Triumph on the Thunderhead

Mountain bikers climb gondola trail during Town Challenge racing series


— Essam Welch joked that he was tired of chasing Barkley Robinson on mountain bike trails.

After more than six years of racing Steamboat Springs Town Challenge races, including three years in the top division, Welch won his first race Wednesday.

And he did so in impressive fashion, finishing the Thunderhead Hill Climb in 36 minutes, 10 seconds.

Robinson, the favorite in nearly every Town Challenge race, was second in 36:53. Robinson was the first to congratulate Welch at the top of the gondola.

Welch's time was less than a minute off the course record.

"I passed Barkley on the stretch before the Creekside Trail," Welch said. "I tried not to look back. I didn't want to know where he was."

Welch, who is long and lean and built to climb, rode from the base of Steamboat Ski Area to the top of the gondola before race director Gretchen Sehler could drive the electronic clock up from the bottom.

Welch said the key is remembering that the steepest stretches of the course are the same stretches where he skied the fastest during winter. He thinks about the winter speed instead of the late spring pain.

"And I try to climb hard with a smile," he added.

Overall, the 4.73-mile course was in good shape, though it was dusty in spots, women's winner Marin Campbell said.

Campbell finished in 46:00, holding the lead from the get-go. Karen Tremaine was second in 47:42.

"The weather was perfect," Campbell said. "It was a little windy, which I love."

Rain threatened to fall, but the skies didn't open on the Town Challenge racers. The clouds kept temperatures down and the sun away, making conditions more bearable for the climbers.

In addition, most of the snow has melted off the lower mountain at Steamboat Ski Area, but not everyone racing Wednesday had bid farewell to winter sports.

Several members of Ski and Snowboard Club Vail are in town for a four-day freestyle skiing camp, using the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club's water ramp at Bald Eagle Lake.

The skiers brought their bikes and got the most out of them Wednesday.

"They were trying to decide whether to do the one-mile race or the whole thing," said coach Brian Baker, who used to ski with the Winter Sports Club and also raced Wednesday.

Corey Franklin, 13, Heidi Kloser, 13, and Andre Lane, 15, all picked the 4.73-mile climb.

"It was harder than I thought," said Kloser, who is used to skiing the bumps on Voo Doo run. "It doesn't look that long from the bottom."

The teenage skiers will be back on the ramps today, working on aerial tricks for next ski season.

The next Town Challenge Race is the Howelsen Hill Cross Country on June 21. The next mountain bike race is The Rio 24 Hours of Steamboat from noon Saturday to noon Sunday.

-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley, call 871-4208 or e-mail


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