A guide to racing the GFNY Championship NYC course, by the ride leaders and ambassadors that know it best.
by Chris Geiser
The Return Climbs – Mott Farm Road, Pinarello, and Cheesecote
Cheesecote begins with Woolf Road
The most difficult part of the course is now upon you. The pitches associated with these climbs mean that being in a group will help you less, and the climbing will be up to you. As you begin to reverse your way up Baby Bear, there will be several rollers that you need to navigate prior to managing the steep but short approach to Mott Farm Road. This is the first reminder that you will be working hard for the foreseeable future. The Mott Farm rollers will soften you up, prior to shooting you out onto the approach to the Colle Andrea Pinarello. For many, Pinarello represents the most difficult climb on the course. While shorter and less elevation than Bear, its constant undulations, sharp pitches, in the height of the late morning and early afternoon heat will challenge your hydration and nutrition strategy. As you pass over the Palisades Interstate Parkway, the real work will begin, and the constant grade changes will keep you guessing all the way to the top, where you will be treated to a sharp, straight descent down to the false flat that precedes Cheesecote. No rest for the weary, as you start to climb the foot of Cheesecote, and finally make the sharp left onto the Overlook section. Hitting the “wall” a short, steep, grade of 18% for about 100 meters, once you are up, swing wide and continue to work until you can see one of the most spectacular views of all time. The hardest work on the course is now done, but don’t hang around.
The return climbs are really interesting. Before you even get to the next two named climbs there is Mott Farm Road. It’s a bit of a surprise to people. You make a turn on to Queensboro and it’s not that long, but at that turn it is very steep. Once you are around that turn you have the better part of a mile to take it easy because you are about to start the two big climbs.
Gate Hill/Pinarello – this to me is two climbs – first is long, gradual straight – it gets hot if the day is hot- then once you cross the Palisades, it becomes more rollers. The second half the pitch continually changes. Short steep pitch – then starts to flatten out – you can attack that, because it’s enough recovery on each flatten out to attack the steep parts. Then once at the top, it is the steepest straightest descent on the entire course. Very straight, good condition, and flattens out before you have to turn again.
When you get to Cheesecote because you go down a short steep downhill and into a steep uphill. Coast that downhill, be in the right gear to pedal the uphill, and go to the outside. If you are not ready for the right side, you may not navigate that turn well. After you make the turn, it gets to be less significant. The lower the slope goes, the longer you have to go. When I get to the top, I enjoy the view for just a moment. The descent is going to begin. That is my favorite descent. Very windy. During training you have to stop, at both stop signs, but on race day you get to ride through they are controlled and you can go right through, but be careful of the sharp turns where you see the law enforcement.
It’s a steady beating of your legs. Up and down, up and down, up and down, and you have been out for 3-4 hours. When descending Bear it’s important to keep your legs moving when you can so that you don’t stiffen up while descending. The right turn onto West Shore Drive is a steep ascent for 100m or less, and then a sharp right. I tell everyone, to move as far left as you can and take the turn wide and get onto Mott farm in a safe way and keep your legs moving – mind your gearing here.
On Mott Farm if I am feeling good it’s a lot of fun because I like the up and down, and am mindful of synchronizing breathing and cadence, and you can gain some momentum from some of the downs. You have to know how you are feeling that day, and how your training has gone. If you try to go too hard here, you will have struggles to the finish. Some engineer had a great sense of humor on the right turn off Mott Farm where there is a 16% grade, but it’s short and then once you are over, you head to Pinarello, which is relatively long, constantly undulating with stiff grades for another 3-5km.
You need to know your training to decide how much to expend. But you need to save something for Cheesecote, which is what I would call a leg breaker. That short part of the road up to Cheesecote, and right before you make that left turn, you want to make sure you prepare your gearing and pick up speed to handle the steep incline. If you have the energy and are feeling good – attack and get it over with. Again – stay to the left if you can, then there is a 90-degree right hand turn, but once you get past that, you are beyond the worst of it, and now it’s steady work to the top.
It’s very wide, and, sadly there are no trees – but that means you can see the whole landscape.
Everyone thinks Mott Farm is part of Pinarello when they first hit it. You start climbing, you think you’re done, then there is another section, and another, and another, and when you make the left it’s finally done.
