King of the hill



triathlon
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The Cannon Mountain Tram follows competitors up to the finish at the 17th annual Top Notch Triathlon Aug. 1 in Franconia. The race included 241 individual triathletes and 210 competitors in the team event. Charlie Lentz.
August 06, 2009
FRANCONIA—Absence can make the heart wander, sometimes it makes the heart beat stronger. Steve Piotrow looked up and down the starting line at the 17th annual Top Notch Triathlon Aug. 1 and noticed the absence of Kris Freeman, a three-time champion and the course record holder.

Piotrow spent previous triathlons following Freeman to the finish atop Cannon Mountain.

"I know about being behind someone who's alone up in the distance," said Piotrow. "It's demoralizing."

The course was demoralizing all on its own. It began with a 6 1⁄2-mile bicycle ride from Franconia Village up to Echo Lake. The first three miles of the bike route were paved, and then switched onto an uphill trail that led to the lake. Participants dove right in for the 1⁄2-mile swim. After emerging from the water triathletes then stared at a brutal 2 1⁄2-mile trek with a rise of 2,280 feet up to the summit of Cannon Mountain—the total climb in elevation from start to finish is 3,320 feet.

With a tough course ahead, Piotrow had one less worry without Freeman in field. Once out on his bike, Piotrow's quickened pulse coincided with increased expectations.

"I'm not getting any younger," said Piotrow, 46, from Jackson.

Piotrow took the lead with "about a mile" left in the bicycle leg. His bicycle of choice was his cyclocross, a road bike with knobby tires. He pedaled for the lead on the last part of the uphill trail leading to the lake."

"I hit it on the hill," said Piotrow. "I felt strong on the bike. I knew I was in for a good day."

Piotrow kept his margin through the swim, although it's not his best leg.

"It's nice if you're confident in your swimming," said Piotrow. "I felt good because I looked back and I had a big gap on everyone else."

Piotrow then powered up Cannon Mountain to claim his first men's overall title in 1 hour, 11 minutes, 33 seconds. Nathan Buttrick from Boston was second in 1:14:54.

Piotrow was determined to hold his lead, although being a frontrunner here was a new experience.

"I've been trying for four or five years now, I prefer being the hunter," Piotrow said. "I get nervous if I'm ahead. That's the worst thing, someone passes you on the mountain."

No one passed Leanne Bernier. The 28-year-old from Franconia defended her women's overall crown with by clocking a time of 1:28:03. Merrimack's Liz Hall was second in 1:30:18. Bernier grabbed the lead early in the bike race and never surrendered. While Piotrow hadn't won before, Bernier's previous success here gave her confidence.

"I didn't know what to expect. I was hoping to defend my championship,"

Bernier said.

Although Bernier was disappointed in her bike leg, she reached Echo Lake in first place and extended her cushion during the swimming leg.

"I guess I made my move when I got in the water. I kind of had a hard time on my bike. I was off my bike four times in the mud, dropped my swim cap, had to go back for it," said Bernier. "I didn't feel as fast as I wanted to be on the bike. The water was a very nice temperature today so it felt really good to get in there."

After the swim, Bernier grew stronger scaling Cannon Mountain.

"I felt a little slow when I started running, by the end of it I had my wind," Bernier said.

Ryley Walker from Derby, Vt., won the men's 19-years-and under division in

1:21:29. Jenna Maddock from South Berwick, Maine, took top honors in the women's 19-and-under in 1:37:09.

Emily Tuthill from Plainfield captured first in the women's 20-29 division in 1:32:51. William McGandy from St. Johnsbury, Vt., took first in the men's 20-29 in 1:17:37. Hillary Dudley from Jamaica Plain, Mass. was the top finisher in the women's 30-39 bracket in 1:34:50. Kevin Roy from Cranston, R.I., was first in the men's 30-39 class in 1:19:54.

Pam Blampied (1:33:36) from Bethlehem grabbed first in the women's 40-49 class, while Portsmouth's Robert Davis claimed the men's 40-49 bracket in 1:21:22. Jane Andrew from Bow captured first in the women's 50-59 division.

Franconia's Richard Monrij finished atop the men's 50-59 division in 1:18:56. Franconia's Cynthia Berlack (2:13:47) was first in the women's 60-and-over division and Franconia's Charlie Wolcott was the men's 60-and-over winner in 1:39:04.

Piotrow finally had the best clocking overall in the field at the Top Notch, which included 241 individual racers and another 210 athletes competing on 70 teams. Piotrow never minded finishing behind Freeman, an Olympian and member of the U.S. Ski Team. But Freeman's absence bothered Piotrow even less.

"I didn't mind finishing second to an Olympian," Piotrow said. "To know you did your best, you can't get too upset if you know you did your best."

Bernier and Piotrow were the best of the best this year. But for the 17th straight year everyone seemed equal once they reached the summit.

"I pretty much felt I was in oxygen deprivation from the beginning of the race until the end," Bernier said. "It feels nice to stop and take some deep breaths."

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