Eagle County’s X factor | VailDaily.com

Eagle County’s X factor

EAGLE COUNTY — This year, local residents have an athlete to cheer for at the Summer X Games.

Nicole Bradford of McCoy, a Colorado native and Avon business owner, will compete in the X Games EnduroCross competition in Austin, Texas, on Friday after receiving her invite several weeks ago.

It won't be her first time competing at X Games, but it will be her first time competing in the world's biggest EnduroCross competition 100 percent injury free.

"It definitely was a goal," she said about returning to X Games. "When I competed in 2012 I had a blown ACL/LCL. So I wanted to get back to it one more time at least being healthy."

“We all get along, but when the gate drops there’s no being nice. We all want to do our best and win.”Nicole BradfordEndurocross racer

Recommended Stories For You

After plenty of time in physical therapy and the gym, Bradford says she's ready to give it another shot on Friday.

"I've been working really, really hard," she said. "I know when I line up with those other 12 girls, I won't look at them and have doubts saying they trained harder than me … I'm certainly not going in as the favorite, or somebody that ESPN is going to be interviewing in the beginning, but I feel like if I just go out and really lay it out on the line, then I really do stand just as good of a chance as anybody else."

MOTO MEETS MODERN

Bradford trains several days per week at her home near McCoy. I decided to take the 22 mile drive from Wolcott recently to see the training grounds that produced our only local Summer X Games athlete.

Upon driving up to the place, all I could see was a giant garage and a large yurt, no actual house. Nicole gave me the tour, though, explaining that the garage was the house, and the yurt was the guest room.

"We realized we were only really using the kitchen, living room and master bedroom of our house, and besides that we were spending all of our time in the garage," Bradford said. "So when we designed this place we said let's just make it a big garage that also has those other rooms."

The living room is beautiful, furnished with Eames- and Knoll-style pieces. It looks like it could be an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, until the living room's garage door opens. On the 35 acres it opens to lies one of the keys to Bradford's success, her own private EnduroCross track.

Rather than simply riding the track, Bradford told me she has amended her routine over the years to focus on specific training drills. Her husband Ben Bradford is also an avid off-road motorcyclist, and quadruples as her coach, mechanic and course builder. Ben Bradford spends hours studying video of the top male competitors in the sport, and helps Nicole create training programs based on what he sees in the top men.

"Some days we work on body position, some days we work on floater turns, some days we work on starts," she said.

Ben Bradford says Nicole's skills on a motorcycle never cease to amaze him.

"She works very hard," Ben tells me. "She has a motorcycle background and so the balance, understanding of clutch control and throttle is all there for her … but it requires a lot of strength, and she's a lot stronger than she looks."

Indeed, sitting relaxed in her Barcelona chair, her dog snuggled on her lap, she looks to me like an average Jane enjoying a sunny afternoon in her living room. As I sit across from her I recall an interview I did with doctor Bill Sterett about her in 2013, where he compared her to Lindsey Vonn, probably the most physically impressive woman I've ever stood next to. I look at Bradford's left bicep and remember something I once heard about Abraham Lincoln having super human strength. Bradford's limbs are long and solid looking, like I imagine Lincoln's were. In talking to her I can sense a type of courage that she calls on when the nerves come. My questions aren't great, but she knows she has to answer them well because we're recording. The question comes, she takes a second and gives a careful and thoughtful answer. No woman wants to be asked how old she is, but she answers as gracefully and immediately as if I asked her what she had for breakfast that morning.

"I'm 42."

ELEMENTS OF ENDUROCROSS

Nicole Bradford says she's very fortunate to have her own track, something she and her husband, as owners of Elegant Cabinetry and Design in Avon, have worked very hard to afford.

"The tracks vary, and so my track isn't going to look like the X Games track, but it has all the elements that those tracks have," Bradford said.

Boulder piles, big turns, big turns though boulder piles, jumps, old tires, old tires over jumps, logs, wood piles, these are the elements of a proper EnduroCross track, and Bradford's track has them all. The sport itself is made to mimic what you might encounter on a long off-road motorcycle race, like a massively condensed version of the International Six Days Enduro, the longest-running off-road motorcycle race in the world and one that Bradford has excelled at as a repeat competitor. EnduroCross brings all of that inside into an arena with thousands of screaming fans.

"The endurance isn't quite there, but you have to be very technically skilled to go through the rock piles, over logs, through water and a combination of different elements that you would normally find outdoors which have been brought inside," Bradford tells ne. "Once X Games picked it up, that was huge, because there's people all over the world watching X Games and now seeing this sport. X Games is really the only competition that I know of in which women can make pretty good money for first, second and third, and even last place is going to make more money at X Games than anywhere else."

FIRST FEMALE

Bradford was the first female ever to compete in an EnduroCross race.

"It was 2006 or 2007, and at that time, they didn't have a women's class," she recalls. "I got to compete simply because I was old enough to compete in the men's vet class."

A women's class was introduced a few years later.

"The girls have really stepped it up since then," she said. "There was a time period where we really struggled just to get through the track once or twice, and now there's 10 or 11 of us who are very consistent and making it through the track looking good … We all get along, but when the gate drops there's no being nice. We all want to do our best and win."

Bradford tells me one of her best friends on the EnduroCross circuit is a fellow International Six Days Enduro racer Rachel Gutish of Terre Haute, Indiana, and that the two recently wrapped up a training camp at the McCoy track.

I called Gutish to ask about it.

"That has actually been my favorite part of my whole summer, thus far" Gutish, who is 19, tells me.

I make the mistake of momentarily taking Gutish for an ordinary 19-year-old, chatting on the phone and looking forward to a fun summer. Then I ask her about EnduroCrosss.

"My bike outweighs me by 110 pounds," she says. "It would be the equivalent of putting one of the men on a Harley Davidson Cruiser and sending him out there."

I ask her about that physical disadvantage and she talks about growing up woods racing in Indiana, having to compete against boys because there were no girls divisions.

"My dad said 'Rachael, I know you can be as fast as those guys, but you're not going to be as strong as they are. They can fall down and pick up their bikes no problem, so you need to be able to get through this stuff without falling down,'" she said.

It's a similar story as Bradford's, on a smaller level. There's only a handful of women in the world who can even complete a lap around the X Games track, and Gutish tells me the sport isn't exactly catching on for women.

When I ask Gutish about Bradford and the large age gap between them, I become as impressed by Gutish's insightful thinking as her physical prowess.

"That really goes to show you that there aren't as many limits as people think there are," she says. "Which, really, that's kind of the whole theme of this discussion, right?"

After talking to Gutish I receive an email from Bradford. She says she's been doing more thinking about the age question.

"People seem to like to remind me that I am getting old and that maybe I need to slow down a bit," she writes. "But my response is and probably always will be the same: When God gives you a true passion it does not burn out when you get old."

Watch Bradford, Gutish and the women of EnduroCross compete on their highest stage on Friday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. local time on ESPN.