Steamboat Springs The field of 175 racers that took part in Wednesday night's first Town Challenge mountain bike race of the season kicked up plenty of dust, but when the cloud finally cleared, at least one familiar face was in the winner's circle.
Steamboat Springs racer Ben Zambrana came out on top of a tactical dual with fellow local Doug Demusz to win the men's expert class.
"We may have been working off of each other a little," Zambrana said. "If I needed a rest I might drop back behind him and follow his pace for a while."
But in the final lap, the teamwork came to an abrupt end. At the start of the bell lap, Demusz made a determined effort to pull away from Zambrana. He managed to build about an 8-second lead over the second-place racer, but he may have struck a little early.
"It was kind of early and I knew we had another climb, so I let him go," Zambrana said. "I was a little worried, but I was hoping he would slow down on the hill and he did."
Demusz felt that he needed to strike early in the bell lap if he wanted to win. Zambrana had shown in the earlier laps that he had a lot of power in the flats that preceded the finish line.
"I tried to get the jump and hold it through the hills, but I may have gone a little too hard, too soon," Demusz said.
The two battled to a thrilling finish with Zambrana crossing the finish line just a second ahead of Demusz. It was an exiting start to the eight-race Town Challenge Mountain Bike series, which seems to be growing even beyond the organizers' expectations.
"This is the largest race we have ever had," director Gretchen Sehler said.
The opening race was held on Howelsen Hill because of construction around the Skyline Trail where the first race of the season is normally held.
Most of the racers seemed to like the criterium format that pitted racers against one another for a set period of time and then one lap or two laps depending on the class. A large number of spectators also showed up at the race to cheer on the local riders.
"It was great because you could see 50 percent of the course from just about anywhere," Zambrana said. "It was a lot of fun and the spectators really seemed to be involved."
A newcomer, Eryel Aisha, topped the women's expert class in the first race of the season. Other winners were crowned in novice, sport and junior classes. However, organizers couldn't name the official winners at press time. Look in the Steamboat Pilot newspaper for complete results next week.
To reach John F. Russell call 871-4209 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org