On what was called a perfect day for a race by cyclists and organizers from around the country and even Mexico, riders showed up to compete Sunday against each other and the mountain. It was time again for the 33rd annual Mt. Graham Hill Climb and Arizona State Championship Hill Climb.
Riders began arriving at the event holding lot next to the Federal Prison just shy of the milepost 115 starting line at 3,600 feet above sea level at 7 a.m. Sunday, Sept 30.
They were all dressed in their brightly colored riding outfits and mounted on their high-dollar, finely tuned climbing bikes. The ride would take them to milepost 135, just short of Snowflat campgrounds on Mount Graham at 9,000 feet above sea level.
The event riders mustered at the opening of the lot for announcements and the playing of the national anthem. The main body of riders then mounted up and moved on to highway 366, where car traffic was being stopped for the event by an Arizona Department of Public Safety officer.
Event organizer Edward “Nippy” Feldhake, spoke about the hill climb after sending off the first batch of riders on the road up Mount Graham.
“We have a good field. We have four guys trying to break the record: Two returning champions. We’ve got quite a few from Mexico that will be working as team. My only concern is the construction,” Feldhake said. “We got (have) a good junior field and could set two records. The numbers are down from last year, but that makes me happy because of the construction. Less people, less concern.”
Feldhake went back to the starting line to send off the juniors and seniors who were only going to do the 10-mile race, instead of the 20-mile race that the main body of riders was already engaged with.
After the race, the contestants met at the Eastern Arizona College in the Activities Center main meeting room for awards and food.
One interesting note about the race is that it originally started 33 years ago with only local sponsorship. There is no local sponsors now, according to Thomas Feldhake, Nippy’s brother. Nippy said the sponsor is now Tri-sports.com.
Also of note: Almost all the racers completed the hill climb, and there were no accidents or injuries.
The overall men's winner was Fortunato Ferrara from Los Alamos, N.M. He was not available for an interview because he had a long drive back home. His scorching time was 1:24:50.
The overall woman’s winner was Alisha Welsh from Tucson with a time of 1:47:08. It was her third time in the race, and her husband Dave Welsh also rode in the event. The two met in high school in Utah and after marrying, transplanted themselves in Tucson.
“We started cycling after we got married,” Alisha said. “She was a talented runner in high school and college,” Dave said.
“He got me into it. I love the mountain and pretty much anything that goes uphill,” Alisha said.
Alisha said they train on Mount Lemmon next to Tucson. She also complimented the local atmosphere here in the Gila Valley.
“The people are very welcoming. One local gave us a recommendation on where to eat last night,” said Alisha.
Nathan Davis from Tucson edged out Mark Aasmundstand N.M. to win the Arizona State Hill Climb championship by :08 seconds with a time of 1:28:05 to the top of Mount Graham.
The race was his third time at this event, and he said he enjoys the climb.
“I love it. Epic climb. A very humbling ride up. It doesn’t matter how fast or slow, just a great time in nature,” Davis said.
He commented on the riders' sportsmanship when everybody agreed to not take advantage through the construction zone. He is currently studying bio-technolgy at Pima Community College. He spent five years teaching math at Ha-San Prep, a Native American charter school, before going back to college.
Davis said it is important to make his inner self rise to the occasion. “Being out there and having a good time, enjoying it, pushing yourself to your limits and capabilities,” he said.
For complete race results of all 38 categories go to www.presteza.com.