Summit Mountain Challenge MTB series celebrates 30 years on the trail | SummitDaily.com

Summit Mountain Challenge MTB series celebrates 30 years on the trail

Andy Stonehouse
Special to the Daily

Everybody's favorite little Wednesday night mountain bike series just happens to turn 30 this year. And, just as the county has hugely transformed over those three decades, the annual Summit Mountain Challenge has also continued to grow, shifting from a hardcore locals' gathering to a family-oriented series of events that celebrates both established riders and up-and-coming singletrack monsters.

Those who've stuck it out to watch the races grow in size and scale over the years say the best part of the Summit Mountain Challenge is the fact that it really hasn't changed that much — it's just attracted a multigenerational audience of participants.

Organizer and chief race guru Jeff Wescott, whose Maverick Sports Promotions has overseen the seven-race series since 2001, says the race series simply seems to have struck a chord with local riders of all levels and he's happy to provide a venue for a challenging yet supportive event.

"It's really the community, not anything that I do," notes Westcott, known to series riders as Westy. "I've tried to provide a vehicle for a party disguised as a race series and people seem to dig that. How it lasted 30 years, I don't know. It just has that certain je ne sais quoi, I guess."

Westy and the SMC

Wescott and his former business partner, Mike McCormack, took over the Summit Mountain Challenge from founder Greg Guras, blending their event management backgrounds and personal racing experiences as a way to keep busy during then-quiet summer months.

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Mostly, Wescott says he wanted to maintain a level of professionalism in the event, but he also wants to help build a racing atmosphere that is encouraging for even the youngest of riders.

That spirit has carried forward to 2016. Wescott says he's happy to have maintained a sporting institution that brings together both the greenest and most intense of riders.

"It's just a good community vibe, a great excuse to come out on a Wednesday night, ride hard and meet some new people," he says.

30th anniversary season

The first race of the 2016 series, the Frisco Roundup on June 1, drew approximately 225 riders spread across two dozen age and ability categories. And, if the first results are indicative, it might be a good year for a couple Wescott calls the king and queen of the Summit Mountain Challenge: Breck's Mike Schilling and Amy Freeman, the reigning champions from 2015 who both won at Wednesday night's opener.

Schilling, who topped the pro/open men's category, says he prefers to focus on the way the series helps develop new riders and, at the same time, allows gently aging enthusiasts like he and his wife to compete in a fun atmosphere.

"I've been riding this for 15 years and it's absolutely the people, year after year, that makes it special," Schilling says. "I also like that it really doesn't change that much — the event just churns along — and it remains a friendly and fun place to ride."

Despite the fun factor, Schilling says the Summit Mountain Challenge also lives up to its name, with courses that can be just as technical as any professional race series.

"It's still hard to win a race," Schilling says. "I think I'd really just won three races in the entire 15 years that I first took part and there's always someone who shines, so wins are still very special. My advice is to show up, be consistent and be fit."

Freeman, overall winner of the 2015 pro/open women's category, says the series and its community spirit have helped her come a long way from a less-than-graceful start just three years ago at her first Frisco Roundup.

"I was absolutely mortified when I did that race — the technicality of being on singletrack, not being confident yet," Freeman says. "But it's been great. I also really appreciate the group of women who come out. They're a solid, respectable, hard-charging group of racers."

This year's early win helped get things off to a good start, but, like her husband, Freeman says she recognizes the strong pool of talent out there on the trail.

"My objectives this year are to do well, compete with one another and possibly win some, but these really are hard races to win," Freeman says. "The Breck 100 is really my biggest objective for the season."

A family affair

Family involvement in the Mountain Challenge is also one of the series' trademarks. Locals Thomas Konecny, his wife, Renata, and sons, Nicholas and Lasse, epitomize the races' cross-generational appeal.

Both parents were members of national athletic teams in their native Czech Republic, but since moving to Breckenridge 17 years ago, they concentrated their efforts on mountain biking — and have gotten their 10- and 12-year-old kids fully engaged in SMC series.

"We both kind of reached the point where we're downscaling our own racing, but our kids are both taking part," Thomas Konecny says. "Nicholas won his category this week and Lasse came in third."

The eldest Konecny is still racing as much as he can, but says he prefers to put his efforts into encouraging his kids and other local juniors to excel at racing, and excel in a competitive but complimentary fashion.

"It's a true Summit County event: You could be the world champion, but you could end up third in a race here, as the level of talent is incredibly high," Thomas Konecny says. "There's a whole spectrum of riders, especially with all of the Summit Nordic kids. But I love that vibe and the ability to race with the young guns, and play a role model for the kids, as well."

Koneckny and his mountain biking family say Wescott remains the biggest part of the annual series, helping to make the courses, the volunteers and the after-race parties some of the highlights of the summer.

"Jeff runs a special venue and it's not only about winning," Thomas Konecny says. "What he puts into it, for nothing, shows a real dedication, and it's created an environment the kids love. He's truly the big engine for making this all special."

Gold Run Rush

What: Second event of the Summit Mountain Challenge series, a loop-style race on trails in the French Gulch and Gold Run Road systems with 4 mile, 7 mile, 10.5 mile and 17.5 mile routes

When: Wednesday, June 15 at 5 p.m.

Where: Wellington neighborhood start line, Breckenridge

Cost: $25 adult pre-register, $15 juniors

Race-day registration is $30 for adults and $15 for juniors. The event has more than a dozen divisions for riders of all abilities and ages. Racing begins at 5:10 p.m., with the final group leaving at 6:23 p.m. A season pass is also available for the entire series and The Fall Classic in September. For more info, including full route maps and registration, see http://www.mavsports.com.

2016 Summit Mountain Challenge schedule

June 15 — Gold Run Rush, Breckenridge

July 13 — Keystone Uphill/Downhill, Keystone

July 27 — Pennsylvania Gulch Grind, Breckenridge

Aug. 10 — Soda Creek Scramble, Keystone

Aug. 24 — Peaks Trail Time Trial, Breckenridge

Sept. 4 — The Fall Classic, Breckenridge