Hey all, sorry about my absence as of lately. Life can get crazy for all of us and it can impact our preparation. Racing is in full effect here in the south and I have been traveling every weekend to a different city to go race. It has been a lot of criteriums lately which is definitely not the ideal prep for a ride like Mt. Mitchell. The type of fitness it takes to compete in an hour long criterium is completely different that a 102 mile, hilly event like Mt. Mitchell.
In a criterium, there are dozens and dozens of surges (out of the saddle, sprinting, hard braking, cornering). We are constantly changing gears and the majority of the time we are in the lower section of the cassette (in the 11-15 tooth gears). With Mt. Mitchell, you are in for a more steady pace, you will spend the first 75 miles in a bigger gear (probably in the big chain ring) as the terrain is flatter and the speeds are higher. Around Bills Mt. you will get your first real taste of climbing and checking out the gears that you may need towards the end of the ride. Because of this vast range of terrain and demands, you will want to have a good range of gears on your bike.
The first thing to do is check out your cassette. Your smallest gear (hardest to push) will likely be an 11 or 12 tooth gear. You may be in this on some of the downhills or when the pace is going pretty fast. On the other side of the cassette is your easier gears, the climbing gears. The size of the gear on this side of the cassette will determine at what cadence you can spin when the road really tilts upward. The nice thing about Mitchell (yes, I did just say that) is that there is nothing overly steep about any of the climbs. . .they just go on forever.
This means that you won't need to go to out and buy a cassette with crazy amounts of teeth for the easiest gear to finish the ride. When you start getting into cassettes that have a very wide range in gearing it also means that the jump between the gears will be larger. It may be hard to find an ideal gear in this situation (one gear is too hard, the next one is too easy and you slow down). For myself I will use a standard 11-25 cassette and a standard crankset of the front. Going up route 80 towards the parkway is the steepest section of the ride and there I will probably be in the 21 or 23 whereas on the parkway the gearing will change as the terrain does.
One thing that can really help with the range in gearing is using a compact crankset. A standard crankset has 39teeth for the small chainring and 53 teeth for the large. This is great for people in flat terrain or for racers as they need the larger gears for the faster speeds. If you are on of those people who doesn't spend a lot of time in the 12 or 11 tooth cog in the back then making the switch to a compact crankset might be a good option for you. The compact will have 34 teeth for the small chainring and 50 teeth for the large. You will still have the bigger gears for going fast, but rather than needing a cassette with a wide range of gears you can keep the standard cassette. If you want to have a wider range of gears without huge jumps between the cogs then getting a compact crankset might be the best option for you.
To make a compact crankset work for your bike (if you don't already have one) you will need the crankset (obviously). You will also need to adjust your front derailleur and derailleur cable. You will probably have to take a couple links out of your chain (as with the smaller little ring your chain will now be too long). It may be a good idea to go ahead and replace the chain all together if you are getting a new crankset though.
Remember, as I started in an earlier blog post, whatever upgrades or maintenance you do perform make sure it's done in advance of the ride so that you can be sure it's going to perform on the day of the event.
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