Hurt Knee? No Problem. Tim Ahearn Rides His Way Up Mountains.

After Tim Ahearn hurt his knee, he had to give up running and weightlifting, which is how he hurt his knee.

Maybe he would try biking. Maybe he would sign up for a race. The Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb looked intriguing, a 7.6-mile race up the Northeast's highest peak (6,288 feet). So he signed up for it. And trained as best he could, given the fact that he didn't know a lot about cycling or training for mountain races.

Three years ago, Ahearn, 38, of Woodstock went to Mt. Washington in August. He finished third, an unknown amongst some of the top competitors in the sport gathered there.

"I didn't know anything about it," Ahearn said last week. "You learn later that it's this cult race, very prestigious. All these big names in cycling have done it and won it."

His wife, Dr. Aimee Eggleston, who is an equine veterinarian in Woodstock, went to watch her husband that year.

"It was funny, as a spectator," she said. "They have their checkpoints and they're announcing. You could hear a couple big names, first and second, and they're like, 'Third is…' There was a long pause, 'Number …' and you could kind of hear the rustling, like they're flipping through, going, 'Who is this?' 'Tim Ahearn.' I was like, 'Oh!' I was jumping up and down."

Now they know who he is. Ahearn, who played basketball and ran track in high school in Maryland but had never been a cyclist until 2010, finished third again in 2011. He was 10th last year due to illness, injury and some really fast competition and he is training again for the Aug. 17 Hillclimb.

Saturday, he warmed up with another race up Mt. Washington called Newton's Revenge. Ahearn finished third in 59 minutes, 6 seconds, less than a minute behind winner Dereck Treadwell.

The two races are known as the toughest hillclimbs in the world due to the average grade of the auto road, which is 12 percent. The Revenge was born due to the popularity of the Hillclimb, which attracts Olympians, mountain bikers, triathletes and top cyclists. Only 635 competitors are accepted into a race. Former East Lyme resident Tom Danielson, who was the top American finisher in the 2011 Tour de France, set the Hillclimb record (49:24) in 2002.

Ahearn didn't know any of this when he set out to race it the first time.

"I had no idea what I was doing," he said. "I had no idea how to train. I had this vague idea that other people rode their bikes too. I went out every day, plotted out some sort of route and did it and went home and did it again the next day. When I did well at Mt. Washington, the next day, someone called me and said, 'Do you want to go riding?' I said, 'Sure.'

"Before that, it was a solitary thing. Mt. Washington connected me with a whole bike community. It's been really gratifying."

Last year, Ahearn was the top finisher in the BUMPS (Bike Up Mountain Point Series) series, which encompasses a series of mountain races. This year, he has already won the Wachusett Mountain Hill Climb on May 11, a 3.7-mile trek up 1,162-foot Wachusett Mountain in Princeton, Mass.

He went to Wachusett Wednesday to train and rode up the mountain four times at almost maximum pace. He rides two hours a day during the week, 4-5 hours on weekend days. He manages his wife's veterinary business; the couple also has a young daughter.

Aidan Charles of New Haven, a Category 1 cyclist who is the captain of the Aetna Cycling Team based in Middletown, invited Ahearn to be on the team last winter.

"It's impressive for him to compete against the guys he has," said Charles, an endurance athlete coach who now coaches Ahearn. "To place [at Mt. Washington] is very unusual.

"He has raw power. A big engine. He's not a great sprinter but he keeps a steady pace. He'd be a monster 10K-half marathoner if he was a runner."

Because his sights are set on the Hillclimb in August, Ahearn trained hard this week, through Saturday's race on Mt. Washington. It didn't help Saturday that the winds were gusting between 45-60 mph and there was rain and fog at the top with zero visibility and temperatures in the 50s. Treadwell, the 2011 winner who was an Olympic Trials finalist in the 1,500 meters and a former All-American runner at the University of Maine, won again in 58:14 Saturday.

"Wasn't the best performance for me but that's something to gun for in August!" Ahearn wrote in a text message Saturday.

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