| AspenTimes.com

Steamboat biker Graham Muir rides 700 of 1,000-mile Alaskan race on fat bike

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Those who race the Iditarod are undoubtedly brave athletes, relying on dogs for the power to carry them nearly 1,000 miles over the Alaskan wilderness from Anchorage to Nome.

A week before the mushers are sent off, an even braver, perhaps crazier group of racers take to the course. Starting in the 1980s, competitors have traveled the Iditarod course on foot, skis or bikes, ditching the dogs to see just how far they can push themselves.

Steamboat Springs resident Graham Muir, 49, completed 70% of the Iditarod Trail Invitational, or ITI, on his fat bike when he was forced to stop in Unalakleet, a small town on the west coast of Alaska. The next part of the course stretched over Norton Bay, which was covered by sea ice. At least, it was covered until a storm broke up the ice and put water over what remained intact.

Muir and a few other competitors waited in town for a few days, but the sea ice didn’t return to a state that allowed them to ride over it. Usually, there is an alternate trail along the shore, but due to COVID-19, it was never built. With just three finishers in the 1,000-mile race, the directors decided they had to call it. So Muir, along with about a half dozen others, came up short of the finish line at no fault of their own.

“It was a huge bummer,” Muir said. “It had taken us 18 days to get there.”

Muir rode alongside a few other fat bikers, getting close with a few. Getting to know them so well over the short period of time made not finishing the race, or seeing them finish the race, all the more heartbreaking.

To qualify, all riders must compete in the 350-mile ITI course. Muir did so just last year in four and a half days, but one Italian man he met completed the 350-mile ride 22 years ago. Finally, he was taking a crack at the big one.

Muir started biking regularly when he moved to Steamboat 11 years ago and his first major race was a 50-mile race in Leadville about six years ago. He’s been upping the distance ever since.

Next, he’s hoping to compete in the Leadboat, the combination of the Leadville 100 and the SBT GRVL race, which are on back-to-back days in August, totaling 250 challenging miles on trails and gravel.

While the 2020 race was Muir’s first shot at the ITI, it might be the only one he takes.

“It’s just so hard taking a month off,” he said. “This was going to be my attempt at it. I’m not going to say no, but it’s such a scary race. It’s so challenging.”

Moose, storms and knee pain

Over the 700 miles that Muir did complete, there was no shortage of challenges, the greatest of which hit right away.

Upon leaving Anchorage, the ITI competitors were faced with heavy snow, which not only reduced visibility, but accumulated quickly.

“I started having some knee issues from two days of post-holing through deep snow and pushing my bike,” Muir said. “You can train to ride a bike, but it’s really hard to train to push your bike in deep snow with a heavy bike.”

The storm set him back days. In 2019, Muir spent 14 hours getting to the first checkpoint, including a two-hour break. This year, to go the same distance, it took him 48 hours.

Days of pushing and carrying his bike put stress on his body, particularly one of his knees. On day three, he was having trouble just putting weight on it. He said battling that was frustrating and exhausting, as he had to spend so much of his mental energy to keep moving forward.

Muir saw 10 moose along the course, and heard that two people had suffered a stomping from a moose and a few bikes had been busted by the large animals. Thankfully, Muir’s encounters weren’t as dramatic.

“We had one standoff, but it wasn’t too bad,” he said. “He eventually moved off the trail for us.”

Along the course, there are open shelters available to competitors, as well as villages that typically welcome Iditarod athletes to stop in, get warm, dry out equipment and sleep. With the concerns around COVID-19, only the shelters were available, making for fewer covered spots to stop along the course.

Of course, like every endurance challenge, most of the struggle is mental, not physical. Muir said he hit a wall multiple times, but on each occasion, was able to push past it.

“It’s definitely a lot of alone time in your head,” he said. “You ask yourself questions. Are you drinking enough? Are you eating enough? How are you dealing with your body, how’s your body holding up? How is the trail? There’s so many variables going on out there. Trying to figure out a game plan, when to sleep.”

