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A dusty race through the sage

Shauna Farnell
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyRider Jay Henry leads the pack in the first lap of this season's first Vail Recreation District mountain-bike race Wednesday in Eagle. Henry took first place, beating Mike Janelle.
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EAGLE Sagebrush, which might seem like a portrait of tranquility as it’s tumbling across a road in an expanse of desert somewhere, can be rather unforgiving when it comes to bike racing.The first local mountain bike race of the season might have yielded more carnage than its resulting scratches and bumps with all of the obstacles at work. The course consisted of a singletrack winding tightly through sagebrush, making it nearly impossible to pass other competitors, a blinding cloud of dust that would put any stampede of elephants to shame and the evening sun beating right through it creating a thick haze that made the backs of one’s eyelids seem like a more useful visual field.”The hardest thing on this course is passing people,” said vet expert men’s rider Jono Ridler. “It’s an awesome course, though. It’s got all the aspects of racing – road, climbs, technical singletrack, fast singletrack, two water crossings … Eagle has by far the best rides around.”Wednesday’s Vail-Beaver Creek Mountain Challenge Bike Series race No. 1 began in front of the Capitol Theater in Eagle and took riders through the residential area of Eagle Ranch, onto a series of Jeep roads, through gates equipped with cattle guards which racers pedaled over, across creeks and through winding, tight singletrack whose arms captured the wheels of many riders’ steeds, sending them over their handlebars and into the dirt.

One such victim was pro rider Steven White, who, according to other riders, ended on the second of his three-loop course and broke his collarbone.A far as unofficial results go (official results were not available by press time), Jay Henry had the fastest time on course for pro men, finishing in 1 hour, 6 minutes. It was a hammer to the finish for Mike Janelle and Mike Kloser. Janelle burst ahead at the finish for a time of 1:08.19 for second, and Kloser, who recently returned from a multi-day adventure race in Sweden, took third in 1:08.20.On the women’s pro side, Sari Chwalk won, finishing two loops and her 13-mile course in 54:53 minutes. Jennifer Gersbach took second in 56:51.The biggest challenges for riders on course seemed to be the issue of passing. Pro and expert riders completing their second and third loops found themselves behind road blocks of slower riders with nothing but the sage to attempt to pass them around.”You’re in sagebrush and there’s nowhere to go,” pointed out Jenny Appelt, who was racing in the beginner women’s category. “The hardest thing was going through the singletrack with all the men’s pro behind you going, ‘Let us pass! Let us pass!’ But it’s still fun. It’s all part of racing.”

Some riders found themselves irreversibly off-course. Mike Kowalski, who, as a beginner man, was supposed to ride a smaller loop, found himself on the sport-expert-pro course, where he rode a good 20 minutes out of his way.”It was a fantastic race, but I was misdirected and rode a little too far,” Kowalski said. “The uphill is the hardest part. I pedaled it, but it burns me out every time.”A new section of the course after the first creek crossing took riders up a loose singletrack necessitating balance and intensive granny-gear pedaling. Many racers opted for a hike-n-bike instead. Racers who didn’t have time to check the course out before the race wished they had given themselves a better idea of what they would be getting into.”When you’re out there trying to go as fast as you can, you’re going, ‘Yeah. A preride would have been good,'” said women’s sport rider Jill Peterson. “I was sucking air on the hills. The dust, especially, made it tough. All the downhill through the sagebrush was very fun. The cow guards were kind of fun, too. If someone was trying to pass you, you’d kind of try to accommodate that. It was challenging, but a very fun course.”

The next event in the local race series, which is organized and managed by the Vail Recreation District, is the Davos Dash in West Vail on June 8.More extensive results from Wednesday’s race will be available in Friday’s sports section.Vail, Colorado


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