Take 5: 2016 Fall Classic MTB champs Chris Baddick and Amy Freeman | SummitDaily.com

Take 5: 2016 Fall Classic MTB champs Chris Baddick and Amy Freeman

Chris Baddick knew the Fall Classic was his to win — and then the moose arrived.

Near the end of the 30-mile pro ride on Sept. 4, the Boulder-based mountain biker was a solid three minutes ahead of his closest competition, three-time Classic winner Jay Henry of Eagle County. Baddick knew he had to ride hard from start to finish — Henry is no pushover — but as he dropped off of Side Door trail and onto Minnie Mine in French Gulch, he was face to face with a mama moose and her calf.

"I came within 10 feet of her, and in any other normal situation you wouldn't get that close," said Baddick, who otherwise kept his composure and the lead to win the men's pro division. "But that's one great thing of riding in the High Country: you see things you just don't get otherwise."

In other words, it was just another day on the trail at the Fall Classic. The 32-year-old event is one of the longest-running MTB races in Colorado and the nation, and now serves as the final race of the summer-long Summit Mountian Challenge series. This year's Classic drew a much smaller field than in year's past — upwards of 3,000 riders would show up in its late-'90s heyday — but the low-key, laid-back vibe was alive and well. After a wet and chilly start, the day ended with beer and barbecue under brilliant sunshine at Carter Park.

The Classic might have been smaller than usual, but the competition was just as fierce. The pro podiums show just how prestigious it has become (and still is): UK-born Baddick on the men's side, along with Colorado pros Henry and Kris Ochs; and longtime Breck local Amy Freeman on the women's side — it was only her third time on the Classic start list — followed by Katie Lindquist of Steamboat Springs and Freeman's fellow local, elite XTERRA athlete Christena Ward.

And now, it's time for a break — almost. Baddick has one final race in Vail next weekend before the start of the Front Range cyclocross season, while Freeman is looking forward to her spending autumn on long, leisurely rides with friends and picnic lunches.

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In the aftermath of the Classic, the Summit Daily sports desk caught up with Baddick and Freeman to hear about the race, the conditions and

Summit Daily News: First off, congrats on the win. Is this your first time on top of the podium at the Fall Classic?

Chris Baddick: Yes, it is. I raced it a few years ago and took fifth, maybe in 2013. It feels great. It's always good to win, especially at these more classic races in Colorado. It's awesome to check them off the list. There's also a great atmosphere at Carter Park, with everyone hanging out and drinking beer. It's laid back.

Amy Freeman: Absolutely, yes. This is the third year I've been doing it and it's a great way to cap off the Summit Mountain Challenge series. It's awesome to end the season like this and I'm proud of the win, I think because of the weather and everything else going on. It wasn't as well attended as usual. It was rainy to start — supposed to be a sunny day — and there just weren't as many people. I think everyone went into the race not really feeling like it's the Fall Classic, like the big kickoff it usually is, but the women who usually come out were there. The competition was tough.

SDN: Talk about the race: What went well on Sunday?

CB: I just went hard from the gun, to be honest. It was freezing rain when we started and I knew the trails were going to be slick, so I didn't want anyone in front of me. If I were to make any mistakes I wanted them to be my own, not anyone else's. Something like this was also the perfect distance for me. I'm more of a cross-country rider — 50 miles is about my limit. If you go out from the gun on an endurance ride you'd be committing suicide. With a race like this, though, you don't have to ride with someone else to keep pace. You can get alone and push yourself.

AF: It was just a steady, solid race. It was really cool to start with, and sometimes at that race it can be really hot, or there's snow, or there's frozen bridges. That was a nice bonus for the day.

SDN: Did it help that the crowd was smaller than usual? Some races seem like bumper cars on the trail.

AF: Absolutely. You could get into your own world for a while without creeping up on other people. And, with the pro field, you're also starting toward the front of the start line. That makes it better.

SDN: What didn't go so well for you two? Did you ever feel like your lead was slipping away?

CB: Not really, to be honest. As soon as I pulled out the gap I was confident. The only thing that wasn't perfect was my closing. The first half of the race was really cold, but descending down — what's that trail — Side Door? The one that leads to Minnie Mine and the road. When I got there, there was a huge mother moose with her baby, right next to the trail, and that was very scary. I came within 10 feet of her and in any other normal situation you wouldn't get that close, but that's one great thing of riding in the High Country. You see things you just don't get otherwise.

AF: No, but one of my good friends, Kristen Schwarck, is such a good climber on singlespeed and she was starting right next to me. It makes you wonder if she's going to get you — you always wonder that — and she was my fun competition for the day.

