Steamboat Springs It started with 130 helmeted racers huddled at the base of Howelsen Hill, ready to charge 400 feet uphill, jockeying for space with whatever elbows or ski poles were available.
But varying degrees of age, athleticism and race-day nerves quickly separated individual and team participants in the 16th annual Steamboat Pentathlon on Saturday morning.
"On the run up, this guy next to me was like 'huuuugghh,' gave me that green look on his face and threw up right there," Piper Watson said. "The girl behind him said, 'That's not a good way to start your morning!'"
Other racers started the sunny morning strong, and after the ride down the Howelsen face to the Vanatta Field transition area, they either donned snowshoes or tagged a teammate to start the snowshoe leg of the race.
Seasoned individual racers such as Allen Belshaw had the transition dialed in, ready to kick off boots and jump in track shoes already attached to snowshoes.
"You learn little tricks every year," said Belshaw, who agreed that race directors from the city of Steamboat Springs' Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Department have done the same, hosting the most organized event he had experienced in his seven years racing.
What started as a five-event solo endeavor for Belshaw - once the miles from the hill climb, 2 1/2-mile snowshoe, 4-mile cross-country ski, 12-mile mountain bike and 5-mile run were added up - ended as a one-two affair.
Belshaw, sporting the No. 1 bib, finished ahead of friend and training partner, Scott Kempers, who wore the No. 2 bib.
"Scott put the hurt on me and really punched my ticket on the bike," Belshaw said. "I was lucky enough to catch him on the run, right as we got on the (Yampa River) Core Trail."
Belshaw and Kempers had worked and trained together for the race with the objective of beating adventure-racing legend Mike Kloser. Since Kloser was busy posting the U.S. team's top finish Saturday at the World Winter Triathlon Championships in Flassen, Italy, the Steamboat locals were able to prevent Kloser, a Vail resident, from grabbing his 10th Steamboat Pentathlon win.
Not that the Klosers weren't represented at the race. Mike's 13-year-old son, Christian, was in the top three of the short course pack before a few costly bike slip-ups dropped him to a 10th-place finish.
Hometown finishers also dominated the women's individual side. Kelly Boniface and Jenna Gruben traded positions throughout the race until the final running leg, where Boniface gained a minute-and-a-half advantage for the win.
Both joked how their water had frozen on the bike portion, revealing the grueling conditions on the long course.
Multisport fanatic Bill Goldsmith harnessed Barkley Robinson's cycling abilities to earn the overall team win and the course's fastest time (2 hours and 39 seconds), while high school cross-country standout Matt Hill collapsed at the snowy finish line, determined to defend his coed "Creekside" team's title.
The short course provided a more low-key opportunity for athletes who hadn't been on as militant a workout schedule to compete in the race.
"This is my third year doing the race. I did the long course last year, but I'm just not in the shape to do it again," said Louisville's John Van Eden, who found a final dramatic burst at the finish to pass Ian Gale.
The short course also was the primary domain of the festive costumed teams, whose outfits ranged from mismatched neon colors to Hawaiian shirts and Burger King crowns.
"You just gotta go 'til you blow," said a grass-skirted Tim Murphy, awaiting his leg of the skate ski.
From youth teams like the 10-and-under "Team of the Little People" to the "Steamboat Rugby Old Boys" scrambling to find a racer for the skate ski leg, the pentathlon provided a much needed mid-winter excuse for the 260 racers to get out, socialize and break a sweat while breathing in some cold air.
"I was recovering all last winter from a shoulder injury," said Bob Furman, who raced the ski leg for The Center for Sports Medicine's short course coed team. "I've been using skate skiing for therapy to get my strength back, so to get out and ski is great, but participation in a race is icing on the cake. The mood here is uplifting."
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