Sunshine Loop may be most grueling race

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— With close to 14 miles of grueling dirt-track terrain, this week's Sunshine Loop race is one of the longest and most challenging in the Town Challenge Mountain Bike series.

"This is a big one," expert racer Ron Famiglietti said. "This is the hardest race we have all summer."

Local organizer Gretchen Sehler said the conditions on the mountain are surprisingly good after last weekend's rain. She said the moister has helped settle the dust and loose dirt on many of the trails at the Steamboat ski area and thinks conditions are perfect for the race.

"This is one of my favorite rides on the mountain," Sehler said. "It's very challenging, but most of the riders are pretty familiar with it."

The pro, expert, and sport men's classes will complete all 14-miles of track, which takes riders from the base of the gondola, up Valley View and Duster before linking into the Sunshine Loop.

Riders will then use the trail system to work their way back down the mountain to where they started the race.

"I look forward to it, but I know I'm going to be feeling it for a couple of days afterwards," Famiglietti said.

Most of the other classes, with the exception of the novice women and older kids, will compete on the shorter Gondola Loop, which covers about half the distance of the other course. Riders in those divisions will ride up Right of Way to the base of the Thunderhead chair. From there riders go up the road to the Rough Rider Basin to the bottom of Heavenly Daze. The trek continues up Valley View to Spur Run to the top of the Gondola then back down Zig Zag to the bottom of the Christi chair. The final leg of the course takes riders to the top of Headwall and then down to the bottom of the gondola.

The novice women and older juniors will complete the Yoo Hoo Loop. Sehler will set up three additional courses for the younger classes of riders at the event.

Sehler said the race series has been drawing between 170-180 riders through the first four events this summer. She said that is down slightly from last year, but is still very strong.

"This is our second busiest year," Sehler said. "There are a few less riders at some of the events, but it's still pretty good."

Racers who want to take part in this week's event can show up at the offices of Parks, Open Space and Recreation and register before 5 p.m. for $10. Racers who miss that deadline can sign up at the site of the race for $15 on Wednesday.

This is the fifth in the eight-race series. The races take place every other Wednesday night during the summer. The final race will be the only exception and will be held on a Friday evening in early September.

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