The Upper Flumes trails were also tricky. They were super slippery and muddy and wet and bogged down, and the people who were unfamiliar with that — the people from out of town — were having trouble. It made you nervous, thinking, "Is someone going to break a collarbone today?" The conditions were tricky, but that's what makes it fun. That's mountain bike racing.

SDN: Chris, did you get nervous about guys like Jay Henry and Kris Ochs riding your tire? You finished three minutes ahead of both but they were neck and neck for second and third.

CB: Yeah, Jay was my main concern. He's so consistent in every single race — he never makes a mistake — so I knew I'd have to work hard until the end to keep a cap on him. Even if I couldn't see him, knowing he was flawless out there, right behind me, was keeping me on my edge. He keeps you honest, that's for sure. He pushes you to be your best.

SDN: Why does the Fall Classic make it to your must-race list?

CB: Well, one is the trails. The trails are really good. The second thing is that Westy is great at what he does, with well-marked trails and marshals everywhere and good podium prizes, with food and beer at the end. That makes it way better. This is also the best time to be riding bikes in the high country, because down on the Front Range people are already switching to cyclocross, or they're already done with biking. I personally think we should have more races in September and October because it's way better than racing when it's 90 degrees in July and August.

AF: It's a favorite because it's an end-of-the-year celebration. It's also the hardest race of the series, and even when you think you've got it dialed this is a mentally hard race. You're at the end of the season, maybe you're ready to finish racing, but this race is for people who are committed. It's always challenging. The climbing never gives up. I guess it's a testament to where you are in the season, where your body is.

SDN: It's also a testament to the trails. That route isn't easy, or normal.

AF: It's a big day, for sure. I don't think anyone goes out of their way to do that ride — that group of trails — on their own, on a normal day. I think Westy (event organizer Jeff Westcott) just sits there, smiling, knowing that he puts this thing on for everyone.

SDN: Chris, it seems like you've had a great MTB season, with a win at the Steamboat Stinger and now the Fall Classic. How does this season stack up against the past few years?

CB: This has been a great season. This is my first season racing world cups, so the beginning of my season in may was about going to Germany and France to race those. It definitely upped my game a bit to race over there.

Since then, it's been all about racing in Colorado. I won the Steamboat Singer in August, then I won the King of the Rockies in Winter Park. Winning the Fall Classic was awesome because it kind of completed the trio of classic races.

SDN: What comes now for both of you? More XC races, or are you switching gears to winter sports?

CB: There is one race left, and that's the Outlier (Offroad Festival) in Vail. That's the last race of the season in Colorado basically. I'll be racing cyclocross after that, and that season starts soon, then runs through to December. I'll race until the snow gets good, then try to ski as much as I can, then get back to training in time for the next season to start in April.

Cyclocross is nice because it's a little more relaxed than cross-country. They're very friendly — well, the Fall Classic is about as friendly as you get — but cyclocross is also just very spectator friendly. People can set up in one place and see most of the course.

AF: It's time to have fun on long bike rides with friends: sandwiches on the side of the trail, road biking Independence Pass — just having fun. And then the snow starts to fly and we'll get out skiing.

2016 Fall Classic results

The Fall Classic on Aug. 4 took roughly 1,000 riders from across the state and region on a MTB tour of Breck’s finest singletrack, with distances and divisions for everyone from juniors to pros. The elite riders covered a total of 30 miles with 4,800 vertical feet of climbing — no Sunday walk in the park.

For complete results, see the Maverick Sports website at http://www.mavsports.com.

Pro-open winners, male

1. Chris Baddick, Boulder Cycle Sport/YogaGlo — 2:24:58

2. Jay Henry, Tokyo Joe’s — 2:27:34

3. Kris Ochs, Tokyo Joe’s — 2:27:58

Pro-open winners, female

1. Amy Freeman, Breck Bike Guides — 3:01:42

2. Katie Lindquist, Kent Eriksen Cycle — 3:19:35

3. Christena Ward, Breck Bike Guides — 3:25:01

Junior division winners, boys (11-15 years)

1. Timothy Lunney, Wilderness Sports Jr. — 1:13:28

2. Will Wasserman, Wilderness Sports Jr. — 1:20:50

3. Karis Stang — 1:21:23

Junior division winners, girls (11-15 years)

1. Aislinn Wehrman, Summit Velo Jr. — 1:36:27

2. Samantha Hessel, Team Breck — 1:56:34

3. Alli Koonce — 2:23:01

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