I have a loop that I started doing last year that is on the forest service roads around the house. It takes me over three pretty good climbs and is all dirt roads, my favorite stuff to ride.
I starting using it as somewhat of a fitness test mostly due to the fact that since I tend to ride by my lonesome more often than not I don't have a real good way to gauge my fitness if there is a long gap between races.
I do it on my single speed mtn. bike which helps eliminate variables. Same bike, same gear so equipment gets thrown out of the equation. Since most of the loop is through the forest the wind is a non factor. The only real difference is the condition of the roads, when it is super dry I can go uphill faster but have to be a bit more cautious on the downhills. When they are tacky I usually have to grind a bit more on the climbs but can rip it going down. So a pretty good trade off though I prefer dry as the climbs are hard enough.
Last year my best time on this loop was 1:48, it came after I had done a half dozen or so mtn. bike races and I was just about to start my training for the coming cross season. I recall feeling pretty good that day and it beat my previous fastest time by almost 5 min. Needless to say I was pretty happy with the effort.
I hadn't done one yet this year, mostly due to not being motivated to suffer for almost 2 hours.
This week I finally found myself with the desire to give it a go and though I was ready for the effort I wasn't expecting great results. One thing in my favor at least was I was getting to ride in shorts for the first time in quite a while, that always helps make you feel faster.
Once I leave the short paved stretch the timer starts, the first bit is slightly rolling then it goes to a long false flat. After 7 or 8 min. you hit the start of the real climb. The first of the 3 is by far the steepest and the ramp to get it started pegs the hr right off the bat. From this point to the top is mostly out of the saddle climbing with only a few short stretches where you can sit and recover slightly. The whole way up I felt like I was moving pretty slow but I stayed on it in hopes that I would hit the top in under 25 min. I think the fastest I have gotten there is just under 23 min. so I at least would have some idea how things were going when I made it there. When I rolled under the parkway I looked at the watch and to my surprise 21 min. and some change.
Well now I was really motivated because I might actually post a pretty good time. A nice long downhill to the Mills River camp ground and the start of climb #2. This one starts out pretty steady and stays a good constant grade most of the way to the top. A couple of steeper pitches which require an out of the saddle effort but the majority of it is done seated. Probably my favorite of the three, the gear just seems to be right and you can get in a good rhythm. Goal to the top of this one is to be there in under an hour and upon hitting the top I was well under 1 hour so I was still going pretty good.
Another quick drop before climb # 3, which is also the easiest. Long false flat stretch followed by a short steep bit then it stays steady all the way to the top. The grade is such that I almost get a bit spun on the single speed. As I made my way to the top I felt as though I was really turning the pedals over quickly, nice feeling and I knew once I was there it was the last fast downhill back to the pavement. At the bottom of the hill it flattens out just enough that I spend the last few minutes doing plenty of high rpm's and getting into my "aero" tuck. There is one last short steep little grinder to make the legs ache but by the time you hit it you are focused on getting to the finish so you are over it in no time.
As I am coming to the pavement and spinning like a mad man I am hoping that I at least managed a sub 1:55. As I hit the line I check the watch, 1:41 and a few seconds. I did a quick double take to make sure I read it right and then a quick grin. I didn't expect that I would have gone that quick but I was stoked. I guess I could chalk it up to left over fitness from cross season or maybe it is due to riding my single speed cross bike quite a bit the last couple of months. That bike has a much bigger gear and I ride it on most of the same stuff but just have to really push and grind my way to the top of the climbs. Either way it bodes well for the coming mtn. bike season.