Joel Reichenberger: Race shows Steamboat at its best

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It doesn't take much looking to find what people like so much about Steamboat Springs, especially at Saturday's Rio Stampede.

It's also not hard to find "crazy" in Steamboat. Everyone you meet is crazy about something sports-related, be it a long-distance cross country skier or an ultra-marathon runner. Heck, even a regular marathon runner seems nuts to a lot of people in the real world, but they come off as normal - f not a little lazy - in Steamboat.

The Stampede put it all on display at the Steamboat Ski Area on Saturday morning.

There was the crazy - 12 hours on a bike, half of which is inevitably sharply uphill. That's a little crazy, but consider many of those braving the 12-hour adventure this year typically tackle similar 24-hour races, riding an entire day with a few seconds of rest every hour or two.

Just because this year's Stampede was 12 hours shorter than last year's, and 12 hours shorter than some of the other mega-endurance races mountain bike riders can sign up for, didn't necessarily make it all that much easier. Competitors pointed out that even at 12 hours, it's one of the most difficult courses they encounter.

"This one has as much climbing as any of the 12- or 24-hour races," said Rob Peterson, a competitor who also plans to travel next week for a 24-hour team race in Gunnison. "The course in Gunnison isn't as hard."

Peterson's attitude might have encompassed it all even better than the Stampede as a whole.

An experienced rider, he was eager to tackle the challenge of Mount Werner and the 12-hour race. He also was plenty aware it wasn't just the competition or the fulfillment that kept him coming back.

"A lot of it is all the people around," Peterson said. "All the supporters and the other competitors, they're great. The environment here is great. We really beat ourselves up out there, but it's a lot of fun."

That atmosphere was everywhere Saturday. Most racers had at least one supporter - a friend or family member ready to help out, fix a bike or fill a water bottle. Those supporters helped in more ways, too, keeping a sharp eye on the competition, calculating leads and deficits and helping plot the rest of the race.

Camaraderie was everywhere, jokes and stories flying between tents and between riders. Help and advice also was changing hands among competitors, be it something little or something as big as bike repairs.

They kept score at the Rio Stampede and racers definitely wanted, desperately, to win.

But something special seems to happen whenever you get so many "crazy" sports fanatics in one place: they come together and bond before, during and after a race with the same dedication with which they tackle a steep climb.

As crazy as riding a bike for 12 hours might seem to some, being so close with competitors might seem equally crazy. It all felt normal Saturday, however. It all felt like Steamboat.

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