Pinarello is deceiving and feels like a long climb even though it isn’t. If it’s your first time you are wondering when you are going to be done.
Everyone gets scared on Cheesecote of the Wall. Don’t make the mistake and go to the right, stay to the left. And then manage to the top. Once you get to the top, try to use it for recovery and pace, to finish out strong.
The hardest part is yet to come. It’s challenging, because the rollers can seem endless. I always do a gear check to make sure that I don’t overheat on those return climbs. The sun is out, and it’s warmer because all you are doing is climbing now, so you have to manage for the heat. I am sure to stay hydrated, and to keep eating every 20 miles or so, and managing my hydration. At this point it’s particularly important. I try to be very calculated with the effort. I like to power through any descending to help me up and over what comes next.
The turn onto Willow Grove Road at the top of Pinarello, I get excited. I can time the climb really well, so I have a plan on when to stand, what gears to use. I always save a gear. I like to work through the descent, and motor through it. When you make that left for Overlook on the Cheesecote climb you have to be prepared for the riders around you. Stay to the left. This is that last push to the top now. The views are incredible but it’s hard.
Don’t give in. Just keep pushing, and don’t lose momentum. It can be overwhelming, so just go one pedal stroke at a time. Getting to that view is the reward. It’s incredible. Now the toughest part of the course is behind you and it’s a case of managing your effort moving forward.
It’s time to smash it. Did I save at least 2 matches? Hopefully I did because it’s time to push it close to the redline now. I must be careful because I just seem to struggle with leg cramps just around the 100km mark. Of course, this is exactly near the end of Colle Andrea Pinarello so I will need to be mindful of my condition. Pound the pedals and recover along the rolling hills.
If I don’t manage my effort right to this point, I will have big regrets coming to my mind as everyone passes me on these hills. These are painful climbs and it’s tough to keep focus and motivation. But you have to keep that focus and push through. The toughest part of the race will soon be behind you.
The large part of my strategy is to push through the hardest part. The part of the race that you have the most control over is the top of Bear to Ramapo. Unless you are at the front, you will always have an opportunity to go with a group, but you can also get behind a slower group that is tougher to get around. I try and enjoy the scenic country roads and mentally prepare for the climbing ahead. Once you hit Cedar Flats, the hardest part of the course starts. Your legs are starting to tire and you have a bunch of back-to-back climbs ahead of you.
Gate Hill (Pinarello) starts with a long false flat followed by short steep climbs with short flat parts going over culverts. When climbing Gate Hill, I take it easy on the false flat. Climb out of the saddle up the short steep sections and recover on the flat sections. This knowledge makes the climb much more manageable. I familiarize myself with the course enough to know that, say, “the tree with a Y shape is the top of climb” I use some visual cues that identifies the little goals I have to keep my focus.
I like the culverts you go over on Gate Hill, that allow you to see tell you where you are and give you a little rest. Once I am past the mansion, I go out of the saddle on the inclines, recover on the flatter parts, and then back out of the saddle to push through it. The descent is exciting.
I always keep to the left on Cheesecote. It’s not as steep as the right side. I try and hit the short descent leading up to it hard in hopes of carrying some momentum up the steep section at the start of the climb.
Stay to the left, take the turns wide, manage the effort. The evidence of how to manage the toughest part of the course is irrefutable. If you still have the energy, and the legs, this will be the time to make up time on your rivals or put them behind you permanently. Mastery of these climbs will make you a master of the course. Not ready to be a master yet? No worries – managing your energy, hydration and nutrition well enough to get over these will provide you with an amazing accomplishment. You now have the reward of a fast descent and it will be time to regain your focus for the push to the finish line.
Editor’s Take: The toughest and steepest parts of these climbs aside, my approach will be to be less conservative, and to push some so that I can make up some time. Groups won’t help me now. It will be up to me to keep a manageable cadence that rewards me with fresh and strong legs and keeps me from losing my strength in the final sections of the race when I need them. Alternating a stand and sit as necessary will allow me to pick up the pace and use different muscle groups to get over the peaks and onto the next section of the course where my skills will allow me to get in a bigger gear and grind out some speed through Ramapo and back to 9W.