Coming home

In the past couple weeks, some countries have closed borders and enforced post-travel quarantines, making Muir’s trip home an adventure within itself.

Once he was told the race was no more, he hopped on a plane back to Anchorage. From there, he quickly packed his bags and bike and flew back to Colorado.

“I didn’t have my passport with me, I just had my driver’s license,” said Muir. “If anything had been shut down, they wouldn’t have let me across Canada.”

Thankfully, his flight was mostly empty and the journey home went smoothly.

Muir, who lives on Emerald Mountain, is already itching to get back on the bike for his usual early-morning ride, but since he’s been traveling, he thinks it’s best to stay out of commission for a while longer.

sreardon@steamboatpilot.com

Play through, but keep your distance: Some Glenwood-area golf courses play on

Several Garfield County golf courses are making the call to proceed with their planned season openings, but with precautions in place to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Golf courses were not specifically listed among “non-essential” businesses that were required to close under the most recent public health orders from the state of Colorado.

And, given the allowance for people to recreate outdoors as long as they practice social-distancing protocols, golf courses that have already opened for the season have proven popular destinations.

“It was kind of a gray area, is how I would describe it,” acknowledged Zac Sutherland, operations section chief for the Garfield County COVID-19 command staff.

Initially, when Gov. Jared Polis issued the state’s stay-at-home order on March 25, an AP report indicated golf courses, along with outdoor basketball courts and tennis courts, would fall under the mandatory closures.

But the order itself didn’t specifically mention those facilities, leaving it up to local jurisdictions to make that determination.

Some municipalities have since closed playgrounds, along with public basketball courts, tennis courts and other outdoor sports facilities. Others, including the city of Denver, have closed golf courses.

Since most golf courses are private entities, operators have been working with local public health officials to enact safety protocols if they decide to remain open.

“What we were left to do is come up with a way to say golf courses can open, but they need to maintain those safe distance guidelines and take other precautions (to protect public health),” Sutherland said. “Golf courses, just the way they are laid out, lends itself to being able to operate safely.”

A guiding document for all golf courses to follow is expected out this week, he said.

In the meantime, Rifle Creek Golf Course has led the way among area courses in announcing that it would stay open. The decision came after taking a couple of days to evaluate the situation and put some of those measures in place, according to a statement posted on the golf course’s website.

“We have decided to stay open and will be taking the utmost precautions within our operations to provide the safest environment possible for people who still wish to play golf,” according to the statement. “We encourage our customers to do their part to keep everyone safe by following the mandated social distancing requirements.”

Among the precautions:

The pro shop and dining room will be closed

Congregating on the deck is not allowed

Walking access only, no golf carts or pull carts

Restrooms in the clubhouse are available, and are routinely cleaned and sanitized

On-course restrooms and water drinking stations are closed

Flagsticks must be left in the cup (cups are raised to avoid contact)

All bunker rakes have been removed

Driving range remains closed.

The Glenwood Springs Golf Club is tailoring its guidelines after Rifle, in hopes of opening on Wednesday, General Manager Jerry Butler said on Monday.

The course last week put out a call to its patrons to help provide bleach and other cleaning materials to make sure they can sterilize the clubhouse premises. Much of what Rifle is doing will also be the standard mode of operation at Glenwood, with a few modifications that were still being worked out on Monday.

“Hopefully, all will be good and we can resume normal operations soon,” Butler said in an email.

River Valley Ranch in Carbondale has closed after being open for limited play last week, and is asking people to stay off the course until further notice.

“While some golf courses have remained open, we are temporarily closing as we believe it is our civic duty to do so during this time,” RVR operators announced in a Facebook message over the weekend. “Please help us by not entering course property. This includes the driving range, cart paths and fairways.”

Ironbridge Golf Course south of Glenwood Springs plans to open for member play only on Wednesday, and is currently planning to open for public play by April 11, when the governor’s stay-at-home order is currently scheduled to end.

“We also have been tracking the best practices for golf courses, and will be employing those,” Ironbridge Assistant General Manager Cal Kendrick said on Monday.

