Five stages, one mountain and a whole lot of heart will separate mountain biking's best riders from the rest of the pack in the grueling Mercury Tour, coming to Steamboat this week.
Among the favorites in the yearly race will be last year's women's winner, Jimena Florit. The Argentinian rider will look for her second straight win when she returns to Steamboat Springs this week to defend her 1999 Mercury Tour crown. A huge field of contenders, including U.S. Olympic hopeful Ruthie Matthes will chase the 1999 champion. The Mercury Tour has become one of Colorado's biggest mountain bike races and draws a top international field.
The men's field will be wide open as three-time champion Jerome Chiotti will sit this one out. A drug scandal, in which he admitted to using the performance-enhancing hormone erythropoietin, has left the French cyclist on the sidelines. Tour director Len Pettyjohn, however, said a talented field of riders including Steve Larsen, Tinker Juarez and Travis Brown will be focused on the spot vacated by Chiotti.
"It's going to be pretty wide open," Pettyjohn said. "It should make for some exciting mountain biking."
This is the fourth year the event, hosted by the Outdoor Life Network, has come to Steamboat Springs. In addition to stage events for the pros on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, there will be plenty for spectators and amateur riders as well.
Recreational rides will be offered for beginner and intermediate riders on Saturday. There also will be an advanced recreational ride on the Continental Divide course on Sunday.
Spectators will get a chance to party on the mountain on Saturday with free gondola access to the Mercury Rising Beach Party. There also will be a course-side "Lunch on the Lawn" and a party at Slopeside Grill on Sunday.
In addition to parties, concerts and rides, racegoers can check out Outdoor Life's state-of-the-art climbing wall and see the latest in mountain biking technology at the base of the ski area. The entire event will be whittled down to two television specials that will air on the Outdoor Life Network, airing at 7 p.m., Sept. 28, and 7 p.m., Oct. 5.
To reach John F. Russell call 871-4209 or e-mail email@example.com