Athletes brave grueling contest

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— Here's the scenario.

It's a cold, Sunday morning. The cross-country ski race is ready to start. A man entered in the male competitive division heads to the line.

On his left is four-time Nordic combined Olympian Todd Lodwick. On his right is Kyrill Kretzschmar, a former All-American Nordic skier at the University of Denver. Behind him is Mike Kloser, an international star in mountain biking and adventure racing. Kloser also is a seven-time Steamboat Pentathlon winner.

Welcome to a Sunday race in Steamboat Springs.

Ready. Set. Go.

"That's just motivation," said Antonio Marxuach, who coaches the Steamboat Masters Nor--dic skiers along with Kretz--schmar.

The Nordic Challenge Series staged the inaugural Mountain Cuts Howelsen Hill Climb on Sunday, drawing an impressive field, including Lodwick, Kloser and Kretzschmar.

"From my experience, virtually every race in this valley is pretty darn competitive," Marxuach said. "I've raced a lot in the region. I'd say, without question, the races in this valley are typically faster.

Marxuach was still in bed Tuesday, recovering from the 1,072 vertical feet he skate-skied Sunday, as well as the 42-kilometer Steamboat Stampede race he competed in Jan. 7.

"There are probably a few people in town who are pretty tired," said Marxuach, who finished fourth.

Lodwick won the inaugural Hill Climb in 24 minutes, 20.17 seconds. In other words, Lodwick skate-skied from the yurt at the base of Howelsen Hill to the quarry on Emerald Mountain in less than 25 minutes.

"Todd has set a standard that probably won't be broken in a while, but it may attract another hot-shot skier," organizer Dan Smilkstein said.

Lodwick was one of 12 men who finished the grueling course in less than 30 minutes. A 13th was Charlie Stoddard, a Steamboat Springs High School freshman.

"It was a challenging format," Smilkstein said. "Everyone was breathing hard."

Kloser was second in 25:32.03. Kretzschmar was third in 26:00.83.

Deborah Rose was the top female competitive skier, finishing in 32:50.50. Marianne Osteen was second in 33:53.84. Stephanie Scholl was third in 37:11.59.

All three skate-skied.

"The people who showed up really liked it," Smilkstein said. "It was a good addition to the series."

The inaugural Hill Climb included a youth division. The young skiers raced 0.62 miles and climbed 200 feet. The recreational course was three kilometers and climbed 580 feet.

Cameron Osteen was the top recreational skier, finishing in 25:10.70. Barbara Philip was second in 46:30.04. Dave Wittlinger was the top recreational male skier in 17:55.00. Matt Tredway was second in 18:59.34. Russell Young was third in 21:47.26.

Gretchen and Anna Burk--holder were first and second in the female junior division, finishing in 13:15.80 and 17:42.66. Christian Kloser, Mike Kloser's son, was the top youth male, posting a time of 10:56.41. Evan Weinman was second in 12:21.62.

The next race in the Nordic Challenge Series is the Vista Verde Nordic Challenge race at 10 a.m. Saturday. It includes a 12-kilometer competitive race and a six-kilometer recreational ski race to benefit Routt County Search and Rescue. A 3-kilometer fun race also is being held.

The cost to enter is $14 for competitive and recreational skiers and $6 for youths. The race-day price is $16 for adults. Pre-registration is being taken at the Steamboat Ski Touring Center through Friday.

Race-day registration is 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. at the Nordic Center Hut at Vista Verde Guest Ranch in North Routt. The post-race party is at the Glen Eden Restaurant and Tavern in Clark.

For more information, call Emily Lovett at Vista Verde at 879-8149.

-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail mmawdsley@steamboatpilot.com

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