Downhill event may put town on map


They came to Steamboat Springs in helmets and pads that make them look a little like characters from a "Mad Max" movie.

Their clothing is appropriate when you think about it, because some might argue the downhill mountain bikers in this weekend's Storm Peak Thunder event represent the future of mountain biking -- especially here in Steamboat.

The idea of riding a full-suspension bike down the steep slopes of a ski area at breakneck speeds brought hundreds of cyclists to this mountain town.

Sure, we have the Town Challenge mountain biking series. But the downhill event was the most prestigious we've had here since the Mercury Tour faded into the Western sunset several years ago.

Unfortunately, when the Outdoor Life Network turned its attention to that little bike tour in France, the Mercury Tour ceased to exist in the mountains of Northwest Colorado.

But the idea of hosting a mountain bike stage race in Steamboat each summer was cutting edge and well received for several years before organizers pulled out.

Its demise left Steamboat, a world-class mountain biking town, without a world-class race.

Nothing lasts forever.

The good news is the Steamboat Bike Festival seems to be racing to replace the Mercury events. This weekend's professional downhill race could fill a niche.

It's just what Steamboat needs to bring back the attention of the mountain biking world.

Sure, the Olympic level athletes may not be on hand, but then how many people have followed the careers of Pavel Tcherkassov or Jimena Florit in the wake of winning the final Mercury Tour titles in August 2000?

What downhill mountain biking brings to Steamboat is a reason to watch the sport again -- not that people here ever stopped watching.

But this discipline is filled with excitement, danger and the upcoming stars of the next big sport.

But don't get me wrong; I'm not expecting every rider to jump on a specialized bike and tear down the trails of the ski area at death-defying speeds. There are a few of us who would prefer to stand along the trails and watch a younger generation break their necks in events such as these.

But by hosting events like the Storm Peak Thunder, Steamboat has stayed in the game. If downhill mountain biking is successful in its bid to be the next big sporting fad, Steamboat will not be left behind.

It also gives this mountain town a chance to ride the new event's momentum back to the top of the mountain biking world.

-- To reach John F. Russell call 871-4209 or e-mail


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