By the time the top four entrants at the 39th annual I Made the Grade cycling race reached Clarkston’s Red Wolf Crossing on a picturesque Saturday morning, the edge had been set — the pack was already in front by a couple of minutes.

It was such a quick start from off the blocks at Chief Timothy Park, in fact, that even the police officers in charge of positioning traffic blockades near the bridge were caught a bit off guard. The barriers weren’t yet ready.

That considered, it wasn’t entirely a surprise that the two leaders, who’d broken away from the others at the Spiral Highway slope’s start, were in range of snapping the 18-mile, uphill course’s record, which coordinators conjectured was around the “upper-40s (minutes).”

It might’ve been just shy, but the smoldering 50:21 mark from the winner, Moscow’s Albert Harrison, struck onlookers with awe nonetheless.

“I was going for it,” said Harrison in the midst of lauds from the competition. “You share the lead, rotate through until we hit that first little climb. Then, it was kinda every man for himself.”

In his first crack at the race, Harrison — a professional duathlete (biking and running) — accrued room just above the base of Lewiston Hill, enough to ultimately upend Spokane’s Shawn Howard, the reigning two-time champion, by just over two minutes.

He’d done the same the week prior, at White Bird’s “Just for the Hill of It” race. Harrison and Howard now sit first and second all-time in that event.

But this one, Harrison said, “took some more strategy” — unlike that of the no-nonsense White Bird ascent.

In his latest race, the 31-year-old Harrison supplied himself a little draft in the 8-mile flat portion, below the snaking road’s incline, then blistered ahead, using turns as checkpoints with nary a challenger afoot.

Of course, he implemented a will stemming from his broad athletic background that includes collegiate running at Berry College (Georgia) and a showing at the 2018 duathlon world championships in Switzerland.

“I’d ridden the climb, but never done the event. Since I was in town this weekend, I figured I’d come see how fast I could do it,” said Harrison, who’s been stalled from upcoming duathlon events with a heel injury. “It’s what I’m always training for anyway.”

Allie Wooderchak, 2018’s champion, was not unseated, even though she trained about half as much this year in comparison to her standard 1,000 hours, mostly due to the long winter and renovations she’s been making to her home.

She still managed to top her 2018 time by about three minutes, finishing at 1:10:57.

Becoming a consecutive Grade champ? She couldn’t have foreseen that.

“I just enjoy riding, the challenge,” she said. “This year, I was like, ‘Ya know, I’m at a certain level of fitness, so I’ll just go for it and see what happens.’

“I rode as much as I could when I wasn’t busy. A lot of hills — Cloverland Grade, Anatone Grade and this one are like normal workouts.”

Wooderchak, from Moscow, said she’s grown more accustomed to the hill and the speeds of upper-echelon riders in her second time at the event. Her background in yoga instruction certainly doesn’t hurt.

“Last year was about getting the jitters out and learning to ride with those fast guys in the front — learning to do that takes a two-year advantage,” said Wooderchak, last week’s White Bird winner as well. “Last year, I rode with (Gwen Clark) and that’s a big challenge riding next to someone you’re trying to go back and forth with.”

Clark, the Masters winner and twice the overall women’s victor, crossed the finish a minute behind Wooderchak.

“I could see (Wooderchak), but I couldn’t catch her. Darn it,” Clark said with a laugh.

Clark, who’s done the event 29 times, was pleased with her improved time on the steep incline, which she said she prefers over flat sections because rather than race, “there’s only so much you can do.”

Speaking of race mainstays — 72-year-old Bill McPherson of Sandpoint and Lewiston’s Scott Whiteley, age 63, earned wins in their age groups and finished fifth and seventh overall, respectively.

McPherson’s been traversing the Grade on-and-off since 1988. More recently, it’s become somewhat of an excuse to stay active. Saturday, he “never looked back,” shirked his soreness and reached the summit at an unprecedented pace. And he was modest as could be afterwards, even going as far as saying “just that I finished is something.”

“It brings out the competitiveness, which not enough of us have that,” he said. “We like to say it, but we don’t, especially as you get older.”

Chipped in Whiteley on McPherson’s day: “I’m 10 years younger than him and he’s always ahead of me, always.”

Perhaps most impressive, though, was Whiteley’s disposition.

Last year, he suffered an abdominal aortic aneurysm and only survived because of a timely call placed by his wife, and a life flight to Spokane.

Smiling and revealing his scar, he said he “should’ve been dead a year ago,” but “I survived, and I’m right back at it again.”

Right back like he never left, with a 1:07:16 mark that fell only three minutes short of his personal-best.

NOTE — Proceeds from the I Made the Grade race go toward Clarkston Wesleyan Church’s Elevate Basketball camp, which is free for kids ages 6-14 and will be held from July 29-31.

