of course, when it came to “race day” there was one glitch: the temperature was about 42 degrees with a decent headwind.  I figured when Dickey rode it was at least 80 degrees.  A 40 degree difference probably meant he had a 30 second advantage.

But, I was there and ready to go,  and after a decent warmup I was off.   I concentrated on a steady start, but like always in these efforts, I wanted to quit about halfway through.  At that point, I gave myself the freedom to chuck it….if I could just go .1 more miles.   And then, “tricking” myself, kept going an additional .1 miles until I was within a half mile of the finish.  At that point, the road flattens every so slightly and the pain decreases a bit.  So, I gunned it knowing I could redline and coast over the finish.

It was, I admit, a strong effort.

Now, in deference to Mr. Dickey, I’m guessing he didn’t go all out on his ride.  In fact, he probably went at cruising speed.

On the other hand, he’s almost 20 years younger than me.

Now, was it fun?  Well, during the climb, never.  No, it hurts like a son-of-a-bit*h.  After, though?  Well worth it!

Real climbing in real races isn’t for another 4 months.  Until then, this is about as close as I can get but after days like this, it makes it all worthwhile.