Aussie shatters Firecracker 50 record |

Aussie shatters Firecracker 50 record

Jason Starr

BRECKENRIDGE – Craig Gordon lives nowhere near Breckenridge, but he has developed an intimate relationship with the trails and characters that make up the town’s mountain biking scene.

So when he was riding the final switchbacks above Carter Park Friday on his way to winning the Firecracker 50 in record time, he had but one thought.

“This is for Chris,” the Australian said of Breckenridge’s Chris Ethridge, who died in a road cycling accident in 2001. “Before the race, I thought to myself, “I would love to be riding this race with him.’ The trails are just awesome, and it’s his backyard.”

Gordon originally met Ethridge at a National Off-Road Bicycle Association (NORBA) race in Breckenridge in the late 1990s, and the two became friends. During sporadic visits since, he has gotten to know many of the town’s cyclists.

After Friday’s performance, it’s clear he knows the terrain as well.

Gordon’s time of 3 hours, 37 minutes, 57.99 seconds over the 50-mile course broke last year’s record of 3 hours, 55 minutes set by Eagle’s Jimi Mortenson.

Mortenson settled for runner-up this year, nonetheless beating his time from last year in 3:42:47.04.

The race covered the trail system on the east side of town – from Sally Barber to Baldy Mountain to French Gulch – in two 25-mile laps. Riders started on Main Street, leading the Fourth of July parade, and finished at Carter Park.

When Gordon made a move on the climb to Sally Barber Mine during the first lap, Mortenson figured the Australian would eventually come back to him. It never happened.

“He was setting a really hard pace on the climbs,” Mortenson said. “I didn’t think he could hold that pace for that many climbs, so I didn’t bother trying to keep up. I just figured I’d get him in the end. But he rode awesome, and he kept that pace up right to the end.”

As the top American Friday, Mortenson earned a spot in the World Championship marathon race in September in Switzerland. But his interest in competing in Switzerland depends on whether or not he can qualify for the cross country race through the NORBA National Championship Series.

“I’m hoping I can qualify for the cross country,” Mortenson said. “I’m borderline right now. Then I’ll do them both. If I don’t make the (cross country) I might not even go.”

For Gordon, who is pushing for a spot on the Australian mountain bike team for the 2004 Olympics, Friday’s race was a respite from the World Cup circuit. A World Cup race scheduled for this weekend in Telluride was cancelled, freeing him to compete in the third annual Firecracker 50 for his first time.

“I was a bit nervous going into the race,” Gordon said. “Sometimes you can just be super carefree and have the best race. Sometimes you can be really nervous and have a good race as well.”

In a race that continues to attract a stunning field of elites, World Cup veteran Mary Grigson paced the women. Grigson is also an Australia native, but she now makes her home in Golden. Breckenridge’s own Monique Merrill placed second for women, finishing in 4:41:39.27 to Grigson’s 4:27:11.57.

Grigson was spent after crossing the finish line, lying prostrate on the Carter Park grass.

“Oh man, was it brutal,” she groaned. “It is one hard course. For the first hour I felt fine … then it came around to the second lap, and I was like, “this is going to be interesting.'”

Breck’s Mickey Florio was the only racer in the Expert Men’s 19-29 Class to break four hours, winning the division in 3:58:00.39. Other local finishers were Christian Ball (Breck; 4:14:20.48), Patrick Giberson (Frisco; 4:27:51.86), Jeff Covey (Breck; 4:28:50.17), Jeff Cospolich (Breck; 4:34:12.44) and Jason Marks (Frisco; 4:42:50.99).

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