Country’s best rafters will use Mountain Games as a tune up for national championships
VAIL — El Chupacabra is hungry.
The local rafting duo is going for the win in the GoPro Mountain Games R2 downriver sprint this weekend, which happens to be the weekend before the six-man (R6) national championships in Salida.
To get the win, the El Chupacabra team will have to take down last year’s defending champions, the Shake and Bake team and its leader, Summit County rafter John Anicito. The Eagle County-Summit County rafting rivalry has been growing over the last few years and will reach a boiling point at the national championships. First, however, the GoPro Mountain Games will give everyone a glimpse of the competition.
“Even though it’s a two-man race, there’s still almost 50 people competing in each event, which makes it one of the best events out there,” Anicito said. “Last year, second place was only one and a half seconds behind in a 20 minute race, so it will be really close. There will be no room for errors.”
The Summit County and Eagle County teams have revolving squads for two-man, four-man and six-man rafting competitions. Following last year’s win in the GoPro Mountain Games downriver sprint, Shake and Bake and the Summit County paddlers went on to take second behind El Chupacabra and the Eagle County paddlers at three of the four events comprising this year’s four-man national championships in April.
“It was really close between us and the (Eagle County) guys,” Anicito said of the April event. “We were tied for first going into the downriver on the last day, and we led for the first half of the race. They passed us, and we couldn’t catch back up. They won by 20 seconds over a 38 minute race.”
Anicito said they had not practiced much heading into the April race.
“The first time all four of us got in the boat was the day before that first race,” he said. “We’ve put some more effort at it now. We’ve had some time to work at it, and we’re ready to win again.”
Shake and Bake’s four- and six-man teams are known around the country as the Ark Sharks, a clever take on their prowess in the waters of the nearby Arkansas River, where they train. Longtime Ark Shark team member Jeremiah Peck says due to injury, they’ve had to call up local paddler Eli Norman to join Anicito in the Shake and Bake raft at the GoPro Mountain Games.
“Eli has paddled with us in years past; he’s one of those wild card athletes that we can always count on to step in and paddle hard,” Peck said. “He will be a good performer regardless of his training history for the season.”
And in a interesting twist, the El Chupacabra team also had a shake up for this season, with new paddler Robbie Prechtl filling in for Jordan Kurt-Mason, who can’t make it to this year’s GoPro Mountain Games. El Chupacabra team captain Jeremiah Williams will lead the team again this weekend.
“When Jordan made the move out of town, I felt that I deserved to become a part of the team, but at the same time I’m grateful that Jeremiah wants to paddle with me,” Prechtl said. “Also, I’m his doppelganger, and he’s a lefty, and I’m a righty.”
With their similar height, build, and long blonde hair, Prechtl and Williams make a near mirror image in their two-man boat. They’re said to resemble twins more than Williams and his actual twin brother. They have been practicing at the local town series races on Tuesday nights on Gore Creek, where they have been cleaning up the competition. Shake and Bake hasn’t made it down to Vail for one of those races, but has heard of their domination in the series.
“Those guys are strong,” Anicito said. “When you look at them up front, they’re intimidating. They’re big.”
Prechtl said Williams and he would like to gain even more confidence heading into the six-man national championship, and the Mountain Games is a big opportunity for them.
“Everybody gets a preview of how everybody else is doing at this race,” he said. “You get to hash it out and see where everybody is at, and hopefully you come away a victor.”
Even without a win, the outcome will be positive, Prechtl said, especially for spectators.
“You could either come away with confidence, or you could come away with determination to beat them in the next race,” Prechtl said. “We’re very evenly matched, and so every time we get together it’s a battle.”
And that, said Anicito, is the best part about having the country’s two top teams hailing from neighboring counties.
“We keep pushing each other harder and harder,” he said.
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