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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Ultimate Mountain Challenge at Teva Mountain Games, Vail, Colorado, June 5-6, 2010






With world-class competitions in paddling, running, cycling, climbing, fly fishing, dog jumping (yep, and it's awesome!) and more, the Teva Mountain Games in Vail have become an excellent, high-profile event. Significant prize money draws top competition in all sports, and the festival atmosphere is friendly to athletes, fans, and families.

My focus each year at the Teva Games is the Ultimate Mountain Challenge. This event involves racing in four separate individual events: the downriver paddle, the mountain biking race (among a field of competitive professionals), the 10k trail run, and an uphill time trial on the road bike.

My wife, Amy, and I headed to Vail on Friday morning to allow some time to pre-run the paddle and mountain bike courses. Gore Creek was relatively benign on Friday morning, and I enjoyed an easy paddle down the three-mile section. The mountain bike course, I discovered, constituted three loops of about seven miles, each lap climbing steadily and then dropping significantly on a bumpy single-track.

After a night of rest at the mountain residence of Mike Kloser, also one of my chief competitors in the UMC, the racing began on Saturday morning. As the temperature rose steadily on Friday, increasing snowmelt up high, the clear trickle that was Gore Creek had become a raging blur of chocolate. The creek was far more technical--and fun--than it had been for my practice run. Those unfamiliar with paddling swam often in the downriver time trial, and those ready for the challenge flew through the course. Mike and I paddled within one second of each other, clocking 16:32, and we were 40 ticks ahead of the man to beat in the UMC, local strongman Josiah Middaugh.

Hours later, we saddled up for the longest event of the weekend, the mountain bike race. The field was stacked with top pros like JHK and Jay Henry, and my goal was to stay somewhere near Josiah, who often clocks the fastest bike splits at Xterra triathlons. I have been cycling a lot, and the race went well. I finished 18th overall and less than three minutes behind Josiah. I also gained about three minutes on Mike, a good gap going into day two.

Bang! The gun blast at 8:00 a.m. on Sunday morning signified the start of the 10k trail run. Decent prize money for the top five drew stellar trail runners like Rickey Gates out to the action. The course is full of steep climbs (which I like) and steeper descents (which I dislike). Ten minutes into the race, I found myself packed up with friends Ryan Haebe (a 19-year-old stud from Evergreen who runs for Western State) and Andy Biglow. Pushing each other hard, we worked our way through the field until my buddies left me for dead on the kick home. I finished 10th overall, again a couple of minutes behind Josiah and a few ahead of Mike.

Going into the final road biking time trial, Josiah had a decent lead on me. However, one mechanical issue with his bike could bring me to first. Likewise, any slip on my part could bring Mike ahead; I have learned to never take a position for granted when Kloser is trailing! After a quick pre-race TV interview, I hopped on the starting block, pretended I was in the Tour de France, and hammered for all I was worth! I have been doing some road riding with my friend, Greg Krause, who finished third overall among the pros in the time trial, and I felt pretty good on the bike.

We each rode consistently, clocking in similar times to years past (approximately 32:40 for 9.8 miles uphill, for me). As such, positions remained the same. With Josiah in the race, I was happy with second place. He and Mike are excellent competitors, and his three-week-old daughter, Larson, may be visiting the podium again before we know it!