Racing well is a direct reflection of your training. If you only train on the road, your off-road skills will be weak. If you only train off-road, chances are good your steady power could suffer. If you want to be a good all-around rider, diversity is key. And when your races are diverse, it is vital. Because of these realities, I am constantly looking for new routes that challenge and sharpen my skills, pushing me to new limits. Last year I pieced together a route that seemed to offer a good mix of climbing, single track, and roads; a copy of what most NUE races are like. I was only able to ride it once, but felt it was absolutely worth revisiting. With a big block of training this past week, I decided to try the route twice, to see where my fitness was. It definitely didn't disappoint; I'd recommend it to anyone racer training for 2014.
It begins with single track through Loch Raven. Smooth and fast, its a good chance to get high speed work in with limited climbing.
When you hit Cromwell Bridge Road you've got a difficult climb in Cub Hill, which is followed by a fast descent of Harford Road to take you to the next single track. The climb up Cub Hill is all paved, which provides a good chance to get a steady power climb in at about 40 minutes into the ride.
The next single track that connects Harford to Bel Air Road is interesting. It is much more technical than Loch Raven with plenty of rock gardens, but it also has quite a bit of dismounting. While easily rideable, it is clearly a hiker maintained trail. Lots of the downed trees make it a good chance to test your confidence in getting over big barriers.
Once you reach Bel Air, its another section of road. This time mostly uphill for 4 miles. Its another great chance for some tempo work and steady power after the more technical single track.
The north side of the route is Little Gunpowder. This single track consists of mostly fast and smooth trails without much climbing. Very fun, and another great chance to hone fast single track riding skills.
Once you reach Pleasantville Road, you have a nice 7 miles section of quiet country roads. The first climb up Pleasantville road is a nice punch. Then you get flattish roads until you arrive at Hydes Road. Hydes often has cross winds, even in the warmer months, and with its upward grade, makes for another great power section. This time though, being deep into the ride, you're really starting to feel your efforts. A strong pace up Hyde's can tell you a lot about your endurance at that point.
The next section is up to you. You can take Dulaney Valley Road to Jarretsville Pike and dump into the trails there, or do the following. On Dulaney Valley, before you get to Loch Raven Drive, there are high power lines that go overhead. Follow the double track west and it will take you through the back side of (I don't officially endorse this) the Eagle's Nest Driving Range. You then climb a brutal high grass hill to a neighborhood road. Cross the road, and go back to the double track. Follow it down the hill until it dies out, veer slightly left and head into the treeline. Down at the bottom of the hill in the trees is a stream. Cross that, and ride up another high grass hill and you'll hit the double track again. This takes you to Jarretsville Pike where you can cross over, and take the double track into the fireroads of Loch Raven.
The next segment of road is Merrymans Mill. It is short and rolling. A good chance to relax before the trails start again. And back on the trail, the rest is up to you. There are tons of different single track options to take from here that offer little climbing, or lots of climbing. I found at the end of the ride, I was feeling very tired and any single track I did was a good chance to learn to ride well while feeling exhausted. At the end of an endurance race, this is exactly how you feel, so its a great chance to work on riding tired.
I definitely recommend the route. It works on so many different aspects of your skills and fitness with a little bit of everything. I hope to see some of you try it this year!