OVERALL TOP 50

1, Albert Harrison, 31, Moscow, 50:21. 2, Shawn Howard, 41, Colbert, Wash., 52:36. 3, Michael Giodanengo, 59, McCall, 58:21. 4, Eric Bowen, 31, Moscow, 1:01:03. 5, William McPherson, 72, Sandpoint, 1:03:12. 6, Jimmy Albright, 56, Clarkston, 1:05:29. 7, Scott Whiteley, 63, Lewiston, 1:07:16. 8, Shawn Engel, 52, Spokane Valley, Wash., 1:07:44. 9, Jared Hopkins, 33, Lewiston, 1:09:30. 10, Jason Brown, 43, Garfield, 1:09:32. 11, Tim Wells, 50, Pullman, 1:09:33. 12, Allie Wooderchak, 27, Moscow, 1:10:57. 13, Mark Sellet, 39, Lewiston, 1:11:26. 14, Ed Winterbottom, 62, Moscow, 1:11:47. 15, Gwen Clark, 52, Clarkston, 1:11:58. 16, Mike Klaus, 53, Bonners Ferry, Idaho, 1:13:07. 17, John Coy, 55, Lewiston, 1:13:22. 18, Jerry Stevenson, 59, Rathdrum, Idaho, 1:14:12. 19, Anthony O’Neel, 38, Spokane Valley, Wash., 1:14:18. 20, Scott Youngren, 23, Pullman, 1:15:52. 21, Gene Slatter, 64, Spokane, 1:17:06. 22, Seth Sjoholm, 40, Moscow, 1:17:49. 23, Cecily Winterbottom, 45, Moscow, 1:18:18. 24, Karen Mullikin, 50, Clarkston, 1:19:59. 25, Scot Boyd, 64, Spokane Valley, Wash., 1:20:04. 26, Sheila Ames, 57, Lewiston, 1:20:38. 27, Ross Procter, 56, Clarkston, 1:20:50. 28, Lou Kenworthy, 62, Pasco, Wash., 1:21:39. 29, Lars Sjoholm, 76, Friday Harbor, Wash., 1:21:44. 30, Mark Swenson, 63, Spokane, 1:21:50. 31, Troy Hodges, 37, Spokane, 1:22:43. 32, Megan Hodges, 31, Spokane, 1:22:43. 33, Eve Strongoni, 47, Moscow, 1:23:57. 34, Mark Spears, 56, Lewiston, 1:24:18. 35, Shawnell Engel, 47, Spokane Valley, Wash., 1:24:36. 36, Amy Meeks, 50, Round Rock, Texas, 1:27:02. 37, Mason McCroskey, 33, Clarkston, 1:27:24. 38, Michele Faucher, 55, Lewiston, 1:28:00. 39, Jerrad Porter, 39, Lewiston, 1:28:32. 40, Eli Nelson, 45, Pullman, 1:29:31. 41, Erik Muhs, 51, Spokane Valley, Wash., 1:30:34. 42, Colleen Mundy, 64, Lewiston, 1:30:52. 43, Eli Gibler, 45, Colfax, 1:32:29. 44, William Stanke, 62, Moscow, 1:32:43. 45, Craig Kole, 41, 1:33:39. 46, Ron Watson, 61, Loon Lake, Wash., 1:33:47. 47, Jeff Mueller, 51, Round Rock, Texas, 1:35:38. 48, Mark Hodges, 63, Dayton, Wash., 1:40:19. 49, Karl Hakimian, 55, Viola, Idaho, 1:42:39. 50, Lynn Wardle, 71, 1:43:33.

GROUP WINNERS

WOMEN

Overall — Allie Wooderchak, 27, Moscow, 1:10:57.

Masters — Gwen Clark, 52, Clarkston, 1:11:58.

20-29 — Wooderchak.

40-49 — Cecily Winterbottom, 45, Moscow, 1:18:18.

50-59 — Clark.

60-69 — Colleen Mundy, 64, Lewiston, 1:30:52.

MEN

Overall — Albert Harrison, 31, Moscow, 50:21.

Masters — Shawn Howard, 41, Colbert, Wash., 52:36.

20-29 — Scott Youngren, 23, Pullman, 1:15:52.

30-39 — Harrison.

40-49 — Howard.

50-59 — Michael Giodanengo, 59, McCall, 58:21.

60-69 — Scott Whiteley, 63, Lewiston, 1:07:16.

70-79 — William McPherson, 72, Sandpoint, 1:03:12.

Clark may be reached at cclark@lmtribune.com, on Twitter @ClarkTrib or by phone at (208) 848-2260.

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