PINKHAM NOTCH, N.H. – Eric Follen did it on his third try. Stephanie Wetzel triumphed first time out of the gate.
The bicyclists out of Maine raced their way to dominating wins up the 7.6-mile steep, long and grueling Mt. Washington Auto Road on Saturday in the 10th Newton’s Revenge Bicycle Hillclimb.
It was the first Newton’s Revenge win for each and each rider grabbed the lead early in the race and steadily pulled away from the field.
Follen, 40, of Sanford, turned in a time of 54 minutes, 36 seconds up the all-uphill course to the 6,288-foot summit of the tallest peak in the Northeast. The temperature was about 50 and winds were between 20 and 35 miles an hour at the summit.
“I finally did it,” said Follen after breaking the tape at the top of the mountain. “It feels awesome.”
Follen was runner-up in his first two Newton’s in 2013 and 2014.
“I thought maybe when I first came to do it I could do it in under an hour,” Follen said. “I did that and came in second. Ever since then, I thought maybe I could win it.”
Follen said he didn’t know until he got to the race early on Saturday morning that defending champion Cameron Cogburn was not competing.
“I figured I’d be trying to hold his wheel,” Follen said. “I’m pretty glad he didn’t come. I’m hurting as it is.”
Defending women’s champion and seven-time winner Marti Shea, who grew up in Manchester, N.H., and lives in Marblehead, Mass., also missed the race. She announced earlier in the week that she was retiring from competitive racing because of knee problems.
Follen beat second-place finisher Brandon Holden, 21, of Boxborough, Mass., by more than two minutes.
Holden will be a junior in the fall at the University of Southern California where he is the captain of the cycling team. He competed in the race for the first time, finishing in 56:45.
James Piccoli, 23, of Montreal was third in 57:10. Chris Yura, 36, of Bryn Mawr, Penn., also cracked the one-hour mark in 59:43 for fourth place and Erik Vandendries, 50, of Chestnut Hill, Mass., was fifth in 1:03:15.
Wetzel, 28, of Fryeburg, Maine, just across the state line and not far from the mountain, also raced at Newton’s for the first time and won in 1:09:01.
A former cross country and track & field standout at the University of Maine, Wetzel teaches math at Fryeburg Academy, her alma mater, and races competitively. She did Newton’s Revenge in part as preparation for the U.S. Pro Challenge next month in Colorado.
“I’ve hiked up and driven up Mt. Washington,” Wetzel said. “But this race is one of those things like the Boston Marathon that you have to do some day.”
She wasn’t sure what to expect when she got to the starting line. Kristen Gohr, 44, of Reading, Mass., who was one of the riders near her, was the runner-up here in 2013.
“I wasn’t sure what I could do and I wasn’t sure what Kristen could do,” Wetzel said. “I figured worse case, I’d try to hang with her.”
Before long, no one was able to hang with Wetzel.
Gohr finished second in 1:14:24; Darcie Murphy, 35, of Logan, Utah, was third in 1:17:20; Jennifer Miller, 49, of Richmond, Vt., was fourth in 1:28:58; and Christine Jankins, 51, of Hampton, N.H., was fifth in 1:29:22.
Newton’s Revenge was the first of two bike races up the Mt. Washington Auto Road this summer. Newton’s was added to the Auto Road schedule of events in 2006 to accommodate riders who were being shut out of the Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb.
The Hillclimb, a fundraiser for the Tin Mountain Conservation Center in nearby Albany, N.H., remains the larger of the two events and a capacity field of about 635 riders will compete in this year’s Hillclimb on Saturday, August 15.
Records for the course may be set in either Newton’s Revenge or the Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb. The men’s record of 49:24 was set by Tom Danielson of East Lyme, Conn., in 2002 and Jeannie Longo holds the women’s mark of 58:14, set in 2000.
The race was missing its two most prominent faces over the last several years in Marti Shea and Cameron Cogburn of Cambridge, Mass. They were the defending champions and both have perfect records in the race. Each had entered, but did not make it to the starting line.
Shea, 52, is undefeated in the seven Newton’s she has raced. She has been bothered by an arthritic right knee in recent months. She was at the top of the course cheering on the riders, several of whom she coaches, and handed out awards during ceremonies after the race.
Cogburn has won the two Newton’s he has raced in, but has been riding more for fun than for competition this summer and chose not to compete.
Jonah Thompson of Albuquerque, N.M., wore No. 16 on Saturday for a reason. He’s 16 and is a Mt. Washington Auto Road veteran. He’s been racing here since he was nine.
His time of 1:11:36 earned him 13th place on Saturday.
“It wasn’t the time I wanted to get, but it was a good day,” Thompson said. “Hopefully I can get a faster time when I come back in August for the Hillclimb.”
Joe Santilli, 57, of Poughquag, N.Y., completed his third Newton’s Revenge and for the second year in a row beat his previous best mark, this time with a 1:18:46.
A month after his first Newton’s in 2013, Santilli was hit by a car while biking. His back was fractured, his clavicle dislocated, he had a punctured lung and needed dozens of stitches to close a gash on his left side.
“I didn’t know if I’d be able to ride this again,” Santilli said.
Getting back to Newton’s Revenge and Mt. Washington helped motivate him during his rehab.
He made it back for last year’s race and finished in 1:19:08, 41 seconds faster than his debut ride.
“It draws you in,” he said. “It compels you to come back year after year. There’s nothing that compares to this.”
A portion of the fee to race in Newton’s Revenge supports the activities of the Mt. Washington Valley Bicycling Club.