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So while we were in Steamboat Springs for the Steamboat Stinger 50, the lovely folks at Wheels Bike Shop told us about a Town Challenge series XC race on the Wednesday night before. Intrigued, my friends Sarah and Hadley weren’t tough to convince this was a great idea and so we entered the race soon after finding out about it.
The race was up and back down Mount Werner, which I’d never ridden without a snowboard or even seen without snow, but looking at the course map for Sport (for myself and Hadley) and Pro (which Sarah would race of course) I knew we’d be in for 1hr+ of climbing then a ripping descent. This was part of a series which was actually postponed from the prior week due to wildfire smoke and air quality concerns, so we were lucky to get an opportunity to stretch out the legs and see what our lungs would do at race pace.
When a few Floridians showed up at registration we got a couple laughs and comments, and rightfully so. We hadn’t ridden the course, we lived at sea level, and had zero idea of what racing over a mile up would even look like. Heck, the last time I did a true XC race was for a charity race that I helped put on! Being focused on Endurance Racing definitely had my fitness in a different place than a wide open XC suffer fest, but I decided to just send it and see what the body let me do.
Lining up I found out while the overall Sport Class had about 20 riders, my age group of 35-49 was actually only 3 guys. I joked that our chances of a podium was looking pretty good as we lined up and got ready to tackle Mount Werner. When the gun went off, of course I went hard, for no reason other than force of habit. Quickly the others caught me, both in my age group and the 50+ guys who were plentiful and powerful. I settled into a power and heart rate range that felt good, doing my best not to let the other racers get out of sight but not blow myself up either.
Changing from gravel roads to singletrack switchback, up and up we climbed. Past the chair lifts and towards the gondola peak, I was able to pass the top rider in my class near the top as the trail turned downwards. Now in the list of things that are a good idea, riding a lift-assisted DH part descent on a full carbon XC bike at race pace with no pre-ride is pretty far down the list. But that didn’t stop me from sending it, just holding on and trying to gap out the local racers I knew were closing on me fast.
Turn after turn I could hear them coming, but as a few of the Pros came around me I’d try to latch on and watch their lines on the DH as much as possible. Ripping down we had one last punchy and technical climb which made me feel at home. All we have in Florida is short punch climbs, so I pushed through them and was able to pull back some space on guys in other classes who had passed me.
Approaching the bottom it started to open up from the forest into an open field of switchbacks. I knew one of the other riders in my class was right on my wheel, and any mistake would cost me dearly. I took my hands off the brakes as much as possible and pushed into every corner. Catching another rider in the 50+ class I encouraged him to ride a little faster than we both should, almost causing a crash just minutes from the finish.
The finish dumped us out onto a gravel road with a short 200m section up hill to the line. Coming out of the trail with someone right on my wheel, I knew I had to empty the tank to the line. Sprinting to the finish I was able to capture the win by a mere 4 seconds!
I was completely out of breath but congratulated my other racers on a great race as I cooled off and waited for my other Floridians to finish. We did pretty well with a first and third place on the day going up against the locals on their own trails, giving us confidence for the Steamboat Stinger 50 on Saturday.
Also, I’m pretty sure this is my first win in a bike race, so having that come in Colorado in a race with 3000 feet of climbing was pretty special. I’m really glad the folks at Wheels Bike Shop told us about this race as it was a blast and definitely helped us prepare for the Steamboat Stinger!
Here’s a little sneak peek of the photos Jemma took. Be sure to register to see the whole gallery of the Steamboat Springs Town Challenge Race at Mt. Werner.