Weather Cancels Bike Race up Mt. Washington
Pinkham Notch, NH, July 8, 2007 —
What was supposed to be the luckiest day of the century proved to be nothing of the sort for 277 cyclists who planned to compete yesterday, or today, in the second annual edition of Newton’s Revenge, a 7.6-mile ascent of the relentlessly steep Mt. Washington Auto Road. The seventh day of the seventh month of 2007, the scheduled date for the much-anticipated event, produced bucketloads of the unpredictable weather for which Mt. Washington is famous, forcing the organizers to postpone the race by 24 hours.
And then July 8 was no luckier than July 7.
On Saturday the Mt. Washington weather showed one of its nasty sides, smothering the upper slopes in clouds, rain and winds gusting above 70 mph. Besides creating the possibility of a rider’s being blown off the precipitous course and then being effectively invisible to would-be helpers, such conditions created unacceptable risks to the volunteers and support crews who would have had to stand along the course above the tree line for three hours or more.
A day later, the winds had dropped slightly, but the rain and fog were worse, destroying traction on the unpaved section of the auto road and closing the auto road to all traffic, even to the vehicles driven by the Mt. Washington Auto Road’s own professional staff.
“We stand on our safety record,” said Regina Ferreira, a veteran member of the Mt. Washington Auto Road staff, emphasizing the race organizers’ foremost concern. There was nothing to do but cancel.
As rain pounded the large tent in the race’s starting area at the base of the 6288-foot mountain, riders stood around in their warmup clothes, sipped coffee and juice, listened to the official announcement, and nodded in agreement that the decision was understandable.
“Normally cyclists will race in all weather,” said Joel Brown of Kingston, Rhode Island, the race’s official announcer, “but this race tells them all, right up front when they register for it, that cancellation on account of the weather is one of the possibilities.”
Many of the cyclists had traveled from far away for the rare chance to ride their bicycles up the storied Auto Road, which climbs 4650 feet at an average grade of 12 percent. Bicycles are allowed on the road only four days of the year: for Newton’s Revenge in July, for the Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb in August, and for the practice rides held a few days before each race. Cyclists from North Carolina, Illinois, Arizona and California mingled with those from New England and nearby Quebec, listening to each others’ stories and, in many cases, planning to return in hopes of better luck.
Two of these were professional riders from Athens, Georgia, who were hoping to use Newton’s Revenge to demonstrate their particular talents as climbers: Colombian climbing specialist Cesar Grajales, who has beaten better-known pro riders up the Brasstown Bald, a similarly steep road in the Tour of Georgia, and Colorado state road cycling champion Alex Hagman.
Both riders compete for teams sponsored by Louis Garneau, the cycling apparel-and-accessories company founded by the Canadian cyclist of the same name, who himself raced up the Mt. Washington Auto Road in the 1970s. Grajales is part of the Jittery Joe’s team, Hagman rides for AEG-Toshiba-JetNetwork. Louis Garneau is the principal sponsor of Newton’s Revenge.
Grajales or Hagman had figured to win the $1500 first prize, perhaps even to win the $5000 prize for any man who breaks the course record of 49 minutes 24 seconds, set in 2002 by Tom Danielson.
As the disappointed crowds slogged back to their cars to head home, Grajales and Hagman considered returning to Mt. Washington in August for the Hillclimb – and for a clear day with a dry road.
Course records –
Men: Tom Danielson, 49:24 (2002)
Women: Genevieve Jeansson, 54:02 (2002)
First place, male and female: $1500.
First place while breaking course record, male or female: $5000