From the start of Saturday’s Pedal to the Meadow on Kokee Road to the finish at Kokee State Park, Kauai’s Rick Beach and Oahu’s Jeff Terebey were never far from each other.
They dueled throughout the 15.75-mile bike ride that gained 3,835 feet of elevation. The lead changed hands as they battled on the uphills and turns under the sun.
For the final 11 miles, they broke away from the pack and went head-to-head, trading surges and testing each other.
With two miles to go, on an uphill, Beach knew it was time.
“He’s got a really strong sprint so I couldn’t leave it for the finish, I took off before then,” he said. “I tried to get away and he was right on my wheel in the end. I surged one more time and just got a little bit of a gap.”
The 37-year-old powered to the finish line at Kanaloahuluhulu Meadow and won in an unofficial 1 hour, 7 minutes and 11 seconds. The 28-year-old Terebey was 23 seconds back in 1:07:34.
Beach defended the title he won last year, and earned his third Pedal to the Meadow crown, having won the inaugural year in 2010. As “King of the Mountain,” the traditional term for the winner of mountain stages, he earned a yellow jersey, his third.
“I’m pleasantly surprised and relieved,” he said. “That was nice.”
Mary Williamson, co-director with husband Binney, said conditions were ideal with sunshine and heat early on, dry roads, little traffic, great views of Waimea Canyon and cooler temperatures above.
About 100 cyclists completed the seventh annual ride, all sent on their way by starter Susan Gray. There were juniors, seniors, fathers and sons, and a handful of doctors, too.
“Riding your bike up to Kokee might have been the safest place to be today,” Williamson said, laughing.
Line Gulliksen, 25, of Norway, won the women’s division as she finished in 1:16:23 to break the course record by 22 seconds set last year by Moniqe van der Aa of Oahu.
Gulliksen said she had been battling a respiratory illness and only started racing three weeks ago. Her legs carried her through the demanding course as she fought to catch her breath at times.
“I wasn’t too excited about the race. I knew I would lose the lead group pretty fast,” she said.
But the woman born on the Fourth of July maintained her edge on the uphills, which she said was a bit surprising.
“I felt really good. It’s been a long time since I felt good climbing a hill,” she said.
Gulliksen knew she was headed to victory once the course flattened out a bit toward the top and left her with rolling hills.
“The final stretch was fun,” she said.
For winning, Beach and Gulliksen get their names on a“perpetual trophy” made from Kokee koa.
Beach said the race was quite painful at times, especially in the final miles.
“That was not much fun,” he said, smiling as he recovered. “That was rough. I was trying to keep up with this guy (Terebey) and not get dropped. He was incredibly strong so I was just worried about staying on his wheel.”
Terebey, who placed third last year, said he tried to get away from Beach but couldn’t.
“I was hurting,” he said. “He got away from me down the stretch and that was it.”
Grace Acain, a volunteer, was part of the fun as she cheered on riders and handed out water bottles — all while wearing the head of a chicken costume.
“Way to go!” she shouted at a cyclist zipping by.
“I enjoy doing this,” she said, grinning. “Coming to Kokee, being here, it’s all fun.”
Cyclist Ian Laguatan of Kekaha enjoyed the day. He finished with a huge smile and a triumphant wave.
He said the support, the volunteers and the riders were all inspiring.
“That makes me really appreciate everyone who made the effort just to be here,” he said. “They’re not all competitors. Some are here for the love or passion of the race. That just really shows the love.”
Padraic Gallagher, Red Cross director of Disaster Services for Kauai, was pleased with his performance. The hills, he said, were tough, but he found motivation to keep pushing to the finish from the riders around him.
“It always feels good when you’re done,” he said, smiling. “That’s always the best part.”