Tag Archives: rolling hills

Fletcher Flyer, 2012, Fletcher, NC

The Fletcher Flyer, just outside of Asheville, NC, is a mountain ride without the mountains. They intentionally created the route to include as little climbing as possible. That means they go through a lot of valleys and country roads with breathtaking views at the elevation above. Because of this, the ride is popular, with approximately 1,000 riders registered. The total climbing is above 4,000 feet, which is not very much for the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

When I arrived in Fletcher, it was in the low 50s and looked to be a beautiful, sunny day for a ride. I had to dig out my arm warmers, which were only necessary for the first couple of miles. We gorgeous, sunny temperatures all day. It was a nice break from the early summer heat.

Another thing I knew about Fletcher is that it has a reputation for being a blazingly fast ride. I was undecided about how I would approach it. Having just done Mitchell last week, I didn’t feel like I had anything to prove. If anything, I was looking forward to an easy century. Fortunately they lined people up based on expected speed. The front group was in the 18+ variety. I knew I would do at least that, so I hung around the rear of that section, and planned to ride however felt comfortable.

Before I knew it, we were off, and the hammering started immediately. I found myself in the all too familiar position of getting gapped behind slower riders. The small lead pack gradually rolled away. Fine with me. After the first few miles, we settled into a strong second-group that was rolling at a 21-22 mph pace.

That group continued for quite awhile. We splintered after the rest stop at mile 40, then became a foursome. All of a sudden I look up and see the Carmichael Training Systems logo on my left. Wow, we’re in Brevard. It was strange to encounter such a familiar city on a reasonably flat ride.

Circling around Brevard also meant we would encounter a few hills. I accidentally left my group on a couple climbs and expected them to catch up soon. To my surprise, they didn’t. I rode solo for most of the way around the outskirts of Brevard. I passed by a lot of familiar climbs. Walnut Hollow was the first, which I was ever so glad to turn away from the climb. A few miles later and I passed Becky Mountain. No thanks there. When I arrived at 276, the route went in the opposite direction of Caesar’s Head Mountain. They certainly succeeded in avoiding all the climbs, although I couldn’t help but wonder what an amazing ride this would be if they included a couple.

The pack caught me once the hills leveled off. It was a gigantic pack again, maybe 20 riders. Unfortunately it was short-lived. At mile 60 we hit a rest stop and there was confusion about who was stopping. I thought everyone was, so I pulled off, only to find out that half the pack kept going. At first I thought that was a bummer, but it turned out to be a blessing. This was a rocking group and I was glad to be part of it. Many of them were from Charlotte and knew each other. One guy in particular was a solid leader, advising us to stay together, keep a reasonable pace on climbs, and roll through the rest stops. It worked and we continued a relatively fast pace. We ended up catching and passing the other guys who didn’t rest at mile 60.

We rode together the rest of the way as a unit. Eventually we started catching the metric century riders. With good communication, we navigated our way through without issues. Traffic and the metric riders became a problem as we got closer to Fletcher, which slowed us down and broke our rhythmn. Then one of the members dropped a chain on one of the last little climbs. We waited and she was very appreciative. Frankly, I wanted to finish together with that good of a group. A few minutes was not a big deal.

Fletcher Flyer was a very well-supported, fun ride. The moderate route profile brought together a good mix of casual and hardcore riders. While these rides always get competitive, especially with fast groups, there was a lot more comraderie than most rides. The elevation profile is almost like a local rolling hills ride (like Tour de Midlands), only with cooler temperatures and better views. I’ll do this one again.

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Better Training: Rolling Hills or Steep Climbs?


 
This was a question I pondered often on this Saturday’s ride. I was out with John McSwain, a fellow mountain goat who rides locally (you can read our ride on his blog here). He brought me out to his neck of the woods, the hills of Lake Wateree. Overall the total climbing was comparable to an easy mountain ride, but it was all of the rolling variety. There were a couple longer climbs, both of which were new to me, but most of the punishment was on the rollers.

In my opinion, rolling hills can be a better way to train than long climbs. The difference is in the way you attack them. I tend to try and gain momentum on the descent, pedaling downhill, and attack at the bottom of the hill. John has a power meter and he noted that I would often be above 300 watts at the beginning of the hill and would relax at 200 or lower around the middle. My thought process is that I want to conquer the hill. I want to power to the top without losing too much speed and then carry that momentum into the descent on the other side. This is great when the uphills are short or not too steep, but not when they become longer, steeper climbs, as they did on John’s ride this past Saturday. In essence, this makes it a hill jam, where you power up a climb in the highest gear possible and grind your way to the top. When the hills are few and far between, there really is no consequence. There is plenty of time to recover. On John’s route this weekend, the rolling hills were relentless and threatened to chew me up.

On longer climbs the goal is to find a suitable heart rate or wattage, get into a rhythm and spin to the top. Once you are in that zone, you can take control of the ride. You can either crank it up or hang back and go at an easy pace. These climbs can still be quite challenging, especially when steep, but once at the top you have plenty of time to recover on the descent. There have been many mountain rides where I have felt fine the next day, as if I walked in the park. I have found that after some rolling rides, like last year’s Ride2Recovery, I felt like I had been beaten by a bag of potatoes.

Highway 21, rolling hills for miles and miles

In my opinion, rolling hills can be just as effective a training tool as mountain climbs. Sometimes they can be even better because they are approached more like an intense workout rather than a scenic journey. If you do hill repeats on Mount Mitchell, for instance, you are going to end up a monster. Given the choice between a leisurely ride up a 6% grade for a few miles or a rolling ride through a river corridor, I may choose the latter if I want to get stronger.

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