Steamboat's Boniface 3rd at Firecracker 50

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— Steamboat Springs mountain biker Kelly Boniface said her riding has steadily improved since she turned pro three years ago. No race has shown that more clearly than the Firecracker 50, a huge 54-mile Independence Day race in Breckenridge.

Boniface was seventh there three years ago, fifth last year, and on Monday, riding against a stacked field of the best in the region, she was third.

“I don’t know how it happened,” she said after the race, elated. “I’m still trying to sort my brain out.”

It happened because she went nose-to-nose with the best, and managed to hang on. Pau Mata, one of the world’s premier ultra-endurance mountain bike racers, flew from the pack at the start and dominated the race but managed a breakaway of her own, hanging with Crested Butte pro Jennifer Smith.

The pair traded second place back and forth on a steep course that proved grueling through a mix of fire road and singletrack trails.

“It was just climbing, climbing like crazy,” Boniface said. “We were hitting snow at the top and it was really muddy.”

“It was good we kept pushing each other because that’s how we pulled away from everyone else. I was a little faster on the climbs and she was a little faster on the descents. Unfortunately for me, the race ended on a descent.”

The race proved four miles longer than its traditional distance of 50 miles thanks to new singletrack added in.

Boniface was joined at the event by a few Steamboaters. Karen Tremaine also made the podium, placing second among singlespeed riders. Official results were not available Monday.

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