Jonathan Wyatt, New Zealand, 56:41(2004)
Shewarge Amare, Ethiopia, 1:08:21 (2010)
Tom Danielson, Colorado, 49:24 (2002)
Jeannie Longo, France, 58:14 (2000)
6 minutes 09 seconds, Subaru WRX driven by David Higgins, U.K. (2014)
Mt. Washington Auto Road history
Construction of the Mt. Washington Carriage Road began in the summer of 1854 by the Mount Washington Road Company and Gen. David O. Macomber. By the fall of 1856, the road had reached the halfway point when money ran out and the work came to a halt. Three years later, the present Mt. Washington Auto Road Company was founded, and work on the road resumed the following year. The first tolls were collected for the passage to the Halfway House (no longer standing). The company celebrated the gala opening of the completed road on August 8, 1861.
Horse-drawn carriages were the means of transportation on the Road until 1899, when Freelan O. Stanley, of Stanley Steamer fame, made the first motorized ascent of the road in his steam-powered Locomobile. Three years later, in 1902, the first two gasoline-powered vehicles reached the summit. Since then, the history of private automobiles on the road has been one of steady growth:
1935: 3100 private cars
present annual average: 45,000
Credit for the first timed run up the Mt. Washington Carriage/Auto Road is generally given to George Foster, who performed the feat in 1904, when he was a medical student, to impress his friends. He made the ascent in one hour and 42 minutes. The Mt. Washington Road Race – i.e., the footrace up the Auto Road – was held three times in the 1930s, then took place more officially in 1961to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the road, and has been an annual event since 1966. The fastest ascent on foot so far is that of six-time World Mountain Running Champion Jonathan Wyatt of New Zealand, who ran up the mountain in 2004 in 56 minutes 41 seconds. If Wyatt had been competing directly against the cyclists in the Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb that year, his time would have placed him third overall.
Newton’s Revenge and the Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb
Bicycle racing began on Mt. Washington in 1973 with the Mount Washington Invitational Hillclimb sanctioned by the Amateur Bicycle League of America. In that inaugural race, John C. Allis set the benchmark for others by pedaling to the highest point in the Northeast in one hour 15 minutes 5 seconds. Breaking his own record the following year, Allis posted a time of 1:01:39, a record that would stand for five years before Steve Pyle broke it by five seconds.
In 1980 Olympic cyclist Dale Stetina became the first racer to break the one-hour mark. Arriving at the summit in 57:41, Stetina established a record that would stand for 17 years. Then, in 1997 Tyler Hamilton, who had just competed in his first Tour de France, came to the White Mountains and shattered Stetina’s record with a blistering ride of 51:56. Hamilton returned to the Auto Road in 1999 and lowered his record to 50:21.
That record stood until 2002, when Tom Danielson of East Lyme, Connecticut, became the first rider to complete the ascent in under 50 minutes. On a clear day, Danielson erased Hamilton’s record by reaching the top of the Auto Road in 49:24.
The one unfortunate element of record-setting at Mt. Washington is that Tyler Hamilton, who made a total of four Mt. Washington appearances and in the process won many friends with his modest manner and impressive riding, ultimately acknowledged that he used performance-enhancing drugs during his career. Thus, the age-group record for men 35-39 that he still held after Danielson set a new open course record is no longer recognized. Now the men’s record-holder for that age group is Mike Engleman, who, at 39, finished second to Hamilton in 1997 in a time of 53:53. A similar story applies to the women’s course record:
Renowned French cyclist Jeannie Longo came to Mt. Washington in 2000 and set what looked like a very strong record of 58 minutes 14 seconds. However, two years later, while Danielson was taking down Hamilton’s record, young Canadian cyclist Genevieve Jeanson of Lachine, Quebec, then a rising star in the sport, ripped four minutes off Longo’s record, winning the 2002 women’s Hillclimb with a time of 54:02 and, equally impressively, finishing third overall in the field of 600 riders.
