Mountain bike racing with a vengeance |

Mountain bike racing with a vengeance

RICHARD CHITTICKsummit daily news
Summit Daily/Brad OdekirkMontezuma's Revenge kicks off with a new, tougher-than-ever course

MONTEZUMA – Many hikers and mountaineers consider the route between 14,270-foot Grays Peak and 14,267-foot Torreys peak one of the easiest high-alpine traverses in Colorado. Chances are, they haven’t done it in the middle of the night with a bike strapped to their back. That’s exactly what dozens of mountain bikers will have to do tonight as part of the 18th annual Montezuma’s Revenge presented by Wilderness Sports. The event begins today at 4 p.m. in the small mining town of Montezuma located seven miles east of Keystone. The 1-mile trip from Summit County’s highest point to its second highest point – and back – is new for 2004, after race organizer Byron Swezy decided the world’s hardest mountain bike race needed to be harder. The change is one of a number made to the course after last year’s winners, Thane Wright of Keystone and Monique Merrill of Breckenridge, both set all-time records for distance traveled and elevation gained. Wright rode 145 miles and climbed 29,314 feet and Merrill rode 136 miles and climbed 28,384 feet.

“This is, by far, the most challenging and demanding course, designed to break competitors down mentally and physically, though not necessarily in that order,” Swezy said. Not that riders are quaking in their bike shoes. “I’m pretty stoked about the Grays and Torreys double whammy,” said Boulder’s Dan Vardamis, who will be competing in his sixth Revenge this weekend. “It always seemed natural that if you’re up there anyway, you might as well do both of them.” To make the mountaineering portion of the event more interesting, Moots Cycles of Steamboat Springs is offering a titanium, full suspension frame valued at $3,000 to the competitor who can make the roundtrip of the Fourteeners the fastest. To go with the addition of a second Fourteener – riders only had to scale Grays before this year – Swezy eliminated 20 miles of road riding by taking out a climb to the summit of Loveland Pass.

The race still consists of various loops branching out from a central hub in Montezuma. A total of 13 loops make up the official course, but no one in the history of the event has been able to start the 13th loop before time ran out. While the changes make the race seem more difficult, they make the race easier to manage, Swezy said.By eliminating the Loveland Pass climb, riders will come off of the longest loop of the race, the Night Loop, up to two hours earlier than previous years, giving them a chance to start the brutal climb up Grays Peak as early as 10 p.m. “The whole concept behind this year’s event is to get everyone back (to Montezuma) sooner,” Swezy said.

The competitorsThough Wright set a course record last year, Vail endurance racer Dawes Wilson finished only eight minutes behind. That won’t stop Wright from attempting to become the first person to win the race four times, however. “I’ve never approached this race with the specific goal of winning,” said Wright, who also won in 1994 and 2000. “But I would like to try and take a shot at four, so I think that this year I’m putting a little more pressure on myself than I have in years past.” Wilson will likely be right on his tail, looking for his first victory in the race after finishing second three times.

They will both have plenty of competition, such as Front Range resident Andrew Hamilton. Last summer, Hamilton climbed all 54 of Colorado’s Fourteeners in 21 days, using his bicycle to travel from one to the next. The women’s race is wide open as Summit County’s two premier adventure racers, Merrill and Danelle Ballengee, are in Newfoundland competing in the Raid the North Adventure Racing World Championships. Like Wright, Merrill is a three-time winner of the Revenge. Watch for 2002 champ Colleen Ihnken to make a triumphant return to the podium after she sat out the 2003 race, recovering from an attempt on summiting Mount Everest. She’ll likely face stiff challenges from professional triathlete Jari Kirkland or local mountain bike racer Cindy Burkart, who finished third and fourth, respectively, last year. When it’s all over, the racers will have a day to recover before the formal awards presentation on Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Kickapoo Tavern in Keystone’s River Run Village. The party is open to the general public for $15. A buffet including beer and wine is included in the admission.

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