PINKHAM NOTCH, NH – A little bad weather wasn’t enough to stop some of the Toughest bicyclist from tackling the highest peak in the North East this weekend. The start of the 46th Mt. Washington auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb was delayed by two hours due to rainy weather, but once it calmed down the toughest hill climb in America was on for 397 cyclists. 40-year-old Aimee Vasse of Longmont Colorado became the first person to ever win the Race five times taking the top spot for the women with a time of one hour 4 minutes, and 5 seconds, Her personal best.
Her closest rival, Stefanie Sydlik, 33, of Pittsburgh, Pa., finished more than five minutes behind, in 1:10:32. Third was 48-year-old Kristen Roberts, of Reading, Mass., in 1:12:07.
“Today I think I went out a little too hard,” said Vasse as she warmed up with a blanket at the summit after her finish. “I got some cramping in my legs, and the headwind was tough for me. But Mt. Washington is fun. It’s my favorite race. I love New Hampshire!”
For the men 30-year-old Barry Miller of Beverly Mass won with a time of 53 minutes and 34 seconds. Miller went out quickly, leading the men through the first mile before he was overtaken by Eric Levinsohn, 28, of New Haven, Conn. Dropping the rest of the field, the two dueled from the lower wooded slopes of Mt. Washington to the treeline and beyond, before Miller finally broke away in the sixth mile and pedaled alone to the finish line.
Like Vasse, Miller started quickly, partly because the race awards a $750 bonus prize to whoever is in the lead at the one-mile mark. “After that,” he said later, “I tried just to settle into a rhythm. Then Eric came up pretty fast. He’s incredibly strong, and I didn’t think I could stay with him, but somehow I didn’t fade. When we got to the dirt section, I saw I had the lead, and I kept the momentum up.”
Levinsohn crossed the finish line second, in 56:03, but ultimately he placed third in the race. In the Hillclimb, racers start in waves at five-minute intervals. While Miller and Levinsohn started in the elite first wave, Drake Deuel of Cambridge, Mass., started in the second, five minutes later, and then made up enough of that five-minute gap to record a net time of 55:38 and become the official runnerup.
The first New Hampshire finishers were 19-year-old Darren Piotrow, of Jackson, who placed seventh overall in 1:01:31, and 55-year-old Johanna Lawrence of Nashua, tenth among all women in 1:25:54. Piotrow rode with the sponsorship of the Chad Young Foundation, named in honor of a promising cyclist – Chad Young, of Newmarket, N.H. – who set the current junior (under 20 years) course record in this race, and who died in an accident during a cycling race last year.
For spectators at the finish line, the most inspiring story of the day was that of Brian Hall, 56, of Hampton, N.H., who has suffered from Parkinson’s disease since he was 15. Despite severe movement impairments caused by the disease, Hall secured permission from the race’s sponsor and beneficiary, Tin Mountain Conservation Center in Albany, N.H., to compete in the Hillclimb by riding an e-bike, which contains a motor that assists the rider’s pedaling efforts. Hall completed the climb in less than two and a half hours, finishing ahead of several able-bodied cyclists.
“I was shocked at how hard it was,” said Hall as he recovered from the effort. “I skied Mont Blanc in 1992. I feel the same sense of euphoria and accomplishment today – I feel like I’m reborn.”
The oldest finisher was Giuseppe Marinoni, 81, of Laval, Quebec. Marinoni finished 308th overall in 1:56:31, breaking the former age-group record for me 80 and over by more than 20 minutes.
On the men’s winners’ podium, Miller was flanked by Ivy League cyclists. Deuel, who started bike racing only this summer, has competed in rowing as an undergraduate at Harvard University. Levinsohn recently finished medical school at Yale and is doing his residency at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston.
The Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb is the main annual fund-raising event for the Tin Mountain Conservation Center in Albany, N.H., which provides environmental and recreational education for children, schools and families in communities in the White Mountains and the Mt. Washington Valley.
For full race results go to click here.