In 2003 Danielson and Jeanson both defended their titles as Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb champions. In dense fog, with winds so severe that Jeanson was actually blown over onto the pavement in the final 70 meters of the race, neither managed a new course record, but Danielson finished in 51:05, continuing to show why he was being touted in cycling circles as one of the sport’s best climbers and part of the future of American cycling. Despite her fall, Jeanson once again finished third overall, this time in 59:58.
In 2011, following her admission of having used performance-enhancing drugs throughout her cycling career, the Auto Road removed Jeanson’s records as it was also removing Hamilton’s. Reinstated as the women’s open course record, Longo’s 58:14 continues to be the record for women aged 35-39. The Auto Road now recognizes Kimberly Bruckner, who finished second in 1999 with a time of 1:03:50, as the record-holder for women aged 20-34. Jeanson’s 1999 time of 1:01:57 had been the record for junior female riders (19 and under). That record now goes to Anneke Reed of Vermont, who completed the Hillclimb in 2009 in 1:48:32 at the age of 16.
In the 2004 Hillclimb, Phil Wong of Gloucester, Mass., who had been second to Danielson the previous year, seemed on his way to winning, but he was overtaken on the upper slopes by Justin England, the latest in a string of aspiring young pros who have used the Hillclimb as proof of their climbing strength. In the women’s field, the prize went to first-time entrant Aimee Vasse.
Prior to revelations about his drug use, Tyler Hamilton returned to ride the Hillclimb again in 2005 — partly because, operating independently of national and international sanctioning agencies, the Hillclimb could welcome him to the field at a time when he was serving a suspension by the UCI (international cycling governing body), but primarily because he wanted to test his fitness and to try to take the record back from Danielson. He fell short of the record but won by a large gap over Anthony Colby, Phil Wong and 50-year-old former World Mountain Bike Champion Ned Overend. Aimee Vasse repeated as women’s champion.
In 2006, Vasse made it three in a row, while Hamilton won again and Overend finished second, setting a new master’s record of 54:41.
The need for two hillclimbs
In 2006, responding to the excess demand for entry to the Hillclimb, the Mt. Washington Auto Road company created an additional bike race up the Auto Road. Called Newton’s Revenge, this race takes place each summer in early July. While the race precedes the Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb by several weeks, registration for Newton’s Revenge opens only after the Hillclimb has reached its capacity of 600 riders.
The course, the start, the winners’ prizes and the logistical arrangements for Newton’s Revenge are the same as for the Hillclimb. The Mt. Washington Auto Road course record for bicycles may be set in either race.
Marti Shea, a former all-American distance runner at Boston University now living in Marblehead, Massachusetts, won the women’s championship in Newton’s Revenge the first six years it was contested – 2006 and 2008-2011. (No race in 2007.) The first men’s winner of Newton’s Revenge, in 2006, was Joseph Carpisassi, who made the ascent in exactly one hour (1:00:00). Aspiring young pro rider Anthony Colby won Newton’s in both 2008 and 2009. Tom Danielson competed in the 2010 Newton’s Revenge and not only won again but came within eight seconds of breaking his own course record. In 2011, Danielson proved his climbing abilities on the largest stage in the world, as he finished 9th overall in the Tour de France, the fastest American rider in the field.
In the 2011 Newton’s Revenge, Derek Treadwell, a runner-turned-triathlete-turned-cyclist who had never raced a hillclimb before, outpedaled the veterans to win in 57:41. To do so, Treadwell was obliged to start five minutes behind the Top Notch wave of riders and ride much of the race solo before overtaking and eventually passing all but half a dozen of them to record the fastest net time of the day. Shea repeated easily as top woman, and, at the age of 49, in the process rode her fastest time ever for this course, one hour 4 minutes 12 seconds.
Shea continued her Newton’s streak with another decisive finish in 2012, while the men’s race was the Mt. Washington debut of Cameron Cogburn. A former pro rider who reverted to Category 1 amateur in order to concentrate on his graduate studies in astrophysics at M.I.T., Cogburn finished in 55:59, three minutes ahead of runner-up Tim Tapply.
