Henry upsets Kloser at Imperial Challenge
BRECKENRIDGE – The most incredible part was that Jay Henry said he didn’t feel like he was moving fast. In fact, when asked at the finish corral how he managed to put so much distance on five-time champion Mike Kloser and eventual third-place finisher Mike Hagen during the Imperial Challenge uphill section, Henry raised his eyebrows. “Did I put distance on them?” Uh, about 4 full minutes. The stunning performance in brutal 50-mph wind gusts led to Henry’s upset victory at the 16th annual Breckenridge race, in a time of 1 hour, 22 minutes and 30 seconds – 25 seconds off Kloser’s record time last year. Henry finished second in that race, the first time he’d entered the famous three-leg competition that begins in town and includes a 6.3-mile bike ride as well as ascents and descents of 3,000 feet.Last year, however, Henry completed the race on telemark gear. Kloser, using a lighter-weight alpine-touring setup to preserve energy, won by about a minute and a half, and Henry didn’t forget the weight he gave away to his Beaver Creek teammate. This year he made the switch.
“It was tough,” Henry, a 32-year-old Vail mountain biking pro who has competed for the U.S. at two world championships, said of last year’s tele setup. “This stuff, I probably took four pounds off the setup and it’s just awesome to hike up in. I felt like I wasn’t going that fast; I guess it’s just the difference in equipment. It must be.”He hopped off the bike with a 50-yard lead on Kloser, also of Vail, but anyone who has followed this race over the years knows that’s about as safe as a mouse in a snake pit. Instead of the lead shrinking, however, it grew. By a lot. “I just didn’t quite feel like I had the legs I needed today to do the uphill,” said Kloser, 47, arguably the best multisport endurance athlete in the world, who has taken second at the Imperial two of the last three years. “Felt kinda ‘off’ on the bike right when I was warming up, and thought, ah, you know, sometimes it’s like that. But Jay had a great race. There’s no taking it away from him. He was flying on the ski uphill. That was impressive.”I welcome the competition, honestly,” continued Kloser, who is famously driven to win anything he enters. “I think it just makes me better, stronger, and the race all that more rewarding if you excel at it. I’m almost disappointed when I know that the best competition isn’t there, for whatever reason.”
Saturday must have felt like deja vu for third-place finisher Mike Hagen, with one exception. Hagen, a 44-year-old retired Army major who now manages the coaches at Carmichael Training Systems in Colorado Springs, finished in the exact same time, 1:29:39, as he did last year, when he also took third.This year, however, he managed to overtake Kloser on the ski ascent, a rare feat. Kloser ended up passing Hagen on the summit when Hagen took his skis off, but the prior memory was not forgotten despite the drop in finish place.
“It is (disappointing),” Hagen said. “I would’ve liked to hold the position. But it was cool, I guess, to be able to pass him on the way up, because he’s quite the legend. That was pretty, I don’t know, thrilling, or whatever. And that’s OK, losing it in transition.”Colleen Ihnken of Alma won the women’s race.In all, 165 competitors finished the long course, and 19 more completed the citizen’s course, which went to the top of the T-bar. Kim Wright and Mike Kloser’s son, Christian, won the citizen’s race.