PINKHAM NOTCH, N.H – Cameron Cogburn, 28, of Arlington, Mass., confirmed this week that he will return to compete for a third victory in as many years, in the 42nd Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb. Meanwhile, 51-year-old Marti Shea of Marblehead, Mass., hopes to become the first woman to win this all-uphill bike race four times.
Cogburn and Shea lead a field of 636 cyclists who will pedal up the Mt. Washington Auto Road this Saturday, August 16, in an ascent that elite cyclists have called more difficult than the steepest climbs in the Tour de France. They’ll begin the 7.6-mile course at the foot of the Auto Road, off Route 16 north of Pinkham Notch, and finish at the 6288-foot summit of the highest peak in the northeastern United States.
Cogburn, who won this race in his first attempt in 2012 and then repeated his winning performance in 2013, was uncertain earlier this summer whether or not he would return to defend his title. While most entrants in the Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb are amateur riders, Cogburn competes professionally, as a member of Team SmartStop. For the first part of this month, his team obligations took him to Colorado, where he was riding in the U.S. Cycling Pro Challenge, and he returned to the east just three days ago.
If Cogburn feels any fatigue after last week’s Rocky Mountain racing, one other pro in Saturday’s field could challenge him for the victory. That rider is David “Tinker” Juarez of Whittier, California, a former U.S. national mountain biking champion and Olympic cyclist who, now 53 years old, routinely outpaces younger riders.
The other strongest rider in the men’s field is probably Eric Follen, 39, of Sanford, Maine. Follen finished second behind Cogburn last month in Newton’s Revenge, the other annual bike race held on the same course. Another contender for one of the top spots will be the 2010 Hillclimb winner Nico Toutenhoofd, 45, of Boulder, Colo.
Two women who have a chance of staying on Shea’s wheel for at least part of the climb are Silke Wunderwald and Stephanie Sydlik. Wunderwald, 42, of Hopkinton, R.I., won this race last year in Shea’s absence, and Sydlik, 29, of Cambridge, Mass., was second.
One of the most inspiring riders in this year’s event is Greg Bullock of New Egypt, N.J. An avid cyclist for three decades, Bullock developed such pain in his knees that he had to stop riding at the age of 52. After undergoing bi-lateral replacement surgery, he worked his way back into bicycling. This Saturday he’ll pursue one of his major comeback goals: to complete the Mt. Washington ascent.
The Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb serves each year as the primary fundraising event for the Tin Mountain Conservation Center in Albany, N.H. The Center offers classes, workshops, excursions and other lessons in the workings of the natural world. Information about educational programs, camps and other activities at Tin Mountain is available at www.tinmountain.org.
The race is the seventh of 10 in the regional B.U.M.P.S. – Bike Up the Mountain Points Series – competition. Saturday’s field includes the two cyclists currently in first and second place in the standings for the B.U.M.P.S. season championship: Chris Yura, 35, of Bryn Mawr, Pa., and Erik Vandendries, 49, of Chestnut Hill, Mass. More information at www.hillclimbseries.com.
– JUAREZ AND OTHER CHALLENGERS –
Tinker Juarez is a legend in the mountain biking and road racing world. He represented the United States in mountain biking in the Olympics in 1996 and 2000. In 2006 he finished third in the 3,000-mile Race Across America in a time of 10 days, 22 hours and 21 minutes.
A member of the Cannondale racing team, Juarez competed in the Hillclimb three straight years from 2010 to 2012, improving his time each year. In 2010 he was runnerup to Nico Tootenhoufd, and then in 2011 his time of 56:14 earned him second place behind former world mountain biking champion Ned Overend of Durango, Colo. In the 2012 Hillclimb, won by Cogburn, Juarez placed fifth in his fastest time yet, 55:10.
Cogburn’s winning time in the Hillclimb last year was 50:48, his best time in four races up the mountain — two Newton Revenges and two Hillclimbs. The undefeated champion he has said he thinks he can break the course record held by Tour de France rider Tom Danielson of East Lyme, Conn.
Danielson set the record by winning the 2002 Hillclimb in 49 minutes 24 seconds. He also won in 2003, then won the 2010 Newton’s Revenge in a time just eight seconds slower than his own record. Cogburn was shooting for Danielson’s mark in July but was slowed when his bicycle chain came off early in the race and he had to stop and refasten it, eventually winning in 53:12.
Jeannie Longo of France holds the women’s record for the Mt. Washington Auto Road, of 58:14, which she established in 2000. The course record may be set in either Newton’s Revenge or the Hillclimb.
The clock may be Marti Shea’s biggest challenge this year. Besides having already won the Hillclimb three times, she has also won Newton’s Revenge every one of the seven years she has raced in it, from its inaugural year in 2006 until 2013, when commitments to coaching and leading bike tours in Europe caused her to miss both races. (In 2007, Newton’s Revenge and the Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb were both canceled because of dangerous weather conditions on the mountain.)
Shea, who set her personal best time for the Auto Road in the 2012 Hillclimb – 1:03:14 – has said her goals this Saturday are to break 65 minutes again and to become the only woman ever to win the Hillclimb four times. The only woman besides Shea to win this race three times is Aimee Vasse, the champion in 2004, 2005 and 2006.
The only man to win the Hillclimb four times is Tyler Hamilton, coincidentally also of Marblehead, Mass. Hamilton’s performances, however, are marked with an asterisk; in 2011 he admitted having used performance-enhancing drugs in his professional career. His times are no longer considered official for record-keeping purposes.
Results in last month’s Newton’s Revenge suggest that Shea may have the lead to herself on Saturday. She won the July race in one hour, five minutes and 53 seconds (1:05:53), nearly six minutes ahead of runnerup Wunderwald. To have a chance of repeating as the Hillclimb champion, Wunderwald will likely have to improve on her time in the 2013 race, 1:09:56.
– PEDALING STRONGLY WITH NEW KNEES –
For Greg Bullock, winning is not a priority in the conventional sense.
“I’m not racing to the top of Mt. Washington,” Bullock said recently. “I’m getting to the top. Crossing the finish line is a win in my book, no matter how many people finish ahead of me. As long as I cross the line, I win.”
– COMPETING FOR POINTS –
When Chris Yura finished fourth in Newton’s Revenge last month, his time of 58:25 earned him 112 points in the overall Bike Up Mountains Point Series. (As winner of the race, Cogburn earned 120, but he does not actively compete in the series.) Erik Vandendries earned 106 by finishing fifth, four minutes behind Yura. They stand 1-2 in the season competition, at 503 and 486 points, with the Hillclimb and three more races to go.
Marti Shea is currently second in the women’s B.U.M.P.S. standings, having raced only three of the six races so far, but will overtake the current leader, Alexa Gubinski, this weekend. (Gubinski is not entered in the Hillclimb and in any case would be unlikely to beat Shea.)
– FIVE WAVES TO START –
The race starts Saturday in five waves, beginning at 8:35 a.m. with the Top Notch (elite) group and continuing at five-minute intervals with four more successive waves of riders sorted by age. The race fills its quota of more than 600 riders in short order each year after registration opens in February.
The Mt. Washington summit is known for its sometimes nasty and unforgiving weather conditions. If conditions do not allow the race to be held on Saturday, it will take place on Sunday with the same 8:35 starting time.