Competition, fun rolled into races
Vail CO, Colorado
VAIL ” Jay Henry has a knack for completing a loop faster than most.
When Henry, the professional mountain biker, hits the trails during this season’s Vail and Beaver Creek series, you can be sure he’ll come full circle at a good clip. And he’ll be looking for plenty of racers to follow.
“When I first started, I was 14, and there were a handful of top, national-caliber pros at the series, like (Mike) Kloser and a few other guys,” Henry said. “As a 14-year-old, showing up, that was exciting.
“Hopefully that’s still the case for people getting into it ” there’s still a big pro contingent racing in the (series).”
If this year’s series ” once again put on by Vail Recreation District ” is like all the one’s before, Henry doesn’t need to worry. Last year, about 275 adults and 20 kids participated in each race, according to coordinator Brian Doyon.
“There will be quite a few teams this year,” Doyon said. “The team division is really competitive. On the women’s side, we have a few rider from a team that comes up from Boulder, so the competition will be good on the women’s end.”
The six-race series kicks off Wednesday with the Hammer in the Hay at 4 Eagle Ranch in Wolcott. All of the races will begin at 5:45, with the little league series starting at 5 p.m.
Charlie Brown, who owns Mountain Pedaler of Vail in Minturn, has fielded a team that’s won the past several years. While Brown may win again this year, that’s not necessarily the goal of racing.
“It’s good camaraderie amongst friends,” Brown said. “It’s really good racing because of the level of the (competitors). Those are some of the nicest guys at the races. You get to touch Jay or Jimi (Mortenson) … and ask, ‘Hey, what tire pressure are you running?'”
Brown said he’s happy that the series gives kids a chance to race.
In the adult race, there are an array of divisions from beginner to pro. And some races have either shorter loops, or fewer-lap options.
“We try to cater all these courses so all abilities can ride,” Doyon said. “Beginners can get out there and can challenge themselves ” all riders are real friendly. Jay … comes early and is a lead rider for kids division, and guides them around the course.”
Win or train
Katie Brazelton, who will be racing with the High Maintenance team this season, already had plenty of biking experience when she moved to the area.
“It was a great way to meet people,” Brazelton said. “I didn’t know what to expect (of the series), but I thought the variety was great ” starting in Eagle with the sagebrush and lower terrain and enduing up on singletrack in the mountains.”
The Wednesday races are spread out through the summer, culminating with the Beaver Creek Blast on Aug. 8. Back after a long absence is the Berry Creek Bash in Edwards.
“That Berry Creek course was part of the series for about 10 years,” Henry said. “That was kind of one of the staples.”
“Every year now for next few years, we’ll either be creating new courses or adding on,” Doyon said. “I’d like to get Camp Hale in there.”
While some will be looking to win races, others don’t mind going against top competition.
“I don’t know where to set my expectations,” Brazelton said. “It’s going to be challenging for me. It’s good, though. That’s what I want. I’m always humbled and impressed by the amazing athletic talent in this valley.”
Henry, who will be competing in plenty of pro races during the summer, doesn’t plan on taking it easy.
“It’s pretty much what I do for training during the summer,” Henry said. “Those races are always fast and super hard, as well as being fun. I can’t do that sort of thing on my own.”
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.