Ultra 100: ‘It’s pretty darn tough’
BEAVER CREEK – How tough is too tough?Beaver Creek recreation director Mike Kloser doesn’t exactly know.What he does know is that while most people wince at events like Saturday’s Ultra 100, there are others – like himself – who live for such punishment. A 100-mile mountain-bike race? Hello, pain. Gaining close to 15,000 feet of elevation in one day? Hello, suffering. Finishing? Hello, personal glory.”It’s funny how people will either shy away or be attracted or intrigued by something,” Kloser said from his home Tuesday night. “There’s kind of this fine line as to whether people participate. Take something like the Ironman, which is almost inconceivable to most people and look at how the attendance of that thing is huge. Or, the Triple Bypass. That ride is amazingly hard, but yet there’s 3,000 people out there wanting to do it.” Meanwhile, there are not 3,000 people wanting to do the grueling Ultra, which begins and ends at Beaver Creek and is part of the resort’s adventure weekend. The race’s official start time is 6:30 a.m.Kloser said numbers for the race, which event organizers had originally hoped to grow to as much as 1,000 when it was launched seven years ago, have stabilized. This year’s event should draw between 350-500 competitors total for the 100-mile and 100-kilometer races – about the same as last year.Kloser said those numbers show that for a dedicated number of mountain-bike riders, the Ultra is the ultimate test for the ultimate reward.
Forget the prize money for the first three finishers. For most everyone, crossing the finish line covered in dirt and sweat after an unforgiving day of riding is worth much more. It’s a lifetime deposit into the bank account of personal achievement. It’s a raised middle finger to those who question the sanity of anyone who chooses to set out from the Ultra’s start line in the morning. It’s taking the pretense of ‘too tough’ and leaving it somewhere in the mud on the way to the finish line.Local pro Jay Henry, who has won the Ultra the last two years, said the first-place prize check is the last thing he thinks about when he is slogging his way over Muddy Pass near Wolcott. “Quitting definitely crosses your mind,” he said. “I’ve contemplated dropping out in the lead of the race. You always feel good when you’re in the lead, but that climb (over Muddy Pass) I’ve struggled with. It’s about an hour and a half of solid climbing. That’s a huge test of your will. You just gotta keep thinking that with every pedal stroke you’re a little bit closer and covering ground.”Quitting while in the lead? A quantifier, it seems. A telling representation of what entrants – from the best to the worst – go through while riding a mountain bike for 100 miles or 100 kilometers in a day. “It’s probably the hardest race I’ve ever done,” Henry said.”It’s pretty darn tough,” Kloser said. “It’s a lot different than riding 100 miles on the road. The time for the winners is around 8 hours, 8-and-a half, and if you look at a 100-mile road ride, like the (Colorado-Eagle) River Ride where you are not even racing, you can do that under 5 easily. It’s extremely difficult.”
It’s not all pain. Henry said while the sheer length of the Ultra is daunting, the course mostly sticks to dirt service roads and as a whole isn’t too technically challenging, aside from its climbs. There are also some easy downhill sections for cruising.More important, the pristine scenery along the road is a welcome distraction from burning legs and a sore butt.”It’s a great course because it just takes you through pretty cool country back there,” he said. “That definitely helps the time go by faster. You can afford to look up and kind of enjoy the view even, which in most races you can’t really do that. It covers some awesome country back there and that’s probably the reason I like it so much.”The most impressive sightseeing sections of the Ultra course are in the White River National Forest wilderness area, home to Beaver Creek and Arrowhead Ski Resorts and parts of the ride on the northern side of the valley. The 100-mile course winds as far east as Piney River Ranch past Red Sandstone in Vail and as far west as 4 Eagle Ranch near Wolcott, the race’s lowest elevation point at 7,100 feet.For the 100-kilometer route, riders follow the same course but skip the there-and-back sections that head to Piney River Ranch and 4 Eagle Ranch featured in the 100-mile Ultra. Kloser said both races are long enough that riders can apply road-biking strategies to conserve energy.”I prefer being able to ride with someone else because you can pace off each other and utilize the draft and all that when there is the opportunity,” Kloser said.
More often than not, however, Kloser said, racers will find themselves alone for long stretches of the course. That’s when the Ultra 100 tests even the most resilient of riders.”I’ve been in both scenarios, riding most of it alone or most of it with someone else,” he said. “It is one of those races where you are out there pacing yourself and realizing that there is some tough stuff ahead. If it’s not the Muddy Pass climb, you’ve got the finishing climb over Arrowhead. It’s definitely one you have to stay within yourself.”
Saturday’s forecast calls for temperatures in the mid 70s with a possibility of thunder showers. Last year, steady rain made for a wet, muddy ride. If it doesn’t rain, Henry and Kloser both said the dirt roads on the course should be in ideal condition following the recent precipitation last week and early this week.”Right now, it should be ideal with all the rain we’ve had,” Kloser said. “It should settle all the dust. It would have really been a nasty ride if all that had stayed up there. Now, it should be a really nice ride.”Added Henry, “I was up driving on the roads and they were in great shape.”For more information, or to still register for the Ultra 100 go to http://www.mtbrace.com. or call 970-476-6797, ext. 108.Nate Peterson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 608, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.