Thursday, July 07, 2005

Steamboat Springs Town Challenge Mountain Bike Race: Sunshine Loop tests overall skill (and my fitness)

Yesterday my friend Jon Harris and I rode in the Steamboat Springs Town Challenge. It is part of a local race series with Mountain Biking in the summer and Downhill Skiing and Cross-Country Skiing in the winter. This weeks race took us up to nearly the top of Sundown lift in the Steamboat Ski Area.

The route started at the base area by Gondola Square headed up the zig-zag trail over to Valley View (typically the way most people go down the mountain on their mountian bikes) takes the road for a bit to the top of Thunderhead and over to Rendevous then get back down to business on Singletrack up to the top of the Sunshine Loop for about 7.5 solid miles of climbing. For the downhill you ride down the Sunshine loop through the Apsens on some of Steamboat's best tree runs over flowing singletrack, dumping you onto Storm Peak Challenge which takes to back to Thunderhead at the top of the gondola. From there you take the Zig Zag trail down to the base area with a small but significant climb up across the headwall run and then the final push downhill to the finish.

I had only ridden 2-3 times this year before the race including my guess at the course on Sunday with my friend Dana Blanchard. I don't know exactly how long it took us but it was more like 2 1/2 hours and could have been more, Dana was patient with me and he could have easily finished much faster. When I looked up the actual route I saw that it would take a much more challenging uphill path. I counted on this ride to have blown some rust out of the pipes so to speak and set my goal to make it in 2 1/2 hours or less.

The race has all kinds of categories, we picked Men's sport even though this was my first mountain bike race so that we could ride the longer route to the top of the Steamboat Ski Area.
Alden, Woody and Wendy walked over to wish us well and watch us start. Our time came to start at 6:09pm and we started the long climb up the mountain. I've ridden Zig Zag quite a few times before but had only ridden up the Valley View trail once both are great trails with Zig Zag being a little wider (avg 4 ft wide and Valley View consiting entirely of prime singletrack trail.

Over the first few miles we were passed by quite a few people from the waves behind us. Then we settled in to the rythum of the climb and I trailed Jon by 60-100 feet most of the way up and we traded places back and forth with a few of the women riders to the top of Thunderhead where the gondola peaks. The road over to the Sunshine area was a welcome relief but the backside of Sunshine loop was steeper and longer than I remembered. By the top I had nearly caught Jon and just passed Kate who had been with us since nearly the bottom.

On the downhill about halfway down there is a rogue section of steep rocky trail. As we came up to it I warned Jon is was coming so he slowed, as part of what must been a subconcoius strategy to pass him. It worked and I passed him then hit a rock and rolled over the rocky section in the air. My last bike was too small and prone to rolling in a steep downhill so luckily I avoided all of the rocks, came up standing and hopped back on my bike. From there I didn't feel the climb any more so I flew down the swoopy singletrack trail to Storm Peak challenge, didn't see Jon behind me but I knew Kate was behind him so I continued down to Zig Zag. On Zig Zag I pedaled hard when I could and passed nearly a dozen people (likely mostly from other classes). At the bottom of Zig Zag and in view of Steamboat Base area there was a short uphill section across the slopes. I carried at lot of speed into it and pedaled hard to pass the person I had been unable to pass in the rocky and dusty section we had just gone through. Soon after that both of my legs cramped strongly and froze full extended. Needless to say that hurt a bit. I tried to walk up the hill but could only step a few inches at a time so I tired to stretch and them laid down. All the people I had passed went right by and a few minutes later Jon came up. I felt a little better after some deepbreathing just as he passed and then followed him down to finish.

We finished in just under 2 hours. I was dead last in my class but I am proud that I did so much better than I had expected. I learned a lot about spinning on those long uphill sections and I think htat was a good part of the reason in addition to having Jon there to keep up with. Jon had done a Triathalon a few weeks before so he was a good person to try to keep up with.

The Steamboat Pilot: Sunshine Loop tests overall skill

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