Multisport racing in the mountains is my favorite type of competition. It holds many of the same features as traditional triathlon competition while adding in mixed terrain. Growing up in the Mount Washington Valley has helped develop a comfort on the trail and on technical trails so when I found out about the Top Notch Triathlon during Wildman of 2014 I was already mentally registered for 2015.
The course is unique as it's Mountain Bike / Swim / Hike. You start down in Franconia at the Lafayette Regional School, bike up to Echo lake, swim across, and run/hike up Cannon Ski Area.
I arrived around 7am with plenty of time to register and set up my transition. It's a little weird having the transition area so far away from the start, a few exits up on the highway, so I talked to Josh Flanagan who had done this race a few times to get the logistics dialed. We drove up to the running transition at the base of Cannon on the south side of the lake and parked there. I left my shoes, handheld, and towel there and rode over to the north side of the lake to check out the transition area. I didn't need to leave anything there, just wanted to see where I'd be ditching my bike.
Josh also recommended riding down to the school for a warm up so started down the "singletrack" section of the ride. It was more like a carriage road but it turns out we missed a turn that had all the rocks/roots hazards that they warn you about. We made it down in 26 minutes and still had plenty of time before the start. Since this race is usually so big they start in waves. I was under the impression that the top guys would all be in the first wave but this wasn't the case.
I registered for this race back in April because Josh said that if you register early, you'll be in the first wave. It's usually an advantage to be up front in the race because the peloton is usually faster in the first wave and drafting is allowed so it only makes sense. The waves are in 2 minute intervals and there were three for this year's race.
We started at 9AM and our wave quickly formed lead pack within the first quarter mile. The race starts out on pavement for the first four miles before turning into the woods. It's bizarre to be on your full suspension mountain bike (highly recommended vs a gravel grinder) and going upwards of 25mph. It's flat for the first 2.4 miles before turning off Profile Road and on to Butter Hill Road. Here things get steep (8-13% grade) and the pack split up. I moved into second heading up the hill, passing Josh and keeping Robert Hurley (?) within 20 seconds. We turned onto the XC trails and I was able to pass Robert quickly. I unlocked my shocks and was really appreciating having the full suspension. At 4.7 miles the course turns onto the rough section that they warned us about. It's not very technical but you have to focus on your line. I looked back and didn't see anyone so my goal was just to maintain my lead. At 5.8 miles you turn back on to the smooth XC trail and quickly turn on to the Franconia Notch Bike Path. From here it's under a mile to the transition area.
Moving into the swim I already had my googles around my neck and ditched my tri top. I entered the water and was refreshed by the cool temp, happy for a second not to be wearing a wetsuit. But after a few strokes I realized that wearing tri shorts wasn't the best idea. I could feel the drag immediately and my body position also suffered without the floatation of a wetsuit. I took in a little bit of water along the swim (why not, it seemed clean enough!) and just tried to maintain my lead. I knew is wasn't swimming fast but I also didn't have anyone to chase. I exited the water in first but I heard people cheering for someone right behind me who I thought was Josh. I ran to the other transition area and was out of there in 20 seconds.
On the climb I started with my handheld and took several sips before ditching it at the first trail intersection. I thought that this leg would be very runnable but after half a mile, the grade flirts with 20%+ so frequently that I found myself power hiking for most of the course. I saw what I thought was second place behind me by about 30 seconds and I just keep pushing the pace, making sure to match my effort with his effort to hold the lead. The climb is two miles with 1,900' vert so I knew it would take around a half hour and just kept moving. You can see the tram station for a lot of the climb which helps give an idea of how far you have left. The last section goes straight up under the tramway (30%+) and into the finish area. I was the first to finish in 1:13:46, and Brian, who I thought was Josh, just 45 seconds or so behind me.
I was greeted with Hilary and Squall at the summit. We waited for Josh to finish and then Opted to run/hike down. I got my bike and gear from the transition areas then took my truck back down to the school for the lunch they provided (which was excellent by the way). They posted the results and I was surprised to see that the guy behind me was in the second wave! This brings me to the start of the post where I thought all the top guys would be in the first wave which certainly wasn't the case. Ulandt Kim was in the third wave and got third place! Brian had a great race but I just wish I could have raced with him in the bike/swim. He was at an advantage since our wave didn't really push the pace and he had the ability to pick off the majority of the bikers before he even entered the woods. No excuses though, learned my lesson and will email the RD next year voicing my opinion.
We ate our lunches outside and were hit with a heavy rain storm shortly after. We opted to hit the road since we had a long drive home and missed awards. Looking forward to this race next year!