Neither Shea nor Cogburn competed in Newton’s Revenge in 2013. If Shea had been in the field, she might have had the fiercest battle in her long string of successes here, as Lea Davison of Jericho, Vermont, dominated the women’s race a few weeks after having placed eighth overall in the World Mountain Biking championships. In Shea’s absence, Davison won handily in 1:05:54. Dereck Treadwell made a welcome return to win the men’s race again, this time starting in the Top Notch group. After a seven-mile duel with fellow Maine rider Eric Follen, Treadwell finally surged ahead to win in 58:14, four seconds ahead of Follen.
One impossible year — 2007
In 2007, the Mt. Washington Auto Road management and race organizers were forced to cancel that year’s Newton’s Revenge, on account of horrible weather. Fog, severe winds gusting to 72 mph. and temperatures hovering around freezing hammered the mountain on race day morning, and the following day’s weather was just as bad. In an impressive display of bad luck, nearly identical conditions the weekend of the Hillclimb canceled that race as well.
The 2008 Hillclimb went off smoothly and welcomed a new winner – Phil Gaimon, from Tucker, Georgia, who spent his summer training in New England, finished second in Newton’s Revenge in July, and drew on that experience to win that year’s Hillclimb in 54:57. Flavia Lepene of Blacksburg, Virginia, won the women’s race in 1:08:52.
Gaimon repeated as champion in 2009, bringing his time down to 54:37 but having to hold off the amazing Ned Overend, who, more than twice Gaimon’s age, finished a close second in 54:53. Sue Schlatter, of Ottawa, won the women’s race in 1:07:43, two and a half minutes ahead of Marti Shea.
Already the only female winner of Newton’s Revenge ever, Marti Shea finally won the Hillclimb as well in 2010, riding her fastest time ever on Mt. Washington, one hour five minutes 42 seconds. Boulder, Colorado cycling veteran Nico Toutenhoofd, 42, won the men’s race in a beautiful display of pacing; he followed the lead pack of two dozen riders for more than two miles, then gradually overtook them and won by a wide margin.
Ned Overend returned for the 2011 Hillclimb and won it outright – on his 56th birthday. Similarly demonstrating that age had taken away very little of his stamina, U.S. Olympic mountain bike medalist Tinker Juarez, now 50, placed second, less than a minute behind. Shea won her second Hillclimb, in 1:04:12 – exactly the same time as in Newton’s Revenge the previous month.
In 2012 Shea lowered her personal record again, clocking 1:03:14. Meanwhile, the men’s race was also a Newton’s-Hillclimb double; Cameron Cogburn improved on his earlier time by finishing in 52:28. Given the nullification of Hamilton’s times, that performance makes Cogburn the second-fastest rider ever here, after only Tom Danielson.
Cogburn got even faster in 2013, winning in 50 minutes 48 seconds — within sight of Danielson’s course record 49:24. Behind him were 23-year-old Erik Levinsohn, a first-year Yale medical student with extensive bike-racing success in New England, in 53:29, and well-known mountain biking ace Jeremiah Bishop of Harrisonburg, Virginia, in 54:24.
Busy with coaching duties and leading cycling trips in Europe, Marti Shea missed both 2013 races. In her absence, Silke Wunderwald, 42, of Hopkinton, R.I., handled the women’s field nicely in the Hillclimb. A native of Germany who moved to the U.S. to work as a research chemist, Wunderwald reached the summit in 1:09:56, three minutes ahead of M.I.T. student, Stephanie Sydlik of Cambridge, Mass.
All riders in Newton’s Revenge the Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb are required to be riding standard two-wheeled road bikes or mountain bikes. Recumbent bicycles are not allowed, for safety reasons, since a recumbent rider’s center of gravity is too far back relative to the steepness of the slope on the Auto Road. A handful of unicycles have also made the ascent.
The bikes must be verified as safe, with proper brakes. There is no minimum weight restriction.
A bike may have any number and range of gears. Veteran hill-climbers normally will ride a bike on which the lowest gear may be as low as a 1:1 ratio, i.e., the same number of teeth on the small chain ring as on the largest rear sprocket – and some may be even lower. One-speed bikes are permitted – including the type that cannot coast, since coasting is impossible while going up this hill anyway. A few tandem bicycle teams enter each year, many of them very competitive.
Helmets are required.