Steamboat Springs David Dietrich and Andrew Hyde picked a doozy of a place to make their competitive off-road triathlon debut, but they love trail running and dig trail riding, so they figured they would give the XTERRA Central Championship a shot.
"This summer I decided what the heck," said Dietrich, 33. "The more I thought about it, the more I decided I didn't want to get on the road. I enjoy trail running so much, and I have a new mountain bike. I wanted to do a triathlon."
The XTERRA event in Keystone seemed to be a perfect fit because of its proximity to Steamboat Springs. Who cares if Dietrich and Hyde will be racing against the world's top off-road triathletes such as Durango's Ned Overend?
"I plan on dropping him," Dietrich said with a laugh. "I don't plan on seeing him."
Dietrich, a first-time triathlete, may not see much of Overend, but it's unlikely the Steamboat resident will be the one with a substantial lead.
Overend is the 1998 and 1999 XTERRA World Champion and finished third in last year's points standings. He was the top U.S. male overall but did not win a race, which disappointed the highly competitive 46-year-old. He did, however, win the Central Championship in Keystone two years ago, but Overend picked Nicolas LeBrun, 28, of Digne, France, as the pre-race favorite this year in the men's pro division.
Tagged "The Lung" by journalist Bob Babbitt, Overend is a world-renowned mountain biker with an almost unmatched ability to climb hence the nickname. He won six national titles and the 1990 World Mountain Bike championship.
He has even raced in Steamboat.
But he admits, despite living at altitudes around 6,500 feet in Durango, he was not prepared for the grueling Keystone course his first time.
"I got into the water and swam hard to the first buoy," Overend said. "I was so out of breath that I literally had to stop swimming and flip over onto my back. It was cold, but I don't think that was it. I had not swum at altitude."
And that characteristic separates the Central Championship from any other XTERRA event on earth.
The first stage, the swim, starts at more than 9,000 feet in the skating pond at Keystone Resort. In three separate waves, men and women will make two laps. While the temperature of the water may be warmer than in years past due to the higher summer temperatures, wet suits are still required.
Dietrich, who really just learned to swim this year, took some practice laps earlier this week with his wet suit on. It made him more buoyant but restricted his breathing.
Hyde, on the other hand, will step into his wet suit for the first time before Sunday's race. He knew how to swim before signing up for the XTERRA event but wasn't educated on proper techniques until this year.
"It takes a lot of practice," said Hyde, 29. "It's like skate skiing. You can't expect miracles in two months of training. What's going to be the nerve-wracking part is wearing that wet suit for the first time."
Following the 1,000-meter swim, participants will transition from their swim attire to those needed for mountain biking. The 2,000-foot ascent is not too technical. Hyde, who went down with friend and fellow competitor Andy Picking to ride the course two weeks ago, compared the climb to the Sunshine Town Cross Country event staged as part of the Town Mountain Bike Challenge in Steamboat. The climb is where Overend often makes up time lost in the swim. Hyde expects the same thing.
The 2,000-foot descent is another story.
"It's going to be challenging to say the least," Hyde said. "The downhill is more technical. It's more relentless. There is no chance to really rest."
Dietrich felt the same. He road the 26-kilometer course Monday and said it was unlike anything in Steamboat. The course consists of miles of switchbacks and a section that resembles a rock staircase called the "Wild Thing."
"I definitely walked that section," Dietrich said. "It's a rocky section with a couple foot drops. Why take the chance of falling?"
He doesn't plan on it, and he won't be alone. Almost every rider, except for professional Mike Vine, who won the Central Championship last year, gets off to walk.
The event doesn't end with the mountain bike either. The third stage is a 10-kilometer run Public Relations Coordinator Sharon Cutler called a "mostly scenic trail run."
It is a descriptor appropriate for two reasons. First, the views at Keystone are majestic and are often overlooked while bikers navigate 2,000 feet of rocks, trees and water on the mountain descent. Second, it's mostly flat and fast, providing racers the chance to see the scenery or competition.
In addition to Hyde, Dietrich and Picking, Scott Murrell and John Smith are the other Steamboat-area men scheduled to compete, according to www.xterraplanet.com. Katherine Zambrana, Julie Fager and Jill Miller are slated to race on the women's side.
XTERRA is the fastest-growing multi-sport event in the world. Overend sees the popularity increasing particularly because it pulls those disinterested with road racing into off-road triathlons.
"I like this one," Overend said. "There's something about the mountain bike and trail running. You are out there working hard but notice less. You have the distractions, but you are busy negotiating trails. I'm really looking forward to it. It will be a strong field this year."