Riders in Wednesday's Summit Mountain Challenge may have been coughing at the finish line, but it was more likely from exertion than from dust this week.
Rain has helped the condition of the course, which many riders said was good for the point-to-point race from Boreas Pass to the Stephen C. West Ice Arena, because it's mostly downhill. A downhill course that's not tacky and grippy can be rough riding, they said.
"It's beautiful, remote," said Maverick Sports' Jeff Westcott of the 14.5-mile-long course for adults. "It's what you go do on a day off or after work. It has it all. It's the best course in the series. It has variety, and is very unique because the start is at a higher elevation than the finish. It has less climbing than other courses."
The first few races of the SMC saw riders finish with faces gray from dust, and grime between their teeth. At Wednesday's Pennsylvania Gulch Grind, they were splashed with mud, thanks to days of recent rain.
"I personally love this course," said 19-year-old Julia Hayes, who finished fourth of five in the women's sport ages 19-39 class in 1 hour, 3 minutes and 43 seconds. She started racing in the junior class, moving up this year.
"It's a hard climb at first, and after that, it's all downhill. It's a wild ride," she said, adding that it's important to be careful, keep your head up and not be afraid of speed, because braking can be hazardous. Hayes said she's a stronger downhill rider than a hill climber.
The women's sport class had eight total competitors, including the women 40+, but the women's beginner category has been growing, and racers are facing fiercer competition.
"It's awesome to see so many beginner women out there riding," said beginner Mindy Baswell, to which competitor Elena Forchielli added, "In six weeks, it's gotten so much more competitive."
Men racing in the sport division crossed the finish line barely able to breathe, much less speak.
"It was fun. It was a little bit of everything," said Torin Stegemyer, second-place finisher in the men's 19-34 sport class. He finished with a 1:17:37.
So far in the series, the Pennsylvania Gulch course is his favorite, though it was more technical than he expected.
Stegemyer was beat out by TJ Messerschmitt, who crossed the finish line about three-and-a-half minutes ahead of Stegemyer with a 1:13:58. It's Messerschmitt's first year in the race (he says biking is easier on his knees after years of playing soccer), and he's already eyeing the expert class. It's courtesy to move up when a racer finishes at the top of his division a few weeks in a row, and Messerschmitt secured that first-place slot two weeks ago in the Swan River Rampage.
Patrick Giberson, who finished fourth of a dozen in his division with a 1:19:20, said that though he finished ahead of many competitors, the downhill-style course isn't his cup of tea. His preference is climbing mining roads.
Still, "The course was in great shape. It's a fast course, with great climbing."