Chuck O'Connell is proof that turning 40 isn't so bad.
Decked out in his lucky jersey with a shamrock on his back, O'Connell won the Men's 40-plus Expert division at the Howelsen Hill Criterium on Wednesday night.
Instead of riding against bikers nine years his junior, O'Connell, at 40, is the baby of his new division, and took advantage, riding three laps in 35 minutes, 55 seconds.
Ron Famiglietti, 38, was the overall winner in the Men's Expert division, however, with a time of 35:48.
The Howelsen Hill Criterium was the first of eight races in this year's Town Challenge Mountain Bike Race Series.
And if the inaugural race of this season was any indication, it should be another competitive and fun year for area mountain bikers, as 177 riders took part in Wednesday's race around the base of Howelsen Hill.
"It's great to start on a shorter course and get everyone back in the racing state of mind," Barkley Robinson said.
The Howelsen Hill Criterium was a relatively nontechnical 2.8 mile-course with several climbs and fast descents. A riders' division determined how many laps he or she had to complete.
Robinson rode four laps in 43:22 to win the Pro/Open division. The first lap wasn't so bad, but the hill that greets riders immediately as they leave the paved parking lot got tougher on the second, third and fourth time around.
The same held true for the riders' in every other division.
"It's like someone's grabbing your shirt and pulling backward," O'Connell said.
He said he felt pretty good afterward, however, but the coughs, tired looks and expressions of relief worn by a majority of Wednesday's participants indicated it's still early in the mountain biking season.
The base of Howelsen is one of several areas in Steamboat that's dry enough for mountain biking. The number of riders and the speed with which they navigated the course caused some dust to collect in the air and hover above the course and finish area.
The youth riders kicked off things first Wednesday night with their races, which where shortened versions of the adults' courses.
Dan Verney won the 9 and under division in 1:31. David Keiss won the 10-12 division in 4:27. Sarah MacCarthy won the Youth division in 4:22.
And then they all got Popsicles.
With temperatures in the 80s at the start of Wednesday's races, the adults wouldn't have minded sneaking a Popsicle or two after the finish.
Liz Rostermundt noted the heat, especially on some of the climbs, made for a tougher first race of the year, but she said it was a good way to start the season, nonetheless.
"It was purely aerobic," Rostermundt said. "The downhills were fast. They were really fun."
Rostermundt won the three-lap Women's Expert division in 41:03.
Sue Schwartz won the two-lap Women's Novice division in 32:15. Brett Ziehmke won the Men's Sport division in 37:54.
Ian Gale won the Men's Novice division in 27:17 in his first Town Challenge race.
"I thought it was one lap until (Wednesday morning)," he said.
And he had practiced that way, pushing himself hard for one lap before discovering he had to pace himself through two on the day of the race.
While many of this year's winners and participants are former entrants, Gale is new to the series in Steamboat. He's pretty new to Steamboat. Gale came to work during the ski season, saved his money, bought a mountain bike and decided to stay through the summer.
"I definitely think I'll do another race," he said.
Up next in the Town Challenge series is the Thunderhead Hill Climb on June 11. Unlike the up and down Howelsen Hill Criterium, the Thunderhead race is explained best in its name; it's a climb from the base of the Steamboat Ski Area to the top of the Thunderhead lift.
"It's the race of truth," Robinson said.
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