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Clapper beats fog to win hill climb

10/11/2007

By Peter Oliver

One of life's great truths is that perfect doesn't always turn out to be perfect. Weather conditions at the start of Sunday's Allen Clark Hill Climb, the 6.2-mile bicycle time trial up Appalachian Gap, seemed ideal: mostly sunny and in the mid-50s.

What riders didn't know about was the nasty little headwind -- about 10 mph out of the north -- awaiting them about halfway into the ride. Nor were they aware of the apocalyptically foggy conditions at the summit of the gap. To get to the finish meant riding into a cool and damp swirl of soupy weather madness that gave timers fits just making out the numbers of riders as they passed by.

None of this, however, seemed to make much of a difference to Gerry Clapper of Avon, Connecticut, who battled the wind and sliced through the fog with a time of 27 minutes, 24 seconds. That made him the fasted rider among the 59 starters, ranging from 10-year-old Cooper Willsey of Hinesburg to 73-year-old Pete Murphy of South Glastonbury, Connecticut.

Just as unfazed as Clapper by the weird weather was Mary Fuchs of Hartford, Connecticut, the fastest woman in a time of 34:51.  That seemed to make the point, to borrow from the age-old expression, that when the going gets tough, riders from Connecticut seem to get going.

Second overall was perennial hotshot Thorin Markison from just over the hill in Danville, Vermont, who came in with a time of 28:37 - the only rider besides Clapper to bust through the 30-minute barrier. As an indication of just how hard the conditions were, Markison's time was almost a minute and a half slower than his time in last year's race, when conditions (including brand-new pavement) really were perfect.

Markison's ride was also plenty fast enough to make him winner of the weekend's lung-searing duathlon, combining the bike ride with Saturday's run up Mad River Glen, a.k.a. the Stark Mountain Hill Climb. Markison's total time of 56:18 put him almost five minutes ahead of second-place finisher Paul Welch of Stowe.

A number of Valley athletes showed up willing to push their heart rates into the red zone for the weekend's racing, often producing admirable results. Third in the 40-and-over category was Moretown's David Tremblay. Tremblay was actually last year's 40-and-over winner, so third might seem a comedown. But give him a break -- this summer he spent most of his training hours preparing for August's 750-mile Paris-Brest-Paris marathon in France, which he completed successfully in 70-some hours. Preparing for a short 30-minute effort had not been part of the training regimen. Under the circumstances, third place ain't bad.

Just a couple of minutes behind Tremblay in 10th in the 40-and-over category was Doug Lewis, better known for his downhill exploits. Lewis was a surprise entry, having made a last-minute escape from the family obligations of celebrating the Canadian Thanksgiving with Canadian wife Kelley. What better way to get ready for a gut-busting turkey feast than blowing off a few calories riding up App Gap?

Also noteworthy among local athletes was Marc Hammond, whose ride time of 35:27 helped to earn him fourth place among the weekend's duathletes. Hammond succeeded in doing what even the winning Markison was unable to do -- improve upon his duathlon time of last year.

Finally, a special nod should go to the three unicyclists who made the ride up the Gap this year. Mark Premo, the lone unicyclist last year, was again this year's one-wheel winner, arriving at the foggy finish in 50:57. And forget about the ride up -- who knows how those guys, without gears or brakes, made their way safely back down the mountain after racing.

The real winner of the climb, of course, was Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports, recipient of all the proceeds. Next time you see sit-skiers boarding the lift at Sugarbush, keep in mind that 59 riders struggling through the fall fog up App Gap were a part of making that possible.
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