Clocked at 64mph/103kph
52“descending mt wachusett at race speed turned me into a different gender…you want honest? that’s honest…” racer posting on Serotta Competition Bicycle Forum
The speed limit on a typical American highway isn’t fast for downhill skiing or even gravity mountain biking. But for a road racer in a pack on a potholed road with bottles flying out of cages and a shimmy in your top tube, sixty-four miles per hour (103kph) downhill is definitely top end. This was clocked during the pro women’s laps of the 53Wachusett circuit race. At that speed, even minor adjustments seem major as trees at cliff-side blur dangerously near and any racer doing anything remotely squirrelly sends the fear-a-God-into-ya. The descent is straightforward, short and steep so no braking necessary; you crest a sprint line and then let it go to the bottom for one of the most harrowing roller-coaster thrills in American bike racing.
Though this was record downhill speed, my hardest descents were raced in France. These we clocked around 85kph (53mph) descending layers of technical switchbacks on goat paths often with no clear line of sight for long distances. Further, these courses were unfamiliar to me and point-to-point (en ligne) races. Another feature to this level of descending skill was Dark Tunnels. We’d come upon them with no warning, go through them quickly, but nearly blinded. Occasionally, all I could see were sparks flying when bikes made contact and somehow we made it through unscathed. White knuckled, still it was a thrill!
Although it can be a heap of fun, descending well and quickly is no game. Practice it with extreme caution, never taking risks in training, and sparingly in races. The key is to see the apex and visualize your line as you look through the turn. Due to pelvo-occular reflex, the body follows where the eye is focused, so use those eagle eyes in broad vision for bike placement and then let it fly!
Prayer for Descending Skills
“Come with me…descend from the crest of Amana, from the top of Senir, the summit of Hermon, from the lions’ dens and the mountain haunts of the leopards.” 54Song of Solomon 4:8
We are exhilarated and refreshed by terrain changes. We confess we may not be as cautious or as skilled as necessary. We ask for eyes to see the safe and speedy downhill line and opportunities to practice skills for handling at high speed.
Ponder Have I practiced finding the apex downhill? Affirm I can see far ahead safely on the drops. Watch for ways to practice rapid adjustments by drilling the sight-movement connection.
52“Registered for Fitchburg,” listing by atmo 6-1-06 on Serotta Competition Bicycle Forum www.serotta.com/forum
53Fitchburg hosts a great stage race every year in early July, called Fitchburg-Longsjo Classic www.longsjo.com. One of the notable Wachusett incidents involved Henk Vogels, who to check the the veracity of a break-away which formed over the top of the climb, looked back and touched wheels. This sent him flying head first into a guardrail at 60+mph. Henk was injured badly. I prayed for him and his family, knowing he faced an uncomfortable trip back to Australia for his recovery. Henk came back swinging and went on to many more successful races and descents. Moral of the story: keep your eyes focused ahead when descending, enlist people to pray for you if you mess up, some recover from high-speed descending accidents and some do not.
54The Bible, New International Version, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society