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Top Notch is worth the wait for Kelly

Kris Freeman nears the finish line atop Cannon Mountain Saturday at the 20th annual Top Notch Triathlon in Franconia. Freeman was nipped by Ryan Kelly for first place. Charlie Lentz/The Littleton Courier. (click for larger version)
August 08, 2012
FRANCONIA — American Revolutionary Aaron Burr once said "Never do today what you can put off till tomorrow. Delay may give clearer light as to what is best to be done." Taking Burr's advice — procrastination might have been Ryan Kelly's secret weapon en route to victory atop Cannon Mountain Saturday at the 20th annual Top Notch Triathlon.

Course record-holder Kris Freeman — a three-time Olympian for the U.S. cross country ski program — signed up early and was assigned to the first group of racers in the three-flight start. After registering late on Saturday morning Kelly was placed in the last parcel of pedalists. The staggered start is designed to prevent a traffic jam among the horde of bicyclists who rode away from the line at Lafayette Elementary School.

"It put me in the third wave by chance," Kelly said. "It was not a purposeful strategic move. Actually I think I've always just registered day of race at this race."

His last-minute registration earned detachment to the third flight and Kelly waited patiently on his bike in the parking lot while Freeman started four minutes ahead.

Freeman quickly took the lead in the six and one-half mile bicycling leg that ended at Echo Lake. Freeman swam one-half mile across Echo to the base of Cannon Mountain. From the bottom of the mountain it's a two and one-half mile trek to the summit. From Cannon Mountain's base to the top is a vertical rise of 2,280 feet. The total climb from Lafayette Elementary School to the finish line is 3,320 feet.

Freeman was the first swimmer to emerge from Echo Lake and he raced alone up Cannon Mountain, having no idea Kelly had entered the triathlon and was stalking him from afar. Freeman is an Olympian but Kelly is no slouch — he's a professional triathlete who has completed several Ironmen events (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run).

"I didn't know (Kelly) was back there. I thought everyone was in the first wave," said Freeman, 31, from Thornton. "It would have been fun to have raced him directly. If we had known where we were I think we both would have gone faster."

As Freeman raced in solitude — Kelly bobbed and weaved past the majority of bicyclists and swimmers and halfway up the mountain he spotted Freeman in the distance — as Burr's words might remind — Kelly now had "clearer light as to what is best to be done."

"The course traverses to the right and then right when it takes a left and heads up the hill — you get a good view up the hill," Kelly said. "I could see (Freeman) up there. I knew he had a couple-minute gap on me at that point. Really I just gave what my legs had."

Kelly figured correctly that Freeman was leading the race. With his lag at the start, Kelly now knew he needed to cross the finish line within four minutes of Freeman to take home the first-place medal.

"Knowing I was in the third wave — you don't know who's out there but you always count on somebody. I know Kris has a history of doing this race. I didn't see him before the start," Kelly said. "You just kind of hold that in your head."

Freeman crossed the finish line at Cannon's summit in one hour, nine minutes, 13 seconds. Assuming that all the elite triathletes had been in the first wave — Freeman could be forgiven for coasting to the top.

"I'm disappointed. I had no idea Ryan was in this race," said Freeman sitting atop the summit. "Maybe I could have dug a little deeper at the end there if I'd known it. If we could have been in the same wave it would have been a totally different thing. As it was I was on my own from five minutes in (to the race). Based off of last year I thought 1:09 would take it real easy."

With Freeman's shadow as motivation — Kelly pushed hard for victory over the final stretch. The needle was on empty when he reached the finish.

"I saw him up there — can't say I had a whole lot more to give," Kelly said.

As Kelly ran past the digital timer it displayed 1:12.33 — subtract four minutes for his delayed start — and his final clocking was 1:08.33, giving Kelly the edge over Freeman by 40 seconds.

Freeman set the course record of 1:06.02 in 2006 and he appeared to have something left in the tank at the finish — breathing easily just moments after reaching the top. Kelly left nothing on the course and the elevation he felt had nothing to do with the altitude.

"I started (running) this race back in 2000. I've finished everywhere but the top," said Kelly, 30, from Concord. "I've been all over the podium. Kris and I had a good battle back in 2007. I've been second, third, eighth."

Kelly said someday he'd like to race head-to-head with Freeman up the big hill.

"In the future I was thinking I'd like to request that we get put in the same wave," Kelly said.

He showed up late on Saturday so that request was never made — procrastinators everywhere had a new hero — never do today what you can put off to tomorrow.

"In wave starts I try to always count on there being somebody else," Kelly said. "You never know who's going to show up on a given day."

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