Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb Aug. 15
37th annual event includes both the 'old' and the young
August 13, 2009
Overend, now 54 years old and still dominant in open competition, finished fourth in his first appearance at Mt. Washington in 2005, then came back to the White Mountains a year later and placed second. His return this year ensures that the younger men at the front of the pack will face one more challenge: how to stay ahead of a legend who still has the legs that made him one of the most admired athletes in the sport.
Those younger men are defending Hillclimb champion Phil Gaimon, 23, of Tucker, Ga., Christopher Hong, 20, of Lutherville, Md., and two Rocky Mountain-trained cyclists who in other circumstances would look like the veterans in the race, 2008 runnerup Nico Toutenhoofd, 40, of Boulder, Colo., and 42-year-old Mt. Washington newcomer Kevin Nicol of Lafayette, Colo.
In his 2005 Mt. Washington debut, Ned Overend finished just eight seconds behind Anthony Colby, who beat Gaimon in Newton's Revenge last year. (Colby is not racing in the Hillclimb this year.) The following year, the only person who beat Overend was four-time winner and Olympic gold medalist Tyler Hamilton – and Overend actually led Hamilton at the end of the opening sprint before the steep ascent begins.
While the men's race has added a senior rider who can beat competitors two or three decades younger, the women's race has lost the cyclist who occupied a similar position in the field. Former World Ironman Champion Karen Smyers, 47, of Lincoln, Mass., got a taste for this race – professional cyclists regard it as more difficult than the steepest climb in the Tour de France – when she finished second last month in Newton's Revenge, the other bike race up the same course. However, a foot injury has forced Smyers to withdraw from this Saturday's Hillclimb.
That still leaves a three-way contest for the women's top prize. Defending champion Flavia Lepene, 32, a Brazilian rider who lives and trains in Blacksburg, Virginia, led all the women at the Hillclimb last year in one hour 8 minutes 52 seconds. That time is very close to the time in which Marti Shea, of Marblehead, Mass., won Newton's Revenge this year (1:08:42). The 45-year-old Shea, who also won Newton's Revenge in 2006 and 2008, is attempting to win the Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb for the first time. While the course is the same, the Hillclimb tends to attract a larger field.
Each year the Hillclimb welcomes several junior riders, 19 years old or younger. This year's junior field includes, for the first time, female competitors, 17-year-old Isabella Di Rado of Scituate, Mass., and 16-year-old Anneke Reed. The 14 young men in the group include James Wronoski of Chestnut Hill, Mass., now just 14 years old but already a Mt. Washington veteran, having placed 278th here last year in 1:35:27; and Jonah Thompson of Albuquerque, N.M., 10 years old, is the youngest entrant this year and one of the youngest ever.