Gunnison Valley riders pound 12 Hours of Mesa Verde race

Party on the podium

It was an all-out assault on Cortez, Colo. as a small army of bikers, 50-strong from the Gunnison Valley, headed southwest for the 12 Hours of Mesa Verde and came away with numerous top-three finishes.

 

The 12 Hours of Mesa Verde kicks off the endurance bike-racing season offering riders a chance to shed the winter weight, with 12 hours of mountain biking from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
As is often the case, the Gunnison Valley women led the charge with Brick Oven/Crested Butte Builders (BO/CBB) team of Michele Preston, Tina Kempin and Sydney Fuller completing eight laps to win the women’s 3-4 person team category, BO/CBB riders Heather McDowell and Krista Powers taking the women’s duo title with eight laps and Team Alpine Orthopaedics Cycling (AO) rider Jari Kirkland dominating the women’s solo race turning in seven laps.
Both the 3-4 person women’s and the duo women’s titles were on the line all day long, with McDowell and Kempin sealing the deal on the final laps.
Fuller led the charge on the first lap for their team, battling the masses in the Le Mans-style start to put their team in a solid position for the rest of the day.
“Sydney was nice enough to volunteer to run for us,” says Kempin.
They were in and out of first place all day, eventually building a three-minute gap when Kempin took off for one last lap to take the women’s 3-4 person team title.
“I knew I had to haul the mail,” says Kempin. “When I went out on my last lap I went as fast as I could.”
McDowell and Powers had a bit of a different race in the duo class. With McDowell getting over an illness and both of them still fresh on their bikes this season, their pre-race goal was simple.
“We were just going into it to have a really good time,” says Powers.
Their strategy altered a little bit three laps into the race though, when Powers found out they were only four or five minutes out of first place.
When Powers headed out for the seventh team lap, her fourth, they had cut the lead down to 30 seconds.
“It was neck-and-neck,” says Powers. “The other team knew we were chasing them down and I gave it what I had to give. This girl was the carrot and I was trying to catch her.”
Powers held the lead team to their slim lead and McDowell finished them off, taking the lead on the eighth and final lap for the win.
“Heather did the deed,” says Powers. “She reeled in the carrot.”
For Kirkland, it was business as usual on the bike. Kirkland has numerous solo endurance bike titles to her name and added the 12 Hours of Mesa Verde to her resume as she took the lead early and never relinquished it—though she didn’t know it until the final two laps.
“Dave Ochs actually lied to me,” says Kirkland, “so I kicked it up a little bit.”
When she came back through the start/finish area for her final lap, her support crew then leveled with her, telling her that she was a full lap and then some ahead of her competition.
Not only did she come away with the win, but more important, she felt good the whole race, a mini-goal of hers going into the event.
“My goal the last two weeks was to ramp up the training to feel good at this race,” says Kirkland. “I felt really good and I won. My upper body started to fatigue a little.”
BO/CBB athlete Ben Preston had the top local result in the men’s solo class while AO rider Dave Ochs suffered a major mechanical that forced him out of the race.
Ochs had a couple of races already under his belt and was feeling good heading into Mesa Verde.
“Hopes were high—I was motivated as hell,” says Ochs.
But on lap three after taking the solo class lead, the world fell out from under him while he was climbing a short uphill.
“Gravity called Dave,” says Ochs.
His bike broke in half just behind the head tube and Ochs was done for the day.
“It’s aluminum and when it fails, it fails big,” says Ochs. “I was feeling good, real good. All in all, I’m psyched I walked away. There are kickers and booters all over the course and if my bike had cracked there I could have lost teeth, broken my face.”
For Preston, it was more of a personal test as Mesa Verde was his first competition of the 2010 season.
“My main goal was to try to ride for 12 hours, not try to beat someone,” says Preston.
With the help of some pharmaceuticals to block his back pain and a tremendous support crew, Preston pushed through to ride eight laps and finish in second place. With the course roughly 17 miles each lap, that comes in at close to 136 total miles in 12 hours.
“It was pretty painful that early in the season,” admits Preston. “The course is all single track so you can’t stop thinking for a minute, and from a solo perspective, it’s exhausting.”
The men’s AO duo team of Jon Brown and Travis Scheefer were on hand to defend their 2009 title but were denied by a team from Albuquerque. Both teams rattled off 10 laps but Scheefer and Brown finished 10 minutes off the winners.
The men’s 3-4 person category was rife with talent, including some of the top riders both past and present in the world.
To put it into perspective, Dave Wiens teamed up with Travis Brown, Daryl Price and John Tomac, major players in the mountain bike racing world, and still managed only a second-place finish just behind a team of Trek riders from Durango. Each put in 10 laps but the Durango squad finished a little over a minute ahead of them.
Meanwhile, a BO/CBB team of Aaron Huckstep, Dodson Harper and Matt Kuelhorn joined the heavy hitters on the podium, finishing in third place with nine laps.
Some of the riders will now carry their momentum back to the Mountain States Cup for the second stop of the series in Nathrop, Colo. May 15-16.
“A lot of the big dogs are coming out and we’ll have most of the AO team going,” says Ochs.
Following that, a valley’s-worth of riders will then set their collective sights on the Growler in Gunnison on Sunday, May 30.

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