Eagle County bikers win big in Fruita | VailDaily.com

Eagle County bikers win big in Fruita

Ian Cropp
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the DailyJono Ridler rounds a corner on the course during the 18 Hours of Fruita Saturday.

FRUITA, Colorado ” When Eagle County mountain bikers throw around phrases like “We were just out there to have fun” and “It wasn’t super-serious,” don’t be fooled.

For all you know, they could be racing non-stop for almost a day while setting course records.

But for them, therein lies the fun.

At the 18 Hours of Fruita race last weekend, a pair of Eagle County teams relaxed, got their competition legs under them and, in the process, took first place.

“It’s a great adventure and good social atmosphere,” said Alex Coleman, who along with Jono Ridler, Charlie Brown and Courtney Gregory, won the four-person male division. “It’s not super-serious.”

Julie Morrow, Amy Hermes, Heather Sappenfield and Sheryl Cook, of the High Maintenance team, didn’t go in with the intention of pushing it too hard.

“We just raced for ourselves,” Morrow said. “We looked at it as a girls’ weekend.”

The girls’ weekend saw High Maintenance set the record for most laps by a four-person female team, with 37, which would have placed them fifth among men’s teams.

“We were pretty proud of ourselves,” Morrow said. “Last year, there were no other female teams, so we went into the coed division and took second.”

And the guys won riding single-speed bikes.

“It feels good to know you can go out there and hold your own,” Coleman said.

Other local teams at Fruita were Wendy and Ric Fields (third in the two-person coed) and Mariella and Todd Moyer (sixth in the coed), while part-time local Derek Fish won the men’s solo and Adam Baker was eighth.

For most of the riders who made the trip west to Fruita, the 18-hour race is the first endurance competition of the season.

“It’s a great race to get the season rolling,” Ridler said. “Every year it has grown. We started doing it four years ago when there were nowhere near the capacity teams signed up. Now, it just keeps building and building.”

Last Friday afternoon, with a dumping of snow still coating the Vail Valley, the racers packed up and headed out of town with some alacrity. Unlike many of the 24-hour races, the Fruita contest starts at midnight.

“You work all day, get down there, get everything set up, and then you start,” Ridler said.

Once they line their bikes up and clip in, the “just have fun” mentality disappears.

“You hit the start line, and you go off running. You get caught up in it,” Coleman said.

Hermes, who had been a late replacement for team High Maintenance, said she felt compelled to race hard for herself and her teammates.

“Julie called me and hornswaggled me into it,” said Hermes, who raced with her single-speed. “But I had a blast. I laid it on the line for them. I said I was going to be there to enjoy myself, but I’m a competitive person by nature.”

When the subzero temperatures finally lifted at sunrise, many of the riders knew to be guardedly optimistic.

“In 24 Hours of Moab, when the sun comes up, you are almost done, but at Fruita, it’s like, ‘I have 12 more hours.’ It’s a hard race in that respect,” Coleman said.

For some of the racers who had competed in the solo category in the past, the team aspect was a bit deceiving.

“I thought it was going to be a lot easier,” Coleman said. “When you go solo, you go out on your own pace and ride consistently. We were doing it where two guys would go out and take shifts and get in as many laps, then alternate. I was a lot more tired this year. I just went so much harder.”

Coleman and his team took three-hour and 11⁄2-hour shifts, with two riders alternating during that time and then switching with the other two-person team.

“It’s nice to go hammer it for two laps or three laps and then get a break,” Ridler said.

High Maintenance had each racer go for one lap and then take a break.

“We were very consistent,” Hermes said. “When you look at our lap times, that’s what I was most impressed with.”

And just in case anyone got into a daze on lap 16, 20 or 34 and forgot why they were there, a fellow competitor was quick with a reminder.

“I had a lot of laps that coincided with Alex Coleman, and we had some laughs,” Morrow said. “It was awesome to have him there screaming for me to keep going.”

Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 970-748-2935 or icropp@vaildaily.com.

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