'Beyond categorization': Mount Equinox ride highlight of Vermont Challenge
MANCHESTER — Dozens of cyclists will have the chance of a lifetime on Sunday, as the Vermont Challenge will host a climb up Mount Equinox for the first time in the event's history.
For the seventh year of the challenge, riders on Sunday will ride a 56-mile stage and the last 5.3 miles of that will be Skyline Drive in Manchester, starting at the base of Mount Equinox and heading up nearly 3,200 feet to the summit.
"The pitch of the mountain is between 11 and 12 percent and the switchbacks are more like 20 percent," said Challenge organizer John Sohikian. "The riders who do the full stage will be riding over Little Equinox before coming up the mountain."
Sohikian said the Challenge is now with the Gran Fondo National Series. They partnered with a company called Haute Route and the CEO, Alain Lambert, rode up Mount Equinox and told Sohikian needed to find a way to make it part of the next ride. But Skyline Drive is only open for this event and Sohikian said the logistical challenges of the Sunday event were many.
"We needed to find a way to do it and we needed to get the approval from the monks," said Sohikian, talking about members of the Charterhouse of the Transfiguration, the only Carthusian monastery in North America which has its headquarters on the Equinox summit. "Once we did, we included it in the Challenge. It's an amazing experience."
Many riders will compete in just the Mount Equinox time trial, where riders can compete for medals and bragging rights in the 5.3-mile trek.
The event is considered an HC or 'hors categorie', which translates to 'beyond categorization.' It's the only one in Vermont and the only similar one is Mount Washington in New Hampshire. No one has climbed Mount Equinox on a bicycle since 2015, Sohikian said.
"It's the 'creme de la creme' of rides in Vermont, it's going to be a fun event," Sohikian said.
On Saturday, riders will have the opportunity to compete in one of four tours, each one longer than the last. There's a Piccolo Fondo of 27.4 miles, a Gran Piccolo Fondo of 46.8 miles, a Medio Fondo that is 65.7 miles and the longest a Gran Fondo of 110.6 miles. The Gran Fondo has a total of 8,608 feet of climbing in the stage, including a four-mile finish to the summit of Stratton Mountain. The shorter races will start at the Bondville Community Center.
Thursday and Friday rides are a part of what is called the Valley challenge. On Thursday, riders start at Dana Thompson Rec Park in Manchester and take a 70-mile ride through Pawlet, Rupert and in New York state. On Friday, starting at Dana Thompson Park, the 58.5-mile ride goes up to Middletown Springs and hits towns including Mount Tabor and Danby.
Riders will stop along the route at places including Wilcox Ice Cream, Grafton Cheese and the Vermont Country Store, among others.
Riders from 28 states and four Canadian provinces will descend on Vermont this weekend for the events, some will compete all four days, while others will ride for three.
The event will start on Wednesday with a rider's meeting and check-in, along with a welcome dinner at the Taconic Hotel in Manchester.
Four different food banks, along with Stratton Urgent Care and Grace Cottage Hospital, will benefit from the weekend's events.
For more information on the challenge, visit vtchallenge.org.
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