Steamboat Springs Even though Wednesday's season-opening Town Challenge mountain bike race fit astonishingly in a sunny, rainless window, the month-long cycle of short but always looming rain storms still had an effect on the day's racing.
"It's been tough to get out and ride," Amy Zutterling said shortly after finishing her race in the women's sport division. "I still feel really out of shape. It was tough out there but was a lot of fun."
Town Challenge director Gretchen Sehler wasn't complaining. The clouds parted, and the sun shone brightly starting shortly before the race, but thunder announced the rain was to return even as the final riders pedaled toward the finish line. But in that gap, nearly 175 racers took to the usually restricted singletrack trails of the Marabou Ranch preservation subdivision.
It was the second consecutive year a race has been run at the private ranch.
"It's just awesome that the folks from Marabou let us come out here," Sehler said. "I love that we have the ability to have different venues and different kinds of races. This was the perfect venue."
Barkley Robinson won the men's pro division, finishing in 53 minutes, 50 seconds, just 41 seconds ahead of second-place Brad Bingham. Nate Bird was third at 55:42.
Kelly Boniface won the women's pro race at 1:04:07. Linnea Dixson was second in 1:10:47, and Kate Rench was third at 1:11:53.
Essam Welch, meanwhile, didn't finish anywhere near the top of the men's pro division.
Welch usually is a fixture at the front of the race but experienced a whole different kind of ride Wednesday.
He rode to the course from Steamboat Springs, pedaling up and down the hills west of town as cars and trucks loaded with racers and bikes flew past. And he made it to the starting line - five minutes after the pro men had launched.
Without even pausing to catch his breath, he took off down the trail, chasing all the men in his division and all the racers in the four classes that started in the meantime.
"Today, I got to ride a really social race. I got to see a lot of folks," Welch said with a laugh. "I was really able to practice my passing technique.
"I really underestimated the number of hills there are on the way out here."
Welch wasn't the only rider who fell victim to the hills in and around Marabou.
The rest of the Town Challenge calendar will play out on the steep courses of Mount Werner and Emerald Mountain. The Marabou track was flat by comparison, but that doesn't mean it wasn't without its sustained climbs.
"The hills were tough," Antonio Jarane said.
Jarane moved to Steamboat a year ago and finished his first Town Challenge race Wednesday, winning the men's novice division.
"I love to mountain bike," he said. "I did it a little in Mexico, but it's much more fun here. There are much better trails.
"It was very fun."