Celebrating 30 years and still pedaling on
VAIL — When bike racers of all ages line up at the start of the Beaver Creek Blast mountain bike race this evening, they’ll be part of a Vail Valley athletic tradition that has been a part of summer in the mountains for 30 years.
The Vail Recreation District’s Mountain Bike Town Series closes out its 30th season with the race, expecting about 175 to 200 riders as young as age 8 and including riders who raced in the very first year of the series. The series now features seven races that travel around the valley, including courses at Camp Hale, Eagle, Wolcott, Edwards, Vail and Beaver Creek.
Jokingly dubbed “Wednesday Night Worlds,” the local series has brought friendly competition for local athletes and teams for decades, and as the nickname alludes to, racers can take the competition as casually or seriously as they want.
“It became pretty popular, and for a local series, it was one of the biggest in the country,” said Vail resident and former mountain bike pro Mike Kloser, who raced in the series’ earlier days. “The fields still run pretty deep today. Over the years, we had more categories and age groups, and they’ve stayed pretty popular.”
Evolution of a series
The races originally started in the early ’80s with Davos Dash, a short, uphill time trial up West Vail’s Davos Trail. In 1985, with the support of a local ski and bike shop, Snug, the series was born.
Kloser remembered doing his first town series race that year on a course that started on Vail Pass and ended in Red Cliff, riding a fully rigid Specialized Stunt Jumper bike with platform pedals.
“There were a few dozen locals there,” he said. “They were still dialing things in at that point and didn’t know what kind of times to expect. I remember beating the timing truck to the finish, and they had to ask me for my finish time. It was quite grassroots at the time, and pretty much all of us from the valley competed.”
John Bailey, another top local rider at the time who went on to be a professional level racer, said the series was formed at a time when mountain biking was a new but quickly growing sport.
“It was the heyday of mountain-bike racing,” said Bailey, who no longer races the series, but still helps organize the races. “This was before night races, 24-hour races or downhill races. The races started getting bigger, and we even did some town championships with several mountain bike events over a weekend.”
Snug also had locations in Sun Valley, Idaho, and Park City, Utah, and for a few years, the top racers from each city held a championship at the end of the summer. The first year was hosted in Vail.
The series changed hands several times, with Christy Sports taking over in the ‘90s, then Highline Sports, and then finally in the early 2000s, the Vail Rec District inherited the races.
Throughout the years, the series has had varying features — courses such as Meadow Mountain and June Creek are no longer used, and new courses including Boneyard in Eagle and Eagle Ranch have been added. Some years in the mid-’90s, the series had mountain bike time trials, and races also were coordinated with local road biking races. In recent years, the Vail Rec District has added short-track mountain bike races and cyclocross races to its repertoire of events.
Despite the many organizers behind the races, the series has managed to remain relatively consistent and has drawn a steadily increasing number of riders throughout the decades. Riders then and now still name the camaraderie, competitive spirit and after parties as the highlights of the races.
“In the beginning, the fields weren’t large — you’d be lucky to get 50 people in the first year or two of the races. It was about the fun of doing it and the newness of mountain biking,” said Pedal Power owner Bruce Kelly, who still competes in some of the races. “Now, you have a whole lot more recreational riders, but even the beginner and sport fields are made up of some pretty serious mountain bikers. I think we’ll see an upswing as high school racing gets more popular.”
Training grounds for the pros
From the very beginning, the Vail Beaver Creek Town Series has always boasted a very strong field, from strong amateurs to professional athletes.
The series has also served to catapult people into competitive biking — the community-focus, friendly vibe and the competitive spirit of the races makes mountain-bike racing accessible to beginner racers.
Kloser and Bailey, who both ended up on professional mountain biking teams doing World Cup level racing, continued racing at the town series each week as training. You’d often also see a handful of professional skiers in the mix, such as Chad Fleischer and Seth Morrison in the late ’80s. In its early years, the series gained such a reputation for tough competition that it drew racers from around Colorado.
At times, the series’ beginner-friendly vibe has even helped launch professional careers.
Results from the 1989 edition of the June Creek Jump show Eagle local Jay Henry taking sixth place in the beginner category and Eagle-Vail local Mia Stockdale winning the women’s beginner race. Henry, who still is a podium regular (albeit in the pro category), went on to race at a national level for the Tokyo Joe’s team, and Stockdale also went on to race as a professional.
“It was really what launched me into my racing career,” said Stockdale, who now runs Vail Mountain Bike Camps, getting young riders into the racing scene. “I had never mountain-bike raced before that, and I just jumped in. After I began racing on the national and World Cup level, I always used it as training for other races, and it was a big part of my life for a long time.”
A new generation
Some of the biggest growth the town series has seen since the Vail Recreation District took the helm has been in youth participation.
While young riders have participated to a smaller extent since the ’90s, the Larkburger Youth Series has grown every year. Today, the kids kick off each Wednesday night race on a shorter course, making the series a whole-family affair.
Vail Rec District Events and Partnership coordinator Beth Pappas, who directs the races, says she’s amazed at how the series and youth participation has grown even in her five years as director.
“Looking to the future — especially with the commitment this community has had to biking and the next generation — it’s been incredible,” she says. “In my five years, I’ve watched the kids’ races grow and become so much better. It’s a good sign of what’s to come.”