The Horror at Harding Hill 2012

There are three races that I really try not to miss: The Pinnacle, All Out at Moody Park and The Horror at Harding Hill.  They are relatively close to home, clustered around the Newport, NH area.  We decided to make a weekend of it and stay at a campground in the area.  We crashed at Crows Nest Campground in Newport on Friday and just lazed around on Saturday using the pool and generally enjoying life with the family.  I’ll put a shameless plug in for this place as the couple that runs it are really friendly and maintain a nice, quiet place.  We’ll be returning there next year for these races.

Turnout was a bit light this time, but there was at least one other significant mountain bike race on the same day in the region.  The NEMBA Racing team had a good showing at this event with riders in every class.  There were only around five riders in the single-speed class – I’m not sure if there were more because the start was one big glom; more on that later.  We still raced hard.

I’m lost somewhere in there.

This is my third time doing this race.  It was easily my least favorite race of the three when I first rode it.  They have some nice terrain; but, for some reason, it just didn’t click with me like the other two races.  It didn’t help that the first time I raced there I had a bad cassette and spent a lot of time not shifting properly.  Last time, I was on a single-speed bike so the shifting wasn’t a problem.  I did enjoy the course more, but it’s never been something I get excited about.  This year it was Opposite Day – the course would be run in the reverse direction than what we have done in recent years.  All of the open grassy double-track climbs would now be screaming descents.  The steep technical descents would be tough climbs.  It was a nice change, and I hope they keep it this way in the future.

Traffic Jam
This is what it feels like when they start the single-speed class off with the sport riders.

For whatever reason, they have always used a big mass start for this race.  We line up across this big grassy field and slog our way up through a big, open climb where it feels like you’re pedaling in slow motion.  This year they started us off in three waves, using the same format.  Experts and the Elite class went off first.   Someone decided it would be a good idea to send the single-speed riders off with the Sport class.  We race four laps like the Experts and our times are pretty much the same as theirs; but, apparently, that didn’t factor in to this decision.  So, we were doomed to fight through a mob of adrenaline-crazed Sport riders off the start.  I missed the hole shot on the start and managed to find myself behind a whole LOT of Sport riders.  As soon as things turned uphill, I was trapped behind clusters of riders spinning their way up the climbs.  One of the unique things about racing a single-speed is that you thrive on momentum.   Since you can’t shift down, you have to attack every climb with as much speed as possible or you waste a lot of energy.  Even the Experts often climb a little more slowly than we would like.  Sorry for the whining here but it was very frustrating.  I guess I can look at the positive side and appreciate the fact that I had the opportunity to start the race in a less intense manner.

I spent the first half of my first lap trying to get around the various Sport riders on the climbs.  I don’t know who in my class was ahead or behind me other than Peter Macleod and Kevin Orlowski.  I caught glimpses of Kevin near the top of one of the climbs and made it my goal to catch up with him.  I eventually fought my way through the crowds and got on his wheel about 2/3 of the way into the lap.  I was feeling pretty good at this point so we only rode together a short time before I decided to pick up the pace.  That was the last time I would see another single-speed rider for the rest of the race.

On the second lap, I was finally clear of most of the sport riders and started catching some of the stragglers in the Expert class.  The course was really fast this year.  Things were bone dry and actually quite dusty in places.  Most of the usual wet spots were completely dry.  I was able to take on the climbs at the beginning of the lap unencumbered this time, which was a very nice improvement on the previous time around.  There was only one short, steep 50 foot section that I was not able to ride.  Other than that, it was full speed all the way around.  The descents were, as expected, quite fast.  The technical sections in the woods were a blast.

Lap!My third and fourth laps were only noteworthy in that I rode alone.  I tried hard to keep my pace up to reel in any other single-speed riders that might be ahead of me.  Unfortunately, I never found any.  At this point, I was kicking myself hard for not putting in more effort at the start.  Was I in 4th place?  2nd?  Not likely.  I had no clue.  I did enjoy passing more riders but with everyone out on the course at the same time I had very little idea who I was passing.  I held my place and was able to keep anyone else from passing me for the remainder of the race.

As I came in toward the finish, I tried to speed things up a little – I absolutely hate getting nipped at the end.  That’s not easy when the final approach to the finish line is in the same open, grassy climb that sucked all the power out of my legs at the start.  I had a bit of racer tunnel vision and actually missed the finish line, instead, going past like I was on my way out for another lap.  Fortunately, I realized what I was doing pretty quickly and backtracked to the finish line.

Finished!I finished in second place for the single-speed class, which was a nice surprise.  Peter Macleod was able to get out early and ended up finishing about six minutes ahead of me.  Other than the start, I felt like I raced well, so there’s no complaint on my part.  Kevin came in a few minutes after me taking a well-deserved third place finish.  I’d post a podium picture with him but he missed the awards ceremony by a few minutes.

My daughter, Emma, put in a good effort in spite of not feeling well earlier in the race.  She came in second in her small category again but really showed some character in persisting.  She finished with a smile on her face.


My wife had cut up a watermelon for after the race.  It was amazing how good a cold slice of watermelon can taste.  I hung out around the finish talking with other racers and generally enjoying the beautiful day.  With everyone out on the course at the same time, the event is over quite early; and we all head home for the afternoon.  I think this race has moved up a notch or two and become one of my preferred events.

NEMBA Racing Team. Great job!!
Female Junion Novice podium!
Our 2nd place prizes. A great excuse to make some waffles some morning in the near future.

Other reports and related stuff:

2 thoughts on “The Horror at Harding Hill 2012

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