The pro shop are closed, and tee time check will be done over the phone or through a window, he said.

“We are carrying out the social distancing requirements, including a single person to a cart, no touching flag sticks and no raking of bunkers,” Kendrick said.

As many courses are doing, the cups are pulled up so the ball just hits the edge instead of dropping into the hole.

Hand sanitizing and washing stations with soap and paper towel dispensers are also set up, he said.

A beverage and snack cart will be operating on the course, but will also be following protocols, Kendrick said.

Elsewhere, Battlement Mesa Golf Club remains closed until April 11 and the private Aspen Glen Club allows members-only play. Lakota Canyon Golf Club in New Castle did not have information posted on its website, and could not be reached for comment.

jstroud@postindependent.com

Vail’s GoPro Mountain Games moved from June to August, but hurdles still exist

VAIL — The Vail Valley Foundation, which owns and operates the annual GoPro Mountain Games, announced Monday the postponement of the annual mountain sports, music and lifestyle event until Aug. 20-23.

The event had previously been scheduled for June 4-7 in Vail.

The GoPro Mountain Games will still take place in Vail and organizers say they will stay as true as possible to the original free-to-spectators, four-day, multi-sport festival format.

“The mountain community is strong and resilient, and although these are difficult times, we are confident that we can get through this together,” said Dave Dressman, Vail Valley Foundation vice president of sales and event director, in a news release. “Although we are disappointed this beloved project cannot take place during its normal June time frame, we hope the exciting news of the postponement to August triggers optimism for our mountain community that there will come a time when we can come together to once again celebrate the incredible spirit of mountain lifestyle in Vail.”

Dressman and the Vail Valley Foundation stressed that the health and well-being of all Mountain Games participants, athletes, spectators, staff, sponsors and partners would be paramount in the decision-making process as organizers looked ahead to the new August dates.

The Vail Valley Foundation, the town of Vail, Vail Resorts, GoPro and other key Mountain Games partners will consult with public health officials to make a final go/no-go determination on the August dates by June 1 at the latest.

“If we get to a point where the new August dates are not viable, and/or hosting of the event presents health risks to anyone we serve, then at that time we will announce a cancellation of the August event,” Dressman said. “We hope that doesn’t happen, and we will remain optimistic, but the health of our mountain community, staff and all of our attendees is priority No. 1 for us.”

Organizers said that GoPro Mountain Games partners, athletes and sponsors were extremely supportive of the decision.

“This event speaks so much to the heart and soul of our community, and we’re proud to partner with the Vail Valley Foundation, Vail Resorts and all our community businesses and partners to do all that we can to keep this event on the 2020 calendar if conditions allow,” said Vail Mayor Dave Chapin in the news release. “For now, we’re optimistic that we will be all together, outdoors, enjoying the GoPro Mountain Games in 2020 during these new August dates. These games will be an important component of our recovery, not only economically, but more importantly, will lift us all up emotionally to show our resiliency in working together as a community.”

A late-summertime event

Organizers recognized that water levels are much lower in August than in June, and that whitewater events will be impacted by this change.

“Whitewater athletes are a creative bunch,” said the Vail Valley Foundation’s Mac Garnsey, co-director of the event, in the news release. “We are going to work with them, and all our sport specialists, to see how we can keep this edition of the GoPro Mountain Games as close to the original as possible, but there simply is not enough water in Homestake Creek and Gore Creek to hold the exact same whitewater events that we have in the past.”

Vail Valley Foundation staff are currently working on plans with sport specialists across all 12 disciplines to determine what changes need to be made to events like fishing, climbing, DockDogs, trail running, mountain and road biking, disc golf, yoga, and the GMC Ultimate Mountain Challenge. They are also having open and honest conversations with sponsors, local partners, the Town of Vail, Vail Resorts, and other officials to shape the event to be as similar to the original as possible.

Finding a way to ‘rock on’

Music, too, is a big part of the GoPro Mountain Games, with three nights of free music at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheate.

The music lineup is likely to remain largely intact, and organizers are optimistic about bringing the originally-scheduled lineup to the Ford Amphitheater for the August dates, including Bluegrass Superjam, Deer Tick, Andy Frasco & the UN, and Twiddle & Mihali.

“Additionally, we will continue to program live music in various daytime locations with the help of numerous local musicians who have built what is a thriving Vail Valley music scene,” Dressman said.

Athlete registration information

Athlete registrations for the June event will continue to be honored, said Sarah Franke, Vail Valley Foundation vice president of marketing & operations.

Registration will be temporarily paused on mountaingames.com, however, until such time as organizers can confirm the exact new dates and times for each event.

“For years, the GoPro Mountain Games, always held in early June, has been a celebration of the arrival of summer and the mountain lifestyle that comes along with the new season. We believe this will still ring true, even in August, as all of us reflect on how much we cherish any moment we are fortunate enough to enjoy these beautiful mountains,” Franke said.

Athletes who have already registered for the 2020 event will be contacted to inform them of any changes to their selected event(s). Existing registrants can come and compete in the August event, push their registration to 2021, or receive a full refund on registration fees. Those who wish to continue supporting the event, even though they may not be able to attend, will also have the option to donate their registration fees to the nonprofit Vail Valley Foundation that hosts the event each year.

Organizers said they would soon have a more complete picture of what the new competitions, formats, courses, rules, and prizes, and that they would be in touch with current and former athletes and spectators with up-to-date information as decisions are made.

“We thank everyone for their patience during these difficult times,” Franke said. “As we adjust from an event in early June to one in late August, some of our events will be exactly the same, some will alter slightly, and others will change more significantly. We look forward to sharing some of our fun and creative ideas with the GoPro Mountain Games community in the coming weeks.”

Learn more about upcoming changes and stay up-to-date at mountaingames.com.

newsroom@vaildaily.com

COVID-19: Forest Service limits some access, backcountry open for outdoor rec

COVID-19 lockdown has touched every aspect of life in the Roaring Fork Valley, including the great outdoors.

While outdoor recreation is expressly allowed under Gov. Jared Polis’ stay-at-home order, there are still restrictions, and the White River National Forest is tightening access in some areas.

“Most backcountry access points and trails remain open,” the Forest Service said in a news release.

But the Forest Service will close developed recreational facilities like rental cabins, toilets and group sites through April 30, a Friday news release states.

The popular Hanging Lake trail is closed through at least April 11, and no permits are available for purchase until after that date.

The boat ramps at Grizzly Creek and Shoshone are currently open.

The Vail Pass Winter Recreation area is open from the Redcliff and Camp Hale access points, but the Interstate 70 parking lot is closed.

Backcountry trails are open, but that could change if authorities see violations of the social distancing orders.

“The Forest Service will be monitoring access points and adjusting management of these areas as appropriate to best meet social distancing direction and keep group sizes small. Safe and responsible use of our national forests will reduce impacts to local communities who may be at risk from the virus,” according to a Forest Service fact sheet.

Polis’ order, which took effect Thursday, tells all Coloradans to stay home for the next few weeks to limit the spread of the new coronavirus, unless someone is running necessary errands, working in an essential role, or going outside for exercise.

 “We want people to be able to get outside,” said Carrie Godes, spokeswoman for the Garfield County Public Health department.

Outdoor recreation is important, but further restrictions could be put in place if social distancing guidelines are not followed, Godes said.

“Right now it’s a privilege, and I would encourage people not to ruin that privilege. We want people to be healthy, to get outside, to breath clean air, to get physical exercise,” Godes said.

But locally, some activities and access to public lands has already been restricted.

“I think an example of that is Sunlight being closed, due to a number of factors, but some of those were social distancing complaints in the parking lot,” Godes said.

Godes also asked that people be careful in the backcountry since a medical emergency there would draw upon needed resources from local hospitals during the pandemic.

The governor’s order lists many activities as examples of allowable activities, such as “walking, hiking, nordic skiing, snowshoeing, biking or running.”

Those and other activities must assume social distancing, and some physical recreation should be avoided altogether under the governor’s order.

“I don’t know if there’s a way to practice social distancing in soccer that would be exempt,” Godes said.

Violation of the governor’s order could be punished by up to $1,000 in fines and up to 1 year in jail.

But local law enforcement would ask potential violators to voluntarily comply with the order first.

“The first step that they’re going to take is an educational approach, asking for compliance,” Godes said.

If the matter escalates, it could result in a cease and desist letter and eventually a citation.

tphippen@postindependent.com

Weather, virus force Aspen’s Eric Sullivan to postpone Nolan’s 14 ski attempt

After weather forced an initial postponement, Eric Sullivan was regrouped and ready to dive into the Nolan’s 14 route beginning Monday. But he had a last second change of heart amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the statewide stay-at-home order.

“I didn’t want to leave anybody with a bad taste in their mouth,” Sullivan said Saturday. “I had to make the tough call, but I think people will respect it.”

The Aspen endurance athlete, who goes by Sully, was hoping to ski the Nolan’s 14 route, a series of fourteeners in the Sawatch Range from Leadville down toward Salida. It’s considered to be an incredibly challenging feat, with only a handful of people having completed it during the summer, including Aspen’s Ted Mahon.

Prior to his initial start date on March 13, Sullivan believed no one had ever completed the course on skis. However, he’s since pointed out there are at least two known finishers in the Leadville husband and wife duo of Rohan and Anna Lauer Roy, who skied the 14 mountains over 14 days in 2014.

Sullivan was hoping to complete it in around 100 hours and do it without a support crew, a change from his original idea to have help along the way.

He delayed his original trip two weeks ago because of recent storms and dangerous avalanche conditions. The new coronavirus then put an end to his second attempt this coming week. He had planned to go solo, which would certainly adhere to the social distancing practices that are in place, but he didn’t want to put any added pressure on first responders should an issue arise and decided to call it off.

“I’ll at least wait until the quarantine is done, but then who knows what the conditions will be like and how long it will take,” Sullivan said. “So it’s on the backburner, but everything is ready to go if need be. But it’s been nice. I’ve just been able to shut the brain off and relax the last couple of days.”

Should the Nolan’s 14 attempt not come to fruition this season, Sullivan said he’s far from done with it. It’ll be something on his mind until he’s able to give it a realistic go, whether that be in the coming months or next winter.

“I’ll never quit dreaming about it until I get it done,” Sullivan said. “A lot of people can run 100 milers and stuff like that, but to just finish this thing is a huge task and it’s just medieval. There is no easy way around it. It’s all in your face all the time.”

On top of delivering orders for Big Wrap in Aspen, Sullivan is a local coach who specializes in mountain adventures and endurance endeavors. He’s spending his free time working on expanding his business to different clientele.

A devoted mountain biker, Sullivan has turned his sights on taking part in the 500-mile Colorado Trail Race this summer, should it happen.

He said his sponsors have been understanding of the situation regarding the delayed Nolan’s 14 attempt.

“They were all very respectful of my choice. They thought it was a good call. I didn’t want them to think I was bailing out on trying or anything, so they understood,” Sullivan said. “I’ll just focus on something else. There is plenty of stuff to do.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com

New cycle: U.S. riders face another year of training for postponed Tokyo Games

The decision to postpone the Tokyo Olympics until next year because of the coronavirus pandemic has left American cyclists with an abundance of mixed feelings.

Relief that a move had been finally made. Disappointment that a lifetime ambition will be delayed. Frustration that months and even years of planning have been thrown in the blender. And still more uncertainty over when the Summer Games will take place, what the qualification criteria will look like and even if they will still be on the U.S. team.

“As tough as the news is to hear when obviously the planning that goes into the four-year cycle of it all, and obviously now we’re only a few months out and on the homestretch of that path, it does stink to hear,” BMX rider and Olympic silver medalist Alise Willoughby said. “But at the same time, the plan doesn’t necessarily change.

“I know there are some athletes that might not be in the same position,” Willoughby continued, “whether it’s physically or financially — hanging on another year could be difficult for some, and the qualifying processes are basically suspended and some have been finished. It’s a mess of uncertainty for a lot of people.”

Not just cyclists, of course, but for swimmers and gymnasts and myriad other athletes for whom the Olympics is the once-every-four-year pinnacle of their sport. But those who ride bikes for a living are somewhat unique in that their schedules are often honed to the day, hour and minute. They adhere to strict diets, meticulously plan training rides, build strength at certain points of the season only to shift their workouts to those that build endurance.

The idea is to peak for a handful of races each year, whether that’s the Tour de France for a men’s road cyclist or the world championships for a track cyclist. It’s nearly impossible to maintain that finely tuned level of fitness beyond a few weeks, much less an entire year, which is when the Olympics are expected to finally begin.

“It’s still an unknown. We don’t know how long this is going to last, what races will still be in play, what races are canceled,” said Chloe Dygert, a gold medal-favorite in the women’s team pursuit on the track and the time trial on the road. “The goal is still the Olympics, so even if we just take this year and focus on this year, and training for next year, that’s what we are going to do. I’m still training. Just kind of winter training, a little block work.”

Offseason training, in other words — even if it’s an “offseason” that nobody has ever experienced.

Riders like Willoughby and Dygert are fortunate, though. Both have won world championship and Olympic medals, and they have accomplished enough that they have big-time sponsors behind them. They have the ability to spend the next few weeks and months on training without having to worry about landing their next pay checks.

But many other cyclists have part- and even full-time jobs off the bike. For them there are the very real fears of furloughs and layoffs that are affecting Americans in all walks of life. USA Cycling is trying to offer as much support as possible, but even the national governing body is feeling the pinch as the pandemic rages.

Without races and recreational rides that are on indefinite hiatus, the organization doesn’t take in its usual revenue. That in turn affects day-to-day operations, including USA Cycling’s support for elite riders.

“We’re operating under the assumption that racing will remain canceled through April, May and June. We’re planning for the worst and hopefully it either is or is less than that,” chief executive Rob DeMartini said. “As it relates to the athletes, we had a two-hour conversation on how to make this team stronger, to show up in Tokyo next spring, next summer, with a team that does better than the team would have this year. Nine to 12 months is a chance to get better.”

That is how the vast majority of American riders are approaching this forced break.

Until tracks reopen and quarantines are lifted, Willoughby continues to work out in her home gym in Southern California with her husband, Australian BMX standout Sam Willoughby. Dygert continues to take long training rides around her base in Boise, Idaho, under the watchful eye of three-time Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong.

Mountain bike World Cup champion Kate Courtney, another gold medal-favorite, is riding outside whenever the weather cooperates, all the while watching the news and waiting to hear when the Olympics will begin.

“It’s a really tough time to be an athlete targeting the Olympics,” Courtney said. “But that’s just one example of the kind of loss and heartbreak happening right now, and I know there are so many stories of people experiencing that in all different ways, losing jobs or losing loved ones.

“I just hope we can get the Summer Games back on the calendar, and when that does happen, it will be a source of hope and inspiration for everyone.”

Aspen’s Hamilton commits to at least one more season on World Cup, looks to future

Feel free to make fun of Simi Hamilton for becoming the old man who refused to hang it up. He won’t mind, as he did the same when he was younger. Of course, there is a drive behind the Aspen Olympian’s desire to keep going that is worth noting.

“I’m turning into one of those people I always kind of made fun of a little bit,” Hamilton joked. “I felt like I learned a lot of things about my body and my mind this year where I can kind of tweak a lot of things this coming training season and put in a really good next year. I’m psyched about giving it one more shot.”

Hamilton, 32, is an Aspen native and longtime fixture on the U.S. cross-country ski team. After time at Middlebury College in Vermont, Hamilton went on to compete in three Winter Olympic Games (2010, 2014, 2018) and every world championship since 2011.

For both he and his wife, fellow U.S. ski team athlete Sophie Caldwell, retirement has been on the tip of their tongue for a few years now. Neither sees the 2022 Winter Olympics as part of their future, but neither is willing to rule it out, either. The one thing that drives both to keep going for at least another season is to be role models for the country’s up-and-coming talent.

“I guess retiring is harder than we thought. I think it’s a really cool time in skiing right now because we have so many young athletes coming up, and it’s really cool for us to be able to overlap with them,” Caldwell said. “We both think it’s really important to have some time on the road with them, not only to show them the ropes but because they are really fun and inspirational to have around.”

Caldwell, 30, is a Vermont native who competed in both the 2014 and 2018 Winter Olympics. She remembers fondly her days as a young skier looking up to veterans like the now-retired Kikkan Randall, who in 2018 along with Jessie Diggins won the first Olympic gold medal for the U.S. in cross-country skiing.

And both Caldwell and Hamilton feel the best is still coming. Young athletes like Alaska’s Gus Schumacher, who became the first American male to win gold in an individual race at junior worlds earlier this winter, are providing them that extra bit of motivation to keep grinding for another year on the World Cup.

“Jessie and Kikkan and all the rest of the girls, they’ve shown us what is possible and they’ve kind of broken through that glass ceiling. So I think for these skiers coming up, it’s just a matter of now they know it’s a possibility,” Hamilton said. “Those boys just inspire me so much every single day and I want to be around for a year while they are emerging onto the level I’ve been skiing at for a while. I feel that’s a pretty cool opportunity I really want to take advantage of. It would be pretty stupid to just hang my skis up as they are just emerging.”

A YOUNG MAN’S GAME

According to his FIS profile, Hamilton has 132 career World Cup starts with four official podiums and a single win, coming back in 2013. For the most part, he’s exclusively been a sprinter, which typically is an advantage for the younger athletes. The longer distance events tend to benefit the older athletes, which is what makes Hamilton’s longevity as a sprinter stand out.

“What is unique about Simi is he still is relevant in the young man’s game of sprint. He’s sort of turning the world upside down,” said August Teague, the Nordic program director for the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club. “It’s a testament to his mom and his dad in terms of how they brought him up and the natural skills that he developed as a young athlete that he’s been able to continue his career for the length he has, but also in sprinting. It’s pretty unique and pretty cool.”

Fighting injury and illness much of the 2019-20 World Cup season, Hamilton didn’t have a lot of good things to say about his season. He finished 61st in the overall standings and 24th in sprint, leading the American men in both.

Caldwell led the U.S. women this season by finishing sixth in the sprint standings. She was 25th overall, with Diggins leading the American women by finising sixth on the season-long points list.

“There were a few good moments, but a lot of really disappointing moments for me,” Hamilton said. “I just knew I still had a lot of fire inside of me to keep competing and training.”

Looking ahead to next season, the highlight will be the 2021 world championships in Germany, which would be a sixth trip to worlds for Hamilton. As of now, the 2022 Olympics in Beijing have little to no appeal for him.

“When you look at it from the outside and when you look at it objectively, it’s really hard to think we would be retiring the year before the Olympics come around again. To me, I don’t feel a lot of motivation to go to another Olympics,” Hamilton said. “I’m really psyched for all the athletes out there that still are, and I think we are going to put together a really, really good team for that games. I’m psyched to support our athletes that are going to go to those games and maybe I’ll go as a spectator or something.”

LIFE AFTER SKIING

Hamilton and Caldwell met back when they were competing at the junior level. They married this past October in Vermont, where they’ve been since the last week or so of the cross-country World Cup season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While Caldwell is two years younger than Hamilton, she doesn’t see herself sticking around much longer, if at all, after her husband calls it quits. She’s all in on this next season and like Hamilton looks forward to being a role model to the younger athletes, such as Basalt’s Hailey Swirbul, but can see the finish line approaching after that.

Life could take them any number of directions after they retire from competitive skiing, but a strong candidate for a landing spot could be back in the Roaring Fork Valley at some point.

“I recