Eagle cyclocross race attracts veterans, newcomers alike at the fairgrounds | VailDaily.com

Eagle cyclocross race attracts veterans, newcomers alike at the fairgrounds

EAGLE — So mountain-bike racing isn't tough enough for you? Let's just put some more obstacles in the way.

Welcome to Vail Recreation District cyclocross at the Eagle County Fairgrounds, where Jake Wells edged out Ciro Zarate in the pro division on Wednesday, Sept. 27.

This was the first of two VRD cyclocross events open to racers of all abilities. The second and final race of the series is Wednesday, Oct. 4.

In answer to the question …

What in the wild, wild world of sports is cyclocross? The answer comes from Wells, who has been competing in the sport since 2007.

"Essentially, it's a blend between road and mountain (biking)," Wells said as he was putting the finishing touches on the course at the fairgrounds as the beginners were racing.

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The course on Wednesday had a lap of nearly a mile. The kicker is that the course had logs, other wooden barriers a staircase and steep gravel paths. The barriers often required riders to dismount from their bikes and, sometimes, carry them.

The racer who finishes the most laps in the allotted amount of time wins.

"It's fun because there's a lot technique to it and you're not going to get it right every time," Wells said.

Wells clearly did well enough as he edged out Zarate by about 10 seconds, as both managed 10 laps in roughly 42 minutes. That's a pace of 4 minutes, 12 seconds per mile, including stretches where each had to get of the saddle and run with their bikes.

"It's completely the opposite of what I'm used to racing," Zarate said. "I race the 30- and 50-mile bike races. This is only 40 minutes. Basically, you go full gas and then you run out of gas. … I was trying to stay on his wheel because he's faster than I am."

Different spokes for different folks

And that was the theme for most of the field — being out of the comfort zone.

Nadia Shea, of Glenwood Springs, competed in her first cyclocross race on Wednesday. She's used to mountain-biking and rides for her high school team.

"I was kind of scared at first that I would wreck or get lapped," she said, noting that she was lapped.

And there's no shame in that. She was figuring out the technique with every lap she did of how one gets on and off the bike while maintaining speed — grab the bike by the bar under the seat for logs and throw it over your back for the stairs.

Before she hit the gravel hills, she eventually learned to build speed beforehand to take them.

Just remember that Wells was a beginner once.

"The first couple races, they hurt so bad," the guru said. "But you fall in love with it."

Meanwhile, Shea's high-school coach, Randy Tuggle, was riding a fat-tire bike. Normally used to ride on ice during the winter, the fat tire seemed more appropriate to smashing through obstacles (illegal) than deftly maneuvering over them. But Tuggle's a fat tire kind of guy.

"All I've ridden for seven years is a fat bike," he said. "And everything I do is on a fat bike, downhill racing, cross-country, snow-bike, cyclocross, criterion. It's fun, and that, to me, is why I ride a bike."

Keeping young

Eagle's Mindee Stevenson is headed to the UCI Masters Track Cycling World Championships in the 50-54 age division in Carson, California, during the week of Monday, Oct. 8. She's training for track riding and cyclocross is a nice change-up.

"It's different than road and track (cycling)," she said. "It gives me a break from always riding on the road or on the velodrome. It puts a smile on my face because it's different and challenging for me. It's definitely not in my wheelhouse. It definitely helps me get fit."

And Peter Davis, 55, normally races in the masters division during the summer mountain-bike series. He decided to give the pro division a try on Wednesday, nonetheless.

"For an old guy, I'm just trying to keep up and trying to hold it all together," Davis said. "I've got no finesse. I don't do a lot of cyclocrossing. It's just trying to keep that fitness throughout the fall, but it's good. It's a new challenge. Trying to keep up with these younger guys keeps me young."

Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, cfreud@vaildaily.com and @cfreud.

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