On Friday May 11th, at the Rabbit Valley exit #2, the wind was playful, pulling tents from the desert. I-70 had closed because of the snow, and some of the 100K Classic Endurance Mountain Bike racers were forced to turn around and head home. Still, the med tent was erected, the course marked by a gang of muscular men on foot, by bike, by car, and most of the chiseled field were checking in and grabbing schwag at the LBS: SingleTracks, in Fruita, CO.
Singletracks sits on the curve of a roundabout made more for donuts or scenic circles than for traffic. The store is a house converted; a living room to host glass cases of bike paraphernalia and upcoming race leave-behinds. Another room features shorts, shirts, and sports bras. There’s goos and Honey Stingers. Off to the side is an outdoor patio stocked with tables and chairs. This is where Singletracks owner, Chris Schnittker was grilling hot dogs and cheeseburgers, schmoozing with the bikers and staff amidst a couple deep horse buckets of ice-cold beer.
The athletes, the ones who tackled I-70 or who had come from different directions left Singletracks, to complete their pre-race rituals.
Back at the Rabbit Valley parking lot, the air held a goodnight song of staff flopping their sleeping bags and brushing the sand out of their tents, as well as the distant joking and laugher of motorbikers and ATV addicts. Some campers fell asleep beneath the stars, their dogs asleep beside them.
Race morning came. The sanddirtgravel of the red curves and hills of the Kokopelli blew mists of grit, fanning us from the white burn of the sun. The racers geared up, kissed their loved ones. At 6am the horn blew and a swell of spandex and bikes emerged from a bump in the road and on down what would be the most groomed section of the race.
A guy named Bear, head medic of the event, and I drove a couple jugs of water to Westwater aid station, borrowing the communication guys’ white pickup. It was a four wheelin’, careenin’, steep drop-offs, sudden decline kind of a ride…for the truck; the wheels and underbelly metal whining and groaning at each uneven break in the road. I could imagine the race had to be much more thrilling on a bike – I mean how magnetic of an experience would it have been had I only had the metal or carbon and wheels and the exhilaration of competitive anticipation on my side. Screw vehicles. Bikes win.
Back at the start/finish line the staff had intermittent radio calls from the communication guys calling off numbers of the first and last racers to hit aid stations. We followed the leader as he hit each checkpoint, and started to grill toasted cheese and turkey sandwiches when he grew nearer. The man had us on our toes, a distant, ever-coming road hound, being scouted by flecks of men in the distance. Jerry Oliver of Edwards, CO was first overall, with a time of 4:14:52.16, beating the course record by a few minutes, and welcoming the start of toasted sandwiches and large hunks of dripping watermelon. Mike Simpson of Glenwood, CO was 1st in his age group, and 2nd overall male just shy of 9 minutes later with a time of 4:23:14.38.
There might have been some bacon elbows and knees, but if there were the racers kept mum about it. No one honked, but they did devour watermelon and the cola bobbing in ice buckets beneath the shaded tent of relaxation. There were a couple bike-mishaps, a derailleur that left the racer unable to finish, but overall, the race was an experience none should miss. Really. Tell your friends. The bloom of the racers at the start was a beautiful sight, but imagine what it would look like, what it would feel like to be pushed by a menacing pack drafting off your back, or perhaps of drafting off the back of some front-runner. The thicker the bloom the better.
Out of the few Betty’s, the fastest overall was Lori Smith of Grand Junction, CO with a time of 5:10:47.72. Lynne McDade of Lakewood, CO was 1st in her age group, and 2nd overall female with a time of 5:38:55.41.
Out of 63 racers, 16 were under the 5-hour mark, and all but two completed the race in under 8-hours.