SUNDERLAND -- A race that started as badly as it could had a storybook finish for the winner of Saturday’s Gear Up For Lyme Uphill Bike Climb.
Chris Yura, a 35 year-old cyclist from Bryn Mawr, Penn., crashed his bike at the starting line when he lost his footing on one of his pedals. He tumbled sideways on the starting line, bruising an arm, but got back on his bike and took off in pursuit of the rest of the first wave of riders on their way up a demandingly steep 5.4 miles course to the summit of Mt. Equinox.
"You don’t expect that to happen," he said matter-of-factly less than an hour later at the summit, where despite his inauspicious start, he wound up as the first place overall finisher in the 11th running of the bike challenge, with a time of 39 minutes, 19 second.
The course record for the race was set in 2012 by Erik Levinsohn, with a time of 35:51.
Remarkably, despite his bad start, he finished in second place for a $500 prize that goes to the rider who completes the first mile of the course the fastest. That honor went to 23 year-old Alec Babala of Nashua, N.H., who covered the first mile of the course in 5:52 seconds, well ahead of the rest of the pack. But Yura finished a respectable second, with a time of 6:11 seconds.
He went on to dominate the rest of the course, finishing a comfortable distance ahead of second-place finisher Erik Vandendries, 49, of Chestnut Hill, Mass., who clocked in with a time of 40:52. Gerry Clapper, 53, of Avon, Conn.
Coming in fourth overall, and the first female rider to cross the finish line, was Marti Shea, 51, of Marblehead, Mass, with a time of 42:28. She holds the women’s record for the event, which she also set in 2012, when she posted a time of 41:48.
What made Shea’s accomplishment this year all the more noteworthy was that she is also recovering from Lyme Disease, which she contracted earlier this year, she told the other participants during the awards ceremonies after the race.
Shortly after she had crossed the finish line, she said this race had been a little more difficult because she found herself riding alone for much of it, without a nearby rider to push or challenge her.
"I was in my own little place," she said.
Despite the obvious physical challenge of surmounting a course that rises almost 3,250 over the 5.4 mile course to the summit, for a 12 percent average grade, Shea said uphill biking was a safer version of bike races that traverse flatter terrain. Riders just can’t get going all that fast, and crashing into another rider is uncommon, Shea said.
"It takes the danger out of it and it’s just a physical feat," she said.
Local riders who stood out were James Sawtelle, 34, of Manchester, who finished 33rd overall with a time of 51:47, and Ken Cestone, 76, of Bennington, who won his age division going away with a remarkable time of 57:20, good for a 50th place overall finish.
One hundred cyclists finished the race, out of a starting field of 102.
The Gear Up For Lyme Bike Challenge started in 2004 and raises funds for Lyme Disease research as well as for charitable works of the Manchester Rotary Club. The Rotary Club has raised more than $71,000 for the Lyme Disease Association during the 11 years the event has been held.