The mountain bike trails at the base of Howelsen Hill have spent several months hidden beneath several thick layers of snow.
But that hasn't kept Town Challenge Mountain Bike director Gretchen Sehler from thinking about them more than once during the winter.
"I think about how I can link the trails together to make courses all year long," Sehler said. "I started walking the courses at the end of April. They were still muddy then, but it gave me a chance to figure some things out."
On Wednesday, the time for thought, planning and plotting will be over as hundreds of eager riders show up at the base of Howelsen Hill for the first of eight races in the 2004 Town Challenge Mountain Bike Race Series.
"It's just a cool community summer event," rider Ian Prichard said. "I think a lot of people look forward to the first races of the year. It's a chance to dust off the old bike or get on the new bikes."
Like many of the racers who compete in the Steamboat series, Prichard is a seasoned veteran. He is a pro mountain bike rider and also a category 1 road racer with Team Rio Grande out of Fort Collins
He said the events offer a great training opportunity for elite level riders who are pursuing their own cycling dreams as well as average riders who just enjoy a chance to compete in the series along side other riders of the same ability. He thinks the series is so strong because of the people who run it and the support it gets in the community.
"It's just a cool community summer event," Prichard said "I look forward to it every year."
Sehler said that a lot of riders in Steamboat feel the same way Prichard does.
'The start is always very exciting," Sehler said. "It's a new, fun thing to do, and it gets you out and going."
The series will open with the Howelsen Hill Bluff Circuit this Wednesday. Racing begins at 5:30 p.m. with the junior class. The adult classes begin at 6 p.m.
In the first race of the season, riders will challenge their skills in a multi-lap race around a 3.2-mile course. The number of laps will be determined by the rider's ability and age.
Riders 10 to 12 years old will complete half a lap, riders 13 to 15 will complete a full lap, and adults will ride between two and four laps.
A complete map of the course and a registration form can be found online at www.townchallenge.com. Riders can register in advance for the race at a reduced price of $11 ($6 for the youth divisions) as long as the forms are delivered or faxed (along with a credit card number) to the Parks and Recreational Services building on Howelsen Parkway before 5 p.m. today.
Riders also can register after that time for $15 ($10 for the youth divisions) at the race site.
Prichard, who has been racing road bikes and training since January, said he is looking forward to the start of the race series for a number of reasons.
"Sure part of it is the racing, but the post-race party and the social aspects are also a big part of why people want to be a part of it," Prichard said. "The first race is a chance to get out and see people that you never see during the winter."
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