PINKHAM NOTCH - An MIT graduate student in astrophysics and a research chemist showed today that scientific careers have not hampered their bicycling abilities.
Cameron Cogburn, 27, of Cambridge, Mass., and Silke Wunderwald, 42, of Hopkinton, R.I., took the top prizes today in the 41st annual Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb, a 7.6-mile all-uphill race to the summit of the highest peak in the northeastern U.S.
Cogburn, a former professional rider who returned to amateur status to concentrate on his studies, blasted off the starting line at the base of the Mt. Washington Auto Road and led a pack of six riders for the first two miles before pulling away and pedaling solo to a finishing time of 50 minutes 48 seconds. That time was nearly two minutes faster than last year, when he first won this race, and within sight of the course record 49:24, set in 2002 by Tour de France racer Tom Danielson.
"I know I could get the record," said Cogburn after reaching the 6,288-foot summit of Mt. Washington. "It's a matter of losing a couple of pounds. But last week I went to Leadville" - a 100-mile bike race at high altitude in Colorado, where Cogburn finished fourth - "and I suffered a bit at 12,000 feet. I'm happy with today."
Cogburn's closest pursuer was 23-year-old Erik Levinsohn, a first-year Yale medical student with extensive bike-racing success in New England. "My plan was to stay with Cameron as long as possible," said Levinsohn. "But that was for only two and a half miles. The finish was a long way coming after that." Levinsohn finished in 53:29. Third place went to Jeremiah Bishop, 37, of Harrisonburg, Virginia, in 54:24.
Wunderwald pumped her fist as she sailed through the finish in one hour 9 minutes 56 seconds, a welcome improvement on her Mt. Washington debut last year, when she finished third in 1:10:47.
"The lesson I learned last year," she said, "was, Don't go out too hard." Like many Mt. Washington racers before her, she discovered that the only way to ride well on the Auto Road is to concentrate on pacing, not on the competition. As her fellow winner Cogburn put it, "You have to stay within your limits and not think about the other riders."
A native of the Lake Constanz region of Germany, Wunderwald moved to the U.S. 20 years ago and works in research and development with Pfizer in Groton, Conn. She began competitive cycling in 2006 and in the last two years has focused on hillclimbs. The women's runnerup was 28-year-old Stefanie Sydlik of Cambridge, Mass., in 1:12:59. Third was Line Lauritsen, 31, of McHenry, Maryland, in 1:14:33.
In a field of 504 finishers, the first New Hampshire riders to reach the top of Mt. Washington were Douglas Jansen, 50, of Pelham, placing 18th overall in 1:05:12 and Christine Jankins, 49, of Hampton, 237th overall in 1:30:56.
For their victories, Cogburn and Wunderwald won $1,500 apiece.