Though the race covers a little less than five miles, the terrain in the annual Thunderhead Hill Climb is a stiff test for riders who are brave enough step to the starting line Wednesday.
"It's a test of fitness, and it's a test of a rider's ability to pace themselves," men's expert rider Ron Famiglietti said. "In most races, riders can get away with not maintaining a steady pace. But if you go too hard at the start of this one, there's no place to recover along the way."
Famiglietti has competed in the race four times since he started racing in the Steamboat Town Challenge mountain bike series six years ago. He admits that the course is grueling and a bit intimidating, but he also understands why it appeals to so many riders.
"It's a different kind of race," Famiglietti said. "It's not a circuit or a criterium. I think a lot of riders enjoy it."
He said the challenging climbs on the course also attract a lot of riders who don't come out for the more traditional races that start and finish in the same place.
For many of the riders the test of racing up the slopes of Mount Werner draws them to the event as well as the chance to prove they can overcome the 2,100-foot vertical climb the Mount Werner course offers.
Last year, 187 riders took part in the Thunderhead Hill Climb.
Race Director Gretchen Sehler isn't sure what to expect for this week's race, which begins at 5:30 with the junior classes and 6 p.m. for the adults.
She knows a lot of riders will be taking part in the 24 Hours of Steamboat later this week, but she isn't sure how that will affect the number of riders in the hill climb.
"I'm sure some racers will want to rest up, but others might be looking to go hard this week," Sehler said. "We will just have to wait and see what happens." The race director said that traditionally, when weather is good, the riders come out in force.
The race begins at the base of the gondola and heads up Zig Zag to the top of the gondola. The Miller Lite adult division and the age 13-15 division will compete on a shorter 1.1-mile course that goes to the base of the Thunderhead lift.
The 10-12 division will compete on a half-mile course that starts at the gondola and finishes just past the Christie Condos. The 9-and-younger class will start at the gondola and finish at the base of the Christie chairlift. It's a distance of .34 of a mile.
Ian Prichard set the course record for the men last year at 35 minutes, 18 seconds. Katherine Zambrana has held the women's record since 2002 at 40:35.
Riders can register for the race at the Parks and Recreational Services building until 5 p.m. Tuesday for $11. They also can register at the starting line the night of the race for $15. Riders competing in the junior classes pay $6 in advance or $10 on the night of the race.
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