Copper race favors climbers
COPPER MOUNTAIN – Wednesday night’s mountain bike race at Copper Mountain wasn’t so much a race as it was a contest for general lung capacity.The race field, which combined riders from both the Vail Mountain Challenge and the Summit race series and topped out around 600, had as much as it could ask for in a ski resort venue. First of all, most categories began with an uphill slog on the service road that exceeded three miles before it pitched them into the final heart attack in the form of a half mile of twisty singletrack, where racers had to climb in granny gear. The descent wasn’t so much a descent as it was a test of bike handling and cornering prowess. Throw in a melting halfpipe that put a couple of shallow mud bogs on the descent, double the intensity and double the challenge of passing other riders on tight switchbacks, and it can only be double the satisfaction for those who finished on top.”What kind of racer did it take? A Colorado, high-altitude climber – good lungs and able to handle the bike on the downhill,” said Glenwood Springs resident Ross Schnell, who won the pro men’s 14-mile course with a time of 1 hour, 9 minutes and 50 seconds.
“There was a lot of climbing and a lot of descending,” he said. “The downhill felt as long as the climb. The start was the hardest part for me. I don’t think I warmed up enough. The first long climb just killed me.”Other riders, like Josiah Middaugh, who finished a couple minutes behind Schnell, enjoyed the climbing.”I didn’t have the knife-in-the-chest feeling, so that’s a good sign,” Middaugh said. “My thing is sustained, hard, long climbs, so I did really well in the first half of the race. Then, on the singletrack (descent), I was just losing time, since (Schnell) is such a great technical rider and I’m not. I’m usually good at bombing straight shots, but as far as going through all those switchbacks – the twisty, technical stuff – I had trouble keeping my speed up.”One rider whose legs were half-trashed even before the race began was Jimi Mortenson. Mortenson, who managed to take third Wednesday night, was riding his bike for just the second time since he and his Beaver Creek team (Toph Leonard, Brian Smith and Mike Janelle) won the Race Across America a couple weeks ago in 5 days, 18 hours and 15 minutes. “I was pretty tired today. It hurt,” Mortenson said after Wednesday’s race. “I was just out there suffering in my own little world. Getting to the top was the worst part. Now I know why I haven’t been riding my bike the last couple of weeks.”
On the pro women’s side, local rider Sari Chwalk landed the win and enjoyed competing against a larger field, despite the road block factor, which became inevitable with so many competitors on one singletrack.”All the people and all the energy made it a lot more fun,” said Chwalk, who won in 1:20.25 – almost four minutes faster than any of the other lady pros.”I broke away on the first lap, at the very end of the climb,” she said. “If you are strong in climbing, you could kind of hold your place in this race. It was definitely different for a local race, to have this many people. There’s a couple times you get stuck, but it’s a different challenge.”Lisa Isom, who also considers herself a climber, had a breakthrough race as far as the downhill.
“I’m such a horrible descender, but I had so much fun tonight,” said Isom, who finished second in 1:24.09. “It’s a huge leap for my confidence. That’s one thing I’ve been working on this season is my cornering. So, it paid off.”Breckenridge rider Monique Merrill rounded off the podium in third for the pro women. In the expert women’s 19-34 field, Vail riders Toni Axelrod and Wendy Lyall finished 1-2, respectively, and Chris Costa finished third.Sports Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 610, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado