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Mt. Washington Hillclimb: Vasse pedals to 5th title; Piotrow, Lawrence top Granite State finishers


Monitor staff
Saturday, August 18, 2018

PINKHAM NOTCH – Rain, fog, heavy clouds and thunder Saturday delayed the start of the Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb by two hours, but by late morning the famously unpredictable weather of New Hampshire’s White Mountains calmed enough to allow 397 cyclists to race to the summit of the highest peak in the northeastern United States.

Leading the way to the mountain’s 6288-foot summit were Aimee Vasse, 40, from Longmont, Colo., and Barry Miller, 30, from Beverly, Mass.

Vasse, already a four-time winner of this all-uphill bicycle race who moved to Colorado last March to train at higher altitudes, pushed herself from the start of the 7.6-mile race and led from wire-to-wire, placing first among all the women in the field in a time of one hour, 4 minutes, 5 seconds. She not only recorded her fastest time ever on the Mt. Washington Auto Road but became the only cyclist, male or female, to win this race five times.

Her closest rival, Stefanie Sydlik, 33, of Pittsburgh, Pa., finished more than five minutes behind, in 1:10:32. Finishing 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!”

The first New Hampshire finishers were Darren Piotrow, 19, 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 – 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.

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 record a finishing time of 53:34.

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 runner-up.

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.”

Vasse also won the $750 first-mile bonus, and she and Miller each won $1500 for winning the race.

For spectators at the finish line, the most inspiring story of the day was that of Brian Hall, 56, of Hampton, 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, 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.