Sars Larson, left, and Rick Hager race at a Town Challenge race last summer on Emerald Mountain with Mount Werner in the background.

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Sars Larson, left, and Rick Hager race at a Town Challenge race last summer on Emerald Mountain with Mount Werner in the background.

Gearing up for bike season in Steamboat

Now is the time to prepare for Town Challenge mountain bike series

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Town Challenge schedule

June 2: Marabou Cross Country

June 16: Thunderhead Hill Climb

June 30: Emerald Cross Country Slash and Burn

July 14: Sunshine Loop

July 28: Emerald Cross Country

Aug. 11: Storm Peak Challenge

Aug. 20: Mount Werner Race

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Brad Bingham, left, and Barkley Robinson swoop around one of the final turns during a Town Challenge mountain bike race in 2008. The pair are among the series' top riders.

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Kate Rench powers her way up one of the final big climbs in a Town Challenge mountain bike race in 2008.

— The Town Challenge mountain bike series, which runs every summer in Steamboat Springs, attracts a huge variety of riders to its seven summer races.

The series is designed by and tailored especially for locals, usually starting after working hours on Wednesday evenings during the summer.

The race’s top riders are one and the same with some of the top cycling talent in the state, the weekly Town Challenge races serving as their tune-ups — competitive, fiercely fought tune-ups — for larger weekend races.

But plenty of adults whose legs pump more like the cylinders of Priuses than Peterbilts ride, as well.

According to regulars in the race, there are plenty of ways to get involved.

Slow and steady progress

Robin Craigen is the president of Routt County Riders, the most active and powerful cycling advocate group in Steamboat Springs. He’s a regular rider on all of Steamboat’s trails, and a competitor in the expert division of the Town Challenge races.

He wasn’t always such an aggressive proponent of cycling, however.

“I started as a beginner 12 years ago,” he said. “First time I rode the mountain, I was totally winded. But we did it with five or six stops. Next time, I stopped three times, and the next time, maybe twice. It might have been another summer before I could ride the whole thing without a break.”

He applied the same logic to Town Challenge races.

“I used to listen to stories about how tough it was, and I said, ‘Not interested,’” he said. “Somehow, I got talked into doing one, and it was probably one of the toughest things I’ve had to do in any sport, physically. For some reason, I showed up again at the next race, then the next race. Then I did an entire season in the novice division. I just kept encouraging myself, realizing I could do better. Then I moved up to the sport division, and now I ride in the expert division.”

An early start

Barkley Robinson has been a fixture on the Steamboat cycling scene since injuries forced him to give up his freestyle skiing spot on the U.S. Ski Team. He has had a firm grip on the Town Challenge men’s pro division for the past couple of years. Robinson said for the most part, he leaves the bike in storage for the winter, choosing instead to cross-country ski. Once the roads begin to be consistently melted, however, he starts to get back in the habit.

“Come spring, hopefully you’ve built up a base of fitness throughout the winter with skiing or snowshoeing or hiking,” Robinson said. “Then, spring is time to get on your road bike and start getting some miles in, just some base rides at a steady pace.”

Robinson said he started on his road bike early in March this season and, apart from a weekend trip to the Grand Junction and Fruita area, still hasn’t broken out the mountain bike.

First come the miles, he said — long rides up to 60 miles, mostly on gravel roads in the area. As the fitness comes, so do more intervals, also gradually increasing in difficulty.

“You want to work in some intensity and longer intervals,” he said. “As you get closer to summer and to your race season, you start making those interval workouts shorter and more intense.”

He said by this point, he’s midway through his progression, riding perhaps three or four intervals in hilly areas of about 15 or 20 minutes. The closer summer comes, the shorter, more numerous and more intense those intervals get.

“There are two key things a lot of people overlook. One is interval training and the other is giving yourself some easy ride days,” he said. “Have a plan with some hard days and some easy days. That can be really beneficial to helping your body recover so you can get more out of your next hard day.”

Everyday training

Katie Lindquist is one of the top riders in the top women’s classification, the expert division. At one point in her riding career, she raced against the nation’s top professional cyclists, but now she trains regularly for the comparatively small-scale Town Challenge events.

The key, she said, is working her rides into her everyday routine. That means riding the eight miles from her Strawberry Park home to work in Steamboat, designing the latest and greatest in bicycles with her husband, Kent Eriksen, of Kent Eriksen Cycles.

“On my ride home, I have about 1,000 feet of climbing, and I time trial it, beeline it home,” she said. “Almost every night, I go as fast as I can. I can work over 10 hours a day, so I don’t always have time to get out and train, so what I do needs to be time-efficient.

“Ride hills. Chase someone faster than you. Ride with someone stronger than you. Throw a smile on your face and have fun.”

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