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Written by guest blogger Christie Sausa

Picture this: it’s a beautiful golden afternoon in Wilmington, New York. You are on your bike poised for an 8-mile bike race. But this isn’t just any bike race - your course will take you up historic Whiteface Mountain, the site of the 1980 Winter Olympics skiing events and the fifth-highest peak in New York. Can you make it to the top?

Several cyclists pedal uphill on the Veterans' Memorial Highway

It is this challenge that has brought visitors and locals alike to the Whiteface Uphill Bike Race on June 3rd at 5:30 pm, celebrating its 21st year of racing this year.

The region is uniquely suited for such an event. Although Lake Placid tends to get all the sports hype, the neighboring community of Wilmington is a paradise for outdoor sports, especially biking. In the winter, Whiteface tends to attract the bulk of visitors seeking skiing and snowboarding on its slopes. Still, there are trails nearby for determined hikers looking to scale the mountains with spikes instead of skis. In the summer, these rugged landscapes are utilized by several different race events: the Ironman Lake Placid triathlon race course runs through the region on July 23rd, but before that, Wilmington hosts the Uphill Bike Race and Foot Race on June 3rd (it’s the first year the foot race will be run concurrently with the bike race), the Whiteface Wilmington Mountain Bike Race June 4th, and the Whiteface Wilmington Whiskey Run June 17th.

While they embrace all athletes and outdoors enthusiasts, Wilmington seems to take special pride in its importance in the cycling scene. Driving through, you will be greeted by a large bike statue next to the Wilmington Visitor’s Bureau, (which is also the start for the Uphill Bike Race),  and local businesses like the Cadence Lodge cater to the scores of cycling athletes training for or competing in the various events.

The Uphill Bike Race is a challenge for even the most seasoned racer. According to PJAMM Cycling, the leading global resource for bike climbing in the world, the Whiteface climb is the hardest and highest climb in New York, and it’s easy to see why. The ascent begins before you even pass the tollbooth, where, in season, bikers would normally pay $15 to bike up the course. That’s the three-mile mark, and where the challenge starts to get real - from there, it’s nearly five miles of 8.4% grading to the top, with no flat spots or descents.

As you wind slowly up the mountain, you will notice spectacular views all along the route, including Taylor and Franklin Falls ponds and a stunning view of Lake Placid from the 6.6-mile turn.

You will know you’re at the top when you see the stunning stone castle that caps the summit. After you finish, walk up the distinctive stone steps and get an even more amazing view of Lake Placid, the Olympic ski jumps, and surrounding vistas! 

Two cyclists pedal uphill on the Whiteface Veterans' Memorial Highway with grand Adirondack views in the background

There are many uphill bike races throughout the United States, but the Whiteface Uphill Bike Race stands out for its history and its unique course.

The Whiteface Veterans Memorial Highway was dedicated to the memory of World War I veterans by Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1929; he would return to open it in 1936, this time as President. In 1980, the mountain would host Olympic skiing events, and now it continues to host National and World events.

Also of interest - the mountain not only hosts an Uphill Bike Race, but a Mountain Bike Race. The Wilmington Whiteface Mountain Bike Race takes place the following day, on Sunday, June 4th, and previously served as a qualifier for the prestigious Leadville Trail 100 MTB, which requires competitors to ride 100 miles over mountainous terrain.

Then there are the technical specs. The course is USATF certified, and second only in elevation gain to the well-known Mt. Washington climb in New Hampshire. Whiteface Mountain ranks as a legitimate Top 50 US Climb, (it’s #43) and, according to PJAMM cycling, is the westernmost of the Five Top 100 U.S. Climbs within a 150-mile radius in the northeastern part of the United States. The rest are the aforementioned Mt. Washington in New Hamshire and Mts Equinox, Ascutney, and Burke in nearby Vermont.

It’s these stats that have made it a favorite of competitive and recreational bikies from throughout the US and Canada, and those closer to home.

Lake Placid’s Richie Karaz will be competing in the Uphill for the fifth time this year in the Masters 60 division. An uphill cycling enthusiast, he has also competed in an event on the Devil’s Kitchen rise in the Catskills, one of the steepest climbs in the Northeast and US. But the Whiteface course stands out for its challenge and scenic rewards.

“Whiteface is both physically and mentally tough to put the perfect ride together,” he explained. “Some have said the distance and effort are similar to the climb of l'Alpe d'Huez and for cyclists to experience this climb with the views, the physical demand, and to be rewarded by achieving a summit with other passionate riders is a ‘don't miss' opportunity.”

Triathlete and gravel cyclist Steve Maas (Barre, Vermont) last competed in the event in 2019, but would gladly do it again. The 45-year-old has participated in Race to the Top of Vermont, Vermont’s signature hill climb race, which has dirt roads and more variability compared to the steady grade of Whiteface. He noted that the Whiteface Uphill race was fun but also had a unique elite vibe not easily found in the US.

“I went with a friend and we had a great time. I think it's the closest thing to a European grand tour stage climb that you can find in the eastern US, except for Mt. Washington.  Not as big or famous, of course, but the winding, steady course, spectacular views, and competitive crowd make it easy to imagine you're going for polka-dot jersey points at the summit (even if you're actually just a dad having fun on a bike).”

Others seem to feel the same. The event consistently attracts several hundred participants, using mountain bikes, road bikes, and even unicycles to pedal up to the summit. Spectators are also allowed and can buy spectator passes at the check-in for the event.
As tends to be the case in this region, you never know who you might be racing with. Over the years Olympians and Olympic hopefuls have taken part in the Uphill Bike Race and is a favorite for athletes who use the event as a training opportunity or a fun challenge. Perhaps Karaz sums it up the best.

“The Veteran's Highway is a treasure and to participate with competitors from near and far on such a beautiful yet tough course is a privilege.”

For more information on the Whiteface Uphill Bike Race, visit the event page


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