Memories and 2015 results from the Fall Classic, an original MTB race
Special to the Daily
2015 Fall Classic results
Junior boys (Under 16)
1. Luke Elphingstone
Junior girls (Under 16)
1. Jazlyn Smith
1. Dominic Baker
1. Rebecca Howland
1. Thomas Messerschmitt
1. Megan Castle
1. Jay Henry
2. Thomas Spannring
3. Ciro Zarate
1. Jamie Brede
2. Sara Schuler
3. Gretchen Reeves
“We didn’t have to have helmets. A lot of it depended on your luck.”
That’s how Scott Yule remembers the early days of the Fall Classic. In 1984, the bike race premiered as a fundraiser for a telemark-ski event under less-than-auspicious circumstances: Only about 17 riders showed up, and the stiff, heavy bikes from the time weren’t exactly ideal on a cross-country trail.
“They were totally rigid … awkward,” he said. “They were basically like paper-boy bikes.”
He was one the Fall Classic’s first race directors and saw it grow exponentially in early years, becoming a race of national prominence by the early ‘90s. For a number of years, the Classic was the finals for the now-defunct Colorado Point Series. It also saw world-class talent in 1994, when top riders used the race as a tune-up for the 1994 World Mountain Bike Championships in nearby Vail.
“We had 600-plus people for some of the years, but we always tried to keep some of the charm,” former race director Mike Zobbe said. “It was still lots of local people (who) came out because of that feeling.”
The commitment to a cross-country format on singletrack was part of the race’s charm, despite the growing popularity of new race styles, like ultra-endurance and downhill.
“In the ‘90s, mountain-biking was new, and everything was exploding,” Vail pro Jay Henry said. “A lot of events have come and gone in that time — in fact, most of them. This race still has that original pioneer race history.”
Current race director Jeff Westcott agrees.
“As far as harkening back to the good ol’ days of mountain biking, this is as close as it gets,” he explains. Even as tastes and technology changed, he says the Fall Classic has been a constant.
“It used to be cut-off jeans and funkiness,” he said. “(Then) people started wearing Lycra and shaving their legs, and that was as long ago as the ‘90s … Now we’re starting to see it move the other way, with the introduction of trail bikes.”
These days, the Fall Classic is a bit smaller, but it still draws riders from across Colorado.
“It’s a really quality field,” pro Katie Compton said. “It’s not huge, but it’s still quality.”
Tradition in 2015
On Sept. 6, the 2015 edition of this historic race took place high above the Wellington neighborhood in Breckenridge, serving as the Summit Mountain Challenge Series finale.
From the start line at French Gulch Road, riders ascended 3,000 to 4,000 feet, depending on their respective course. Under-16 junior riders tackled a 12-mile endeavor, while adults had the choice between a short course (21 miles) and a long course (30 miles.) It longest course of the 2015 series, but distance wasn’t the only obstacle.
“It had both climbing and downhill that were technical and challenging,” competitor Stephanie Carpenter said.
One particularly nerve-wracking section was the final descent into Carter Park. Although it contains a beautiful panorama of Breckenridge Resort, with flowing green meadows below, the trail is a harrowing sets of sharp switchbacks.
“You made it that far, you don’t want to ruin it,” she said with a laugh.
While there were no broken bones on Sunday, there were a few record-breaking times.
Luke Elphingstone, of Boulder Junior Cycle, won the boy’s junior division with an incredible time of 1:12:46. He beat the next-best finisher by almost seven minutes, the widest margin of victory for any juniors win in the series this year.
In the elite women’s division, the most surprising performance — or lack thereof — came from Compton. The U.S. National Mountain Bike Team member struggled on the rigorous course to finish eighth in her division.
“I just had some breathing issues, but I’m not really fit right now,” she said.
In the men’s elite division, Tokyo Joe’s rider Jay Henry won with a time of 2:23:31.
“If I could pick an event at the beginning of the year that I’d like to win …” he paused, “it’d be this one. It’s one of my favorite races.”
He is a Fall Classic veteran who rode his first as a 14-year-old in 1993. But, he downplayed the advantage of experience.
“It’s never really been the same course over and over,” he said. “I’ve done it a lot, but I just shake my head at his (Wescott’s) creativity,”
Henry started the race near the bottom of the pack and slowly moved up as things progressed. Near the bottom of Heinous Hill — about one-third of the way through the course — he jumped in the lead and never looked back.
“I was a little worried,” he said. “I thought it was going to be one of those days where you just don’t feel it. Then I came around … but you can never tell on this course.”
Thomas Spannring finished hot on his tail in second place. Ciro Zarate picked up bronze.
Yule goes out on top
The feel-good story of the day came from former race director Yule. The veteran expects 2015 to be his last season racing, and it seemed only fitting that one of the Classic’s founder should earn an award. He did just that, taking first overall for the series in the men’s 50-plus expert division.
“For me to go out like this, I was really happy,” he said, beaming with pride.
A post-race festival was held afterwards at Carter Park, with a buffet, raffle and awards for Fall Classic and overall series winners.
As riders and spectators picnicked in the park to the clinging of bike bells, it was apparent why the Classic is one of Henry’s favorite races.
“This is a big part of it — having a free keg after it and lunch, everyone telling their battle stories.”
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