Taking the challenge

Town Challenge Series begins at Howelsen Hill

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— Nicole Duke has officially moved to Steamboat Springs.

On Wednesday, the former Boulder resident entered her first Town Challenge Series race, winning the women's expert division in the Howelsen Hill Bluffs Circuit.

Duke saw firsthand how popular the mountain bike series is in Steamboat.

"It was fun," she said. "I'm doing it mostly to meet people. I just moved here."

As the mother of an 8-month old, Duke found Steamboat's winter much longer, and she is ready for a Steamboat summer.

She had been on Howelsen Hill and Emerald Mountain previously but wasn't familiar with the course.

On one of her three laps, she missed an uphill segment, so she rode it twice on another lap to make up for the advantage she gained.

Overall, Duke liked the course, which added an extra 1.3 miles this season, but the former professional downhill racer discovered quickly that Steamboat is mostly a climbing town.

"Yeah, at the start, I was like 'Are you kidding me? We have to climb that?'" she said, pointing to the ascent at the base of Howelsen Hill.

Barkley Robinson took the lead in the pro/open division from the start and never relinquished it, but he may have had a slight advantage against the field.

"This was my first mountain bike race, but I've done a ton of training on the road," he said.

Robinson is a member of the Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant's professional racing team, which competes throughout the country. This year, his team is increasing the number of national races it enters, so he has been training and competing more vigorously than in previous summers.

It showed Wednesday.

"The course was awesome," he said. "We had a nice climb to separate the field and some really nice single track."

Robinson is hopeful his summer road racing schedule won't interfere with his participation in the Town Challenge mountain bike races.

"I should do most of them," he said.

Robinson isn't the only Town Challenge racer who competes outside of Steamboat throughout the summer. Katherine Ingalls, winner of the women's sport division, is a member of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club's cycling club, which Moots sponsors.

The Moots team, out in full force Wednesday, already has begun racing.

"We started training at the end of April and beginning of May," said Ingalls, who officially began her competitive season Wednesday. "We pretty much started on our mountain bikes immediately. Last year was my first year of competitive racing. I feel so much more comfortable on my bike this year."

Ingalls is almost done with her freshman year of high school.

On Wednesday, she easily won the sport division.

"I'll stay at sport for a couple races and then probably move up to expert," she said.

The Town Challenge Series runs on alternate Wednesdays throughout the summer, using trails on Howelsen Hill, Emerald Mountain and the Steamboat Ski Area.

A climb up Buffalo Pass Road is scheduled for late summer.

For more information about the Town Challenge visit www.townchallenge.com

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

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