Measuring a little less than five miles from start to finish, the Thunderhead Hill Climb might not sound imposing.
But veteran mountain bikers are quick to point out that the 2000-vertical-foot journey from the base area of the Steamboat Ski Area to awe-inspiring views surrounding the Thunderhead gondola building at midmountain are a test of determination and will power.
"The key is to pace yourself," course record holder Ian Prichard said. "If you blow, there is no place to recover."
Prichard, who has won the race three times, broke his own record during last year's assault on Mount Werner with a time of 35 minutes, 17 seconds.
But Prichard said that with the wet conditions he expects to find on the mountain this week, he isn't expecting to break any records.
"A wet course is going to make it more difficult for riders to take a shot at the record," Prichard said. "Anytime the course is wet, it's gong to be slower."
Race director Gretchen Sehler said that last weekend's snow and rain would keep the dust down along the Zig Zag racecourse. On Monday, she said the course is in good shape, and she expects it to be ready for the second Town Challenge race of the year at 6 p.m. Wednesday. Youth racers, who will not climb to the top of the mountain, will open racing at 5:23 p.m.
The mountain bike trails below the gondola building will open to the public Wednesday. The gondola and Gondola Square adventure zone will open officially Friday.
Ski area officials are hoping to limit use of the trails to racers for this weekend's 24 Hours of Steamboat bike race for safety reasons.
Prichard led the men's field in last year's race, but said that since retiring from competitive road racing this spring, he hasn't been training as hard.
He expects former teammate Barkley Robinson to lead the men's open field in the race.
But Prichard still plans to go as hard as he can for a half-hour in an effort to keep pace with Robinson.
Former professional rider Karen Tremaine finished last year's hill climb in a time of 43:43 to win the women's division. Course record-holder Katherine Zambrana, who elected to race in the open division with the men, finished the race in a time of 40:48.
Racers can register for a discounted price of $11 before 5 p.m. today at the Parks, Open Spaces and Recreational Services Office at 245 Howelsen Parkway.
Racers also can register the day of the race for $15 in Gondola Square, starting at 5 p.m. Registration will close at 5:45 p.m.
Teens ages 16 to 18 will start at the base of the gondola and proceed 4.73 miles to the finish line at the top of the gondola.
Junior riders, ages 13 to15, will start at the base of the gondola and proceed 1.1 miles to the finish line at the bottom of the Thunderhead chairlift.
Youth riders, ages 11 and 12, will start at the bottom of the gondola and proceed half a mile to the finish line near the Christie Club condominiums. Children ages 8 and younger and youths ages 9 and 10 will start at the bottom of the gondola and proceed .34 miles to finish at the bottom of the Christie chairlift.
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