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Marti Shea, of Marblehead, Mass., crosses the finish line, to win women's division of The 39th Annual Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb, with a winning time of 1:04:12, on Aug. 20, 2011. (Courtesy))

Shea has been upwardly mobile on Mount Washington

The grueling Mount Washington Auto Road has defeated countless hikers, road runners and cyclists over the years.

It boasts an average 12 percent grade over 7.6 miles. It winds from the mountain's base through an alpine zone where winds and weather can become some of the world's most severe, 6,288-feet above sea level.

But it has never foiled former Manchester native and Boston University long distance all-America Marti Shea.

Saturday, Shea, 49, of Marblehead, Mass., will seek her third consecutive Mount Washington Bicycle Hillclimb women's title and her ninth cycling victory to the summit. In the six-year history of Newton's Revenge, a July hillclimb twin competition, Shea has won each of her pedals.

Highlighting the men's top notch field is two-time Olympic mountain biker and three-time U.S. champion in cross country bike racing, David 'Tinker' Juarez.

Unlike Shea, Juarez, 51, of Whittier, Calif., has never won the Mount Washington race, but he finished second in both 2010 and 2011.

Seeking to return to the winner's circle at the summit are 2010 Hillclimb winner Nico Toutenhoofd, 44, of Boulder, Colo., and 2012 Newton's Revenge winner Cameron Cogburn, 26, of Cambridge, Mass.

The field of 600 riders start their climb in five waves at five-minute intervals, beginning with the top notch group at 8:35 a.m.

Shea defeated the Auto Road and the weather (60 mph gusts) in last month's Revenge. She reached the summit in 1:05:23.

'It was a tough one today with the wind,' said Shea following the Revenge. 'One second I'd think it was helping me, and the next it was in my face. At one point I was afraid I'd be pushed into the rocks.'

Her best-ever time on the mountain is 1:04:12.

Juarez reached the summit in 56:14 last year and 58:08 in 2010. Toutenhoofd paced the field in 57:26 two Hillclimbs ago. But Cogburn, a former cycling pro who resumed his amateur status in order to concentrate on graduate studies in astrophysics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, posted the quickest time among the three with his July 55:59, and that came in the wind.

'I came in with a little trepidation,' said Cogburn. 'I was holding back a little when we went into the clouds (5,600 feet), afraid I'd be blown off (the bike). At one point there was a gust and I kind of wobbled. You read 40 mph (sustained) wind, but you don't know what that's like until you get into it.'

Last year's Hillclimb winner, Ned Overend (55:03) is riding elsewhere and will not compete.

Shea's strongest challenge for a ninth Mount Washington crown may come from veteran Canadian climber Sue Schlatter, 49, who last competed on the mountain in 2006. She finished second that year in 1:08:37, six seconds behind winner Aimee Vasse and one place ahead of Shea (1:11:40).

The Mount Washington Bicycle Hillclimb is the seventh in the 10-race Bike Up the Mountains Series. Shea dominates the women's B.U.M.P.S. standings, having won all six races in the series so far. Four other women in the top 10 of those standings will also compete in the Hillclimb: Susan Lucek of Tolland, Conn.; Lisa Perkins of East Windsor, Conn.; Silke Wunderwald, of Hopkinton, R.I.; and Christine Lamoureux of Montreal.

Eight of the top 10 men in the 2012 B.U.M.P.S. competition will also compete: current points leader Gerry Clapper of Avon, Conn.; Gregory Larkin of Hollis; Quentin Turnbull of Concord; John Cico of Manlius, N.Y.; Kevin Bessett of Richmond, Vt.; Jeff Johnson of Bennington, Vt.; George Pawle of Westfield, Mass.; and Tim Ahearn of Woodstock, Conn.

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Mark Labore may be reached at mlabore@unionleader.com.


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