Racers huff and puff up Beaver Creek Hill | VailDaily.com

Racers huff and puff up Beaver Creek Hill

Ian Cropp

CSHC Zirbel, Tom BH 9-5 Bret Hartman/bhartman@vaildaily.com Tom Zirbel climbs Strawberry Park Road Monday during the mens pro Colorado State Championship Hill Climb in Beaver Creek. Zirbel took first place.

AVON – Five-and-quarter miles doesn’t seem like it would be that challenging of a bike race.But ask any of the competitors in Monday’s Colorado State Hill Climb Championship, and they’ll swear otherwise.”It just kept getting steeper and steeper,” said Tom Zirbel of Boulder, who won the men’s professional division race. “It wouldn’t let up – it was like a crescendo.”The race started in the east parking lot of Beaver Creek resort, and finished at Daybreak Ridge, at the border of Beaver Creek and Bachelor’s Gulch. With 1,913 feet of elevation gain, the course had an average grade of almost 7 percent, enough to necessitate a runaway truck stop.Zirbel finished with a time of 23 minutes, 35 seconds, and was 13 seconds ahead of the second-place finisher, and last year’s winner, Jonathan Baker. With 1200 meters left to go, Zirbel made an attack to move ahead of Jay Henry, who finished third.”For a while, a couple of mountain bikers attacked, and then I attacked, and caught up to them and I took the lead to the finish line. But Baker closed the gap a little bit because I was dying,” Zirbel said.

In the women’s professional race, Carla Flores moved ahead of Allison Powers with over a kilometer to go, and held on to finish 21 seconds ahead of Powers, at 28:14.”I had gotten ahead of Allison and I could hear her shifting and I knew that if I picked it up a little bit I would okay,” said the 47-year-old Flores.Other first-place finishers include Kevin Soller, 25:47, junior 17-18; Eric Herman, 25:05, men 35-44; Bruce Hodkins, 27:25, men 45-54; Rick Abbott, 31:38, men 55-64; Seymour Katz, 33:09, men 65-and-over; Matthew Segur, 26:10, men’s category four; Von Bortz, 26:38, men’s category five; Sue Stokes, 31:38 women 35-44; and Ann Lantz, 28:57 women’s category four.Attacking the beastMost of the winners paced themselves, waiting behind several riders until the right moment to attack. Some waited for the steeper parts, while others just waited for the course to take its toll on their opponents.

“It was good for me when it got a little steeper towards the end, and that’s when I passed (the girls ahead),” said Stokes, who races for Vailboro Mountain Lodge. “For the last third of the race I had to fight with my head to tell myself to keep going.”Others just listened to their heart.”I used a heart-rate monitor, which really helps,” said Katz. “If you try to catch somebody and you exceed your heart rate, you can’t sustain that effort.”The course had almost no level sections, and the climb seemed to never end.”The (race marshals) said to me ‘you’re almost there,’ and that was at the starting gate. I didn’t realize you had miles more to go,” said Tom Pecsok of Avon, who won last year’s Men’s 65-and-over division.Water bottles were not used by a lot of racers, but not due to a lack of thirst.”I didn’t have a chance to drink because I was breathing so hard,” said Zirbel.

Low gear, high gearThe final third of the course featured some of the highest grades, and required all of the gears on the bikes.”I had my 27th gear, the very smallest gear I have, and I was still wishing I had a smaller gear during the last kilometer,” said Zirbel. “I knew the profile of the course, but it doesn’t prepare you for what you’re up against.”At the end of the race, some competitors noted that the bike seat became an obsolete piece of equipment.”You can’t spin, you’re just pushing gears,” said Soller “The hill just kicks your butt.”

Racers appreciated the climb a bit more on the trek back down. “You realize how steep you’ve gone because you’re on the breaks the whole time down,” said Katz. “In fact, I stopped once to make sure my rims weren’t heating up.”OmniumMonday’s race was the third and final event, concluding the Colorado Cup Omnium. On Saturday, competitors raced in a 26-mile time trail that ran from Gypsum to Beaver Creek Village.

“The hardest part of the weekend for me was the time trial,” said Zirbel. “To finish the last two-and-a-half miles or so on an uphill stretch is brutal.”Jeff Hartman of Boulder won the time trial, finishing at 58:41, while Carmen Small of Denver placed first among the women at 1:10:40.Sunday featured criterium races, in which competitors raced for a set period of time. Zirbel won the men’s 70 minute race, and Powers won the 50 minute race.The overall winner of the Omnium was Lantz, with a score of 60 points. Both Lantz and Bortz finished with 60 points, the highest possible score, but a tiebreaker based on the margin of victory of the next competitor gave Lantz the advantage.For complete race results, visit http://www.altituderacing.comSports writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 608 or via icropp@vaildaily.com