Mike Kloser, of  Vail, raises his arms in victory as he crosses the finish line for his 10th Steamboat Pentathlon championship in March 2009. Kloser decided not to participate in this year’s race, leaving the top men’s slot open for other competitors.

File photo

Mike Kloser, of Vail, raises his arms in victory as he crosses the finish line for his 10th Steamboat Pentathlon championship in March 2009. Kloser decided not to participate in this year’s race, leaving the top men’s slot open for other competitors.

Longtime champion sitting out Steamboat Pentathlon, leaves 1st place open

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If you go

What: 19th annual Steamboat Pentathlon

When: 10 a.m. Saturday

Where: Howelsen Hill

The March 15 deadline came and with it went good news for any competitor hoping to win the 19th annual Steamboat Springs Pentathlon.

Michael Kloser, the adventure racing juggernaut from Vail who has dominated the Pentathlon for a decade, did not sign up to defend his men’s standard course title. Neither did his son, Christian, the reigning short-course champion.

“I’m going to stay true to my word,” said Michael Kloser, who said he retired from the race after last year’s title. “I’ve been known to change my mind in some of those areas, but in this case, at this point in time, I’ll stand true.”

The pentathlon returns to Steamboat at 10 a.m. Saturday. It will launch about 235 competitors — competing as individuals or teams — skiing, biking, snowshoeing and running to and from the base of Howelsen Hill.

Attendance is expected to be down from last year’s 267 competitors, but there still should be a strong field populated by Steamboat’s wide variety of enthusiastic outdoors athletes.

Kloser’s absence after winning each of the 10 times he entered the pentathlon opens the door for a new men’s champion. Barkley Robinson, second behind Kloser last year, is expected back, as are top men’s competitors Allen Belshaw and Scott Kempers, previous champions who finished third and fourth a year ago.

“Kloser has been the king of this event for so many years, but, well, this is good,” Robinson said. “I’ve been second multiple times, so I’m looking forward to trying to win one.”

The women’s side also will be missing a defending champion. Steamboat’s Kelly Boniface said she opted out of this year’s race.

Robinson was quick to adopt the same theme Kloser did in all his years in the race. The pentathlon is not an event about winning.

“It’s a fun event,” Kloser said. “It’s all about the fun and the camaraderie and getting everyone in the community together.”

The pentathlon pulls together athletes from all corners of Steamboat’s competition landscape.

Participants start with a dash up the steep face of Howelsen and then come back down on skis or snowboards they stashed at the top.

They then snowshoe for about three miles on the trails around Emerald Mountain, cross-country ski for about four miles in the same area, cycle about 12 miles down River Road and run five miles on the Yampa River Core Trail, ending up back at Howelsen, where it all started.

For Robinson, the perennial champion of Steamboat’s summer Town Challenge mountain biking series, those combined miles of running and snowshoeing are daunting.

“It’s always a tough race for me,” Robinson said. “Nordic skiing is something I do a lot, but the event is at least half running, so it ends up being a runner’s race.”

Belshaw, meanwhile, is one of the town’s most accomplished ultra-marathon runners and a strong all-around competitor.

The race has attracted high school hockey players and New Zealand rugby brutes, mountain climbers and, this year, two teams of Boy Scouts.

None of that will change in the event’s 19th year.

“It’s just a great community event,” race director Kate Warnke said. “We have participants from young kids on up. We have racers registered this year over 60 years old. It brings out the hard-core people, and it brings out the people just wanting to have fun with their friends.”

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