Pinkham Notch, N.H.– More than 200 cyclists with uncommonly strong legs and a penchant for extreme challenges are preparing to compete in this Saturday’s Newton’s Revenge, the 7.6-mile all-uphill bike race held each July on the Mt. Washington Auto Road in New Hampshire. One of them, 49-year-old Marti Shea of Marblehead, Massachusetts, could become the first woman to cross the finish line of all the men in the field.
Often described as more severe than the steepest climbs in the Tour de France, the ride up the Auto Road is a grind to the 6288-foot summit of Mt. Washington, in the White Mountains, at an average grade of 12 percent. The altitude gain is 4720 feet – more than in the switchback-riddled Alpe d’Huez ascent that is usually one of the final, and most difficult, parts of the Tour. Making the climb even more arduous is the unpredictable Mt. Washington weather, which can include 40- to 65-mph. gusts of wind and various kinds of precipitation.
Inaugurated in 2006 as a response to growing demand for opportunities to ride a bicycle to the top of the highest peak in the northeastern United States, Newton’s Revenge is the first of two races held annually on the Auto Road. Like the older Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb, held each year in August, the July 7 contest attracts a field of ranked and unranked amateur cyclists, extreme-sports enthusiasts, and the occasional professional rider who is looking for an opportunity to demonstrate his or her climbing prowess.
The men’s course record-holder for the Auto Road is Tom Danielson, who in 2011 was the first American finisher in the Tour de France. Danielson made his debut in the Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb in 2002, setting the course record of 49 minutes 21 seconds and subsequently securing a place on an internationally competitive team. He won the Hillclimb again in 2003, then returned in 2010 to win Newton’s Revenge in a time just eight seconds shy of his own course record. The women’s course record-holder is legendary French cycling star Jeannie Longo. Her record for the ascent is 58:14.
Shea, a Manchester, N.H., native and all-American long-distance runner in college and who later turned to cycling, is unlikely to break Longo’s record, but among all the women who have ever competed in Newton’s Revenge she is by far the strongest and most competitive. She won the race in its inaugural year and has won it again every year since then. In 2011, she also won the Hillclimb, and her times in both races last year were faster than any of her previous performances here.
Probably the strongest rider this year in the men’s field for the 2012 Newton’s Revenge is 51-year-old Gerry Clapper of Avon, Conn. Last year Clapper finished sixth overall in the race, in a time of one hour two minutes 46 seconds. Shea placed eighth overall in 1:04:12. If she improves again this year on her best time, she and Clapper could be battling each other to be first across the finish line, which lies just at the top of the Auto Road’s final – and steepest – rise, a wall-like 22 percent grade. On windy days, riders have occasionally been blown off their bicycles here. Shea herself has twice broken her bike’s chain with the torque of this final burst of effort and been forced to walk her bike the final 20 or 30 yards.
Shea’s and Clapper’s ages, incidentally, are not atypical of top competitors in Newton’s Revenge and the Hillclimb. Both races attract experienced riders who have conquered flatter courses, competed in Olympic and national championships, and are seeking something new. They also attract athletes like Clapper, a New England cycling veteran, and Shea, a dedicated amateur who years ago declined the opportunity to compete professionally because she wanted no part of the pressure to use performance-enhancing drugs.
The top male and top female rider in Newton’s Revenge win a prize of $1000 apiece. The entry fee for Newton’s Revenge is $300, of which a portion is donated to the Mt. Washington Valley Bicycling Club. The rest of the entry fee covers the cost of substantial logistical support, food, commemorative shirt and other expenses involved in staging the event. Riders who are already registered for the Hillclimb may enter Newton’s Revenge for $150. For further information see www.newtonsrevenge.com
The Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb and Newton’s Revenge are two of ten events in the Bike Up the Mountain Point Series, familiarly known as BUMPS. The series includes Mt. Ascutney in Vermont, Mt. Greylock in Massachusetts, Whiteface Mountain in New York State, and other uphill races, including for the first time this year the Mt. Wachusett hillclimb in central Masachusetts. After the first two races in this series, Shea leads the women’s overall standings, while Clapper is second in the men’s. For further information see www.hillclimbseries.com.