Steamboat Springs The ash from a fire burning in the nearby mountains sprinkled down and dust from hundreds kicked up into a choking cloud.
The course was different, Steamboat Springs cyclist Kelly Boniface said, considering the 54 miles of trail she tackled Saturday at the U.S. Mountain Biking Cross-Country Marathon national championships in Bend, Ore.
“Around here, we will settle in, climb for a while, then descend and recover,” she said. “There, it was pedaling the whole time. There were punchy climbs, but it was rolling. It was a lot different than the way we ride in a mountain town.”
It was difficult, she said, but after settling inside the top 10, she had managed to work her way up into fifth place, passing a rider changing a flat tire to pull into position for the final podium spot at the season-ending event.
Then, in the face of the ash and the dust and the never-ending pedaling, she cracked.
“I wasn’t as close to the finish line as I thought I was,” she said. “I should have stopped to eat something earlier, but I was so panicked. I kept pushing on instead because I didn’t want to get caught.
“It felt like I was pedaling squares. I was running on fumes.”
Being dirty and absolutely out of energy didn’t stop Boniface. She pushed through the pain and finished in fifth place, earning her second trip to the nationals podium in three seasons.
Few finishes in her career have tasted sweeter, she said.
“Everything I had in me was left out there,” she said. “Once I had that last spot on the podium, I was not going to give that up. I was turning myself inside out to get to that finish line. I pulled it off.”
Boniface finished the race in 4 hours, 49 minutes and 23 seconds, 51 seconds ahead of sixth-place Jana Repulski, of Boise, Idaho. Pua Mata won the women’s pro race in 4:09:35. Kelli Emmett was second in 4:18:48, Sarah Anderson was third at 4:30:09 and Serena Gordon was fourth at 4:35:17.
“It was a good way to end the season, for sure,” she said.