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Women's champ aims at Hillclimb repeat

August 16. 2018 11:54PM

Aimee Vasse, fresh off a win last weekend at Pike’s Peak in Colorado, will defend her title Saturday as reigning champion in the Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb.

The only woman likely to challenge her is Stephanie Sydlik, who led in the early stages of last year’s race before Vasse overtook her.

Former men’s champion Cameron Cogburn was hoping to return to Mount Washington this year, but injuries have slowed Cogburn’s training and restricted his competition this summer, so he is not entered. Neither is last year’s winner, Phil Gaimon, or any of last year’s other top seven finishers. The one certainty about the 2018 men’s race is that there will be a new first-time winner.

An intriguing element in this year’s Hillclimb is the entry of top-level mountain runner Shannon Payne to the women’s field.

Payne, 33, of Franktown, Colo., has twice won the Mt. Washington Road Race — the footrace held each year in June on the same 7.6-mile super-steep Auto Road course. She recently took up cycling and has enjoyed some success in competition.

Vasse, 40, of Longmont, Colo., won the Hillclimb for three consecutive years, from 2004 to 2006. Last year, after 11 years’ absence, she returned and won the 2017 Hillclimb in a faster time than in any of her previous three victories.

Vasse credits her recent success to more technically oriented training, including the use of a power-meter to measure her output in watts as she rides.

“I’m thrilled to be training in such a scientific way,” she said after her Pike’s Peak win. “Last year was my fastest time ever at Mt. Washington, and I hope to be faster this year.”

Sydlik, 33, of Pittsburgh, placed second in the Hillclimb in 2013 and third in 2014.

Another likely top finisher in the women’s field is 19-year-old Gabrielle Vandendries of Chestnut Hill, Mass. Vandendries placed ninth here last year and is likely once again to be the top junior rider in the women’s field.

The top male junior is probably Darren Piotrow, 19, of Jackson. A graduate of Kennett High School in Conway, and a member of the Sunapee Racing Team, Piotrow finished 19th overall in the Hilllclimb last year.

The three men in this year’s field who recorded the highest overall finishes last year — eighth, ninth and 10th — are James Hayes, 23, of Wakefield, R.I.; Greg Bartick, 46, of Gorham, Maine; and Nate Kemp, 41, of Concord, Mass.

The Hillclimb is a 7.6-mile ascent to the summit Mt. Washington, the highest peak in the northeastern United States. The Auto Road’s steep grade — an average of 12 percent, rising to 22 percent at the finish — and Mt. Washington’s unpredictable weather make this as one of the toughest bicycle climbs anywhere in the world.

A field of 485 cyclists is registered from 28 states, three Canadian provinces, and three foreign countries. The first male and female finishers each win $1,500.

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