Cyclists from around the world tested their mettle during the ninth annual Pedal to the Meadow Saturday. The 16-mile, mountainous, uphill race took more than 100 competitors along the Waimea Canyon rim and through Kokee State Park for panoramic ocean and valley views.
“It was nice. We had some cloud cover, a little light rain up top, but it was a really good race,” said competitor Garrett Scales of Lawai, who was racing in the event his sixth time. “I beat my personal best by a couple minutes, so it felt good.”
Kauai’s signature race put cyclists to the test as they pedaled over the hills and through the woods from sea-level Kekaha to the lush Kanaloahuluhulu Meadow at more than 3,800 feet in elevation.
“All the training has finally come down, all the hard work I put in has finally paid off,” said race winner Carl Nethercutt of Honolulu, who won the event for the second time in a row. “The climb itself is just absolutely breathtaking. It’s just amazing to be a part of the history of this mountain.”
Nethercutt started the race at an easy pace and waited to see where competitors would position themselves. A couple of riders made some attacks, and he let them go ahead. They eventually bridged, and the pack of three broke away right before the first mango tree. The two people riding next to Nethercutt were rivals from Oahu, so he kind of knew their strengths and how to play his strategy.
“I thought we were gonna battle all the way to the end, but after we passed the mango tree, I put in an attack and nobody ever got on my wheel,” said Nethercutt, team rider for Tradewind Cycling. “I kept the pace up and kept looking over my shoulder just to make sure.”
Two kilometers before the finish, his right hamstring started to twitch like it was about to cramp. So he pulled it back a little bit just before crossing the coned finish chute at 1 hour, 5 minutes and 7 seconds to be crowned “King of the Mountain.”
Previous king and former Kapaa resident, legendary Rick Beach of Oahu’s Outta Bounds cycling team, finished close behind at 1:05:31, after placing second last year. Jason Smith earned third place with at 1:07:30 finish time. Women’s winner was Kristen Osborn at 1:20:24. Junior division (age 10 to 19) winning time was 1:48:54 by Ian Penner, who graduates from Island School in a week. A $50 bonus from The Bike Shop was awarded to all nine youth that completed the race.
“Every time I come out here I’m always amazed, especially when you come down that big pass where the canyon opens up,” said Nethercutt, who manages The Bike Shop in Honolulu. “This is why I ride hard, this is why I climb the mountains, for those views.”
The USA Cycling-sanctioned bicycle hill climb race was presented by Bicycle Racing Kauai and Tradewind Cycling Team. The scenic and challenging climb started at hot, dry sea level and ended deep in the cool, wet upland forest of the island interior.
“It’s a fantastic event that’s grown throughout the years,” said volunteer Sherman Fong. “I’m a recreational biker, and I just admire these people.”
This was the first time taking part in the race for Alden Pablo of Kekaha, who was cycling for fun after a friend suggested entering the race.
“For the past two months, I’ve been just training here and there,” Pablo said.
Pablo is the president of Hanapepe Pop Warner Association and part of the Hanapepe Youth Baseball Association as well. “We just doing this to try to tell the kids you can do anything if you put your mind to it,” he added.
Competitor Pam Kruse of Kalaheo is an exercise physiologist and was joining the race for her sixth time.
“It was challenging, but we enjoyed it,” she said. “It’s fun, but it’s painful. It was an improvement from the last two years but not my best time.”
Elated racers finished at Kanaloahuluhulu Meadow for a picnic and awards ceremony with a hospitality area and bike racks by the stone pavilion. Of the 102 registered competitors, 97 were able to complete the grueling uphill ascent.
“I’m too big to win, but descending is the way to go. It’s so fun,” said Sherrill Dean of Lihue, who works for helicopter companies and has competed in every Pedal to the Meadow race since it began. “The weather is perfect and all the volunteers do great. We’re just stoked.”
In a race tradition, John Ferguson, Roy Hirano and Kalaheo Cafe crew generously served warm snacks to racers and volunteers. Bikers socialized in the green meadow and visited Kokee Lodge before taking the downhill descent in preparation for today’s Mana Time Trial and the new Cycle on the Strip Criterium at Kauai Raceway Park. Spectators are welcome inside the course to watch the action at the westernmost National Hot Rod Association drag strip in the country.
A Memorial Day group bike ride will take place Monday at 8:30 a.m. from Lydgate Beach Park in Wailua to Kilauea Lighthouse and back. All race participants, friends, family and volunteers are invited to pedal out to Kilauea’s Crater Hill overlook on the 40-mile Eastside Social Spin, with a smoothie stop along the way.
John Steinhorst, reporter, can be reached at 245-0435 or email@example.com.