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Former NH rider, Shea, wins Mount Washington bike race for fourth time

PINKHAM NOTCH - Marti Shea, formerly of Manchester and now of Marblehead, Mass., dominated once again and John Kronborg Ebsen of Denmark delivered an impressive effort in his first look at the mountain, as the two riders rode to victories in tough weather conditions in the 42nd Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb on Saturday.

As has been the case nearly every other time she has raced here, Shea sped away from the other women in the field at the start and rode behind only the strongest men. She eventually finished in one hour six minutes and one second - two minutes shy of her best time here, but an emphatic victory in typically bad Mount Washington weather.

Ebsen closely followed Cameron Cogburn, the two-time defending champion, for the first five miles of the 7.6-mile race, then surged ahead in the final two miles to win in 52 minutes 53 seconds.

First among all New Hampshire finishers was 23-year-old Alec Babala of Nashua, a graduate of Bishop Guertin High School and Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where he studied industrial design. Wearing his RISD cycling team jersey, Babala placed 15th overall with a time of 1:05:25.

He said he found Saturday's weather the worst he has encountered in his four races up the mountain.

"I was underdressed," Babala said. "I should have been wearing arm warmers." Above the tree line, he and all the other riders were battered by the wind while simultaneously riding into a cloud cover that had settled on the upper slopes.

"I couldn't see anything," he continued. "I just heard breathing behind me for a while, and then I didn't hear it, so I knew I was pulling away from somebody. And I could hear bells through the fog. That kept me going."

Babala, who is starting a furniture design company in Boston, had hoped to finish the ascent in an hour. Like most riders in the field, however, he found the conditions difficult. "Every turn in the road, you just have to keep going. Press on the pedals. My chain kept slipping, and my cadence was off."

Even so, he was pleased that his time was his fastest ever for this climb. "Overall, it was a good day."

Joining him at the post-race lunch was his father, Raniel Babala, also of Nashua. The senior Babala, now 50, claims to be "only a recreational cyclist," but his recreational career, he said, includes having ridden up Mount Washington many times. His time of 1:25:19 was good enough to place him 10th among the 50 entrants from New Hampshire.

Lou Bregou, 44, of Hanover was the second finisher from the state in 1:06:21 and Connor Jennings was next in 1:08:34.

In the women's race, the first Granite Stater across the finish line at the 6,288-foot summit was Christine Jankins, 50, of Hampton. She finished in one hour 30 minutes and six seconds.

Suzanne Young, 52, of Conway finished in 1:51:58. Maria Goodwin, 12, and her family just moved to Lebanon from Silver Lake and she turned in a time of 2:08:19 as the third New Hampshire female.

Her father, Ron, was ninth among New Hampshire males in 1:25:05.

Shea, a former Manchester resident and high school runner before going off to an all-American track career at Boston University, finished in 17th place overall, nearly eight minutes ahead of her nearest challenger.

She became the first woman to win the Hillclimb four times. Previously she had been tied with Aimee Vasse with three wins apiece. It was the 11th overall race win on the Mount Washington Auto Road for Shea, who also has won Newton's Revenge - a July race on the same route - seven times.

Shea hoped to finish the climb in under 65 minutes, but the cold and windy weather got in the way of that plan. The temperature was just over 40 degrees and winds about 35 miles per hour for a wind chill factor of 25 degrees when the top riders reached the summit.

"Down below, the weather was good," said Shea. "But around four miles the wind started, and then it was off and on - a side wind, then a head wind. I was losing body temperature. There have been a few races here with conditions like this, but this may have been the worst I've seen. Anyway, I'm happy about my fourth win."

Silke Wunderwald, 42, of Hopkinton, R.I., won this race last year when Shea was occupied with coaching and leading cycling tours in Europe. This year she followed Shea at a respectful distance, taking the runnerup spot in 1:13:55. Stefanie Sydlik, 29, of Cambridge, Mass., was third in 1:16:39. Fourth place went to Elizabeth McClintock, 51, of Wellesley, Mass. Alexa Gubinski, 26, of Fairfield, Conn., was fifth in 1:20:30.

For most of the race, Coburn, 28, a professional cyclist on leave from graduate studies in astrophysics at MIT, led a string of riders. The 25-year-old Ebsen, fellow Mount Washington first-timer Eneas Freyre of Norwalk, Conn., 38, and Eric Follen, 39, of Sanford, Maine, a two-time runnerup here, rode in a peloton-like line from the early going until where the Auto Road turns to dirt above the tree line. Ebsen, however, also a pro cyclist, had recently beaten Cogburn in a race in Taiwan, and his first attempt on Mout Washington was well calculated.

"I knew I should follow Cameron," said the winner. "He's a really strong rider. When it got steep, then I would go." Ebsen began pulling away before the six-mile mark, extended his lead, and eventually beat Cogburn by 57 seconds.

"I knew his strategy," said Cogburn, who had won each of his previous four races up the Auto Road - a pair of wins in Newton's Revenge (2012 and this year) to go with the two Hillclimb triumphs. "He sat on my wheel for 39 minutes." Because he has expressed a hope of beating the course record at Mount Washington - 49:24, ridden in 2002 by Tour de France rider Tom Danielson - Cogburn reckons that other riders will often pace themselves by following him.

He commented that he was feeling less than one hundred percent, having recently returned from hard training with his team in the Rockies. "But I kind of like this weather," Cogburn added. "You're racing up this road, and clouds come at you."

Freyre rode strongly to third place in 54:11, while Mount Washington veteran Philip Wong, 34, of Northborough, Mass., overtook Follen in the final mile to take fourth in 54:23, with Follen three seconds behind.

In all, 517 cyclists finished the race, including two unicyclists and three tandem teams.

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