New records set at Climb for Lyme
MANCHESTER — A new course record was set Saturday during the fifth running of the Gear Up for Lyme Uphill Bike Climb, a competitive cycling race to the summit of Mt. Equinox.
Steve Gatzos, 31, of Jamaica Plain, Mass., shaved 51 seconds off the former record time set in 2006, finishing first overall with a time of 37 minutes, 46 seconds. The course is 5.4 miles in length and rises about 3,250 vertical feet from Route 7A in Sunderland to the finish line atop one of southern Vermont's tallest peaks.
"The first mile lit a fire under me and I may have burned a few too many matches but after that I recovered and got into a good rhythm," he said after the race. "I've always done well on the hilly road races."
It was Gatzos' first try at the Equinox course and only his third uphill bike race ever. He normally competes in more conventional road races, but may be getting to like the hill climbs even more, he said.
This is a good tune up for Mt. Washington (an older and more established uphill bike race that will be held two weeks from now)," he said. "I'm sort of hooked on the hill climbs — this is my thing now."
A field of 161 riders began the race and 147 finished it. The event, in addition to being a challenge for cyclists, is also a fund-raiser for efforts to combat Lyme disease, a bacterial infection transmitted largely by deer ticks and a growing health issue in Vermont, according to the state Department of Health.
While the number of riders declined slightly from last year, the event's fund-raising goals were still met, said Andy Holzman, the race director. Presented by the Manchester Rotary Club, the event gets easier to organize with each passing year, he said.
Funds raised during the race also go towards charities supported by the Rotarians.
The event also draws a field of riders from widely varying ages, and the age brackets from 40 to 60 years-old are especially well-represented, he said.
But the event draws riders even older than that. Ken Cestone, 70, of Bennington, set a new course record for his age group, posting a time of 56:20.
Then there was Ray Gengenbach, 73, from Amherst, Mass. Spurning the high tech gear favored by most of the riders, riding a mountain bike and wearing regular sneakers, he also rode his bicycle all the way from his home in Amherst to the starting line. It took him about 12 hours over the course of two days to travel the approximately 125 miles from Amherst, then another 90 minutes to go the final five and a half miles to the summit.
"It's good training, especially that Route 9 over from Brattleboro," he said. "It's a more complete experience. I camp out, I have fun. I'm a tourist, I do my race, and it's more fun this way."
At the opposite end of the age spectrum was Tyler Hebert of East Haddam, Conn. At 14 years-old, he was the youngest rider entered in the race, and finished the course in a time of about one hour and 24 minutes.
Travis Counsell, 19, of Manchester, competed in the first Gear Up for Lyme event five years ago, using a mountain bike. He was back this year on a road racing bike, and that plus his earlier experience made a lot of difference, he said.
"It was definitively not as difficult the second time because I knew what was coming," he said. "Getting started and knowing you have five miles ahead of you is tough. It's more mental than physical."
Over in the women's division, Susan Lynch, 48, from Medfield, Mass. and a part-time resident of Dorset was the top finisher with a time of 50:28. She was coming off another win in her age group in the Mountain Bike Nationals held recently at Mt. Snow, she said.
"I'm feeling strong and felt okay today," she said. "Everything was fun. The coffee and the doughnuts at the top are a key."
Amy Koop, 34, of New York City, was the top finisher among women 30 to 39 years-old. The Gear Up for Lyme event was her first uphill bike climb so she felt good about her time of 55:30, she said.
Her strategy was to take it easy in the beginning and conserve energy for the final push to the summit, she said.
"I've heard about this race and thought it would be good practice to see if Mount Washington was doable for me," she said. "It's brutally hard, but doable."
The bike race also raises money for the Lyme Disease Association and seeks to raise awareness of the disease. Left untreated or not diagnosed in time, it can lead to numerous health problems. The disease is treatable with antibiotics, but such treatment could also be of a long-term nature if the disease is not detected in its early stages, according to the association's Web site.
Patricia Smith, the president of the association, spoke to the assembled participants and onlookers after the race and before the awards ceremony where medals and prizes were handed out to the winners in the various competitive categories.
Most vulnerable to the disease are children between five years of age and 14 years. Only recently have federal authorities such as the Centers for Disease Control begun to assign more importance to controlling the disease, she said.
"It's become a major problem for people like yourselves who like to be in the outdoors," she said. "We hope you will continue to support this effort so we can get the outdoors back again."
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