Race Report by Ken Winston
Randy Liechty and I traveled to Winter Park Colorado to represent the UCC/JW Floors mountain bike team at the 2019 USAC Mountain Bike XC Nationals. Both of us entered the 60-64 Category 1 age group, which contained 25 starters. It was an experienced group that contained 2 prior national champions and a few runner ups (including Randy who finished 2nd at the 2015 XC Nationals held in Mammoth).
Randy on our recon of the course. This is the start of the big descent.
The course consisted of three 5.3 mile loops. The course had one climb that was about 12 minutes long consisting of half fire road and half single track with about a 600 foot elevation gain. The top of the course was a lung searing 9600 feet. The initial climb was followed by a 600 foot descent through a dense forest. Near the top, it contained tight turns with dry and dusty soil. There were some roots and rocks on the upper slopes but then the trail straightened out to a high speed bomb with enough rocks to make me worry about getting a flat and plenty of trees close to the trail. The bottom third was more open and contained big berms and “jumps” a plenty. I was doing my best not to get much air on these however. The big descent ended at about the 3.5 mile point where the trail became rooty with undulations over a gentle upward grade. There were a few rock gardens on this section too. To keep momentum, line choice was important here. The lap finished on a straight smooth dirt road slightly downhill with a u-turn at the end to start the next lap.
At the start of the race I settled in behind last year’s runner up George Smith. But just before the turn off the long starting straight, Colorado native and 2015 fat bike national champ (and 1999 overall 4th place Leadville 100 finisher), Keith Willson came to the front. I got on his wheel, but his pace was scorching. After about a minute of staying at Keith’s pace, I reached my limit. My lungs were hurting and I couldn’t get any more air into them! With no relief of the climb in sight, I was forced to watch Keith ride away up the mountain. Frank Winters, 2016 national XC champion and two other riders moved past me but stayed in sight.
I crested the top in 5th place with Tom Hayles, last year’s fat bike national’s runner up about 50 yards in front of me. After navigating the tight turns at the top of the long descent I was on Tom’s wheel and quickly went past on the narrow trail. At the twenty minute mark I was at the bottom of the descent with Frank and Terry Durand from Park City Utah in sight. The trail suited me with roots and punchy ups and downs. I moved up and passed Terry and then got right behind Frank. I was up to 3th. Although Frank was upsetting my momentum in some places, there were no good places to pass so I settled in behind him and tried to save some strength. When the course opened up entering the long finishing straight of lap 1, I went around Frank into 2nd place. Keith was off the front and was nowhere in sight but Frank stayed with me up the long climb of lap 2. Near the top he went around me. Knowing that my advantage was on the long descent and rooty second half of the course, I dug deep and went back around Frank just before we crested the top. The tactic worked as I quickly distanced myself from Frank. By the time I reached the bottom, I could not see him anymore. I was happy to have the long rooty section to myself this lap. When I finished lap two, I was comfortably in second with a 50 second gap on Frank in third place. On lap 3, I held my own on the big climb. The gap back to third stretched to 2 minutes by race end. Third, fourth, and fifth all finished in a bunch sprint. Keith Willson won by over 4 minutes! Randy Liechty finished in 12th place.
The day after the race, Randy and I did a little recovery ride up Mount Evans, which has the highest paved road in the USA at 14,130 feet elevation. We even hiked and biked the extra credit trail to the actual summit at 14,245 feet. We started our ride in Idaho Springs, elevation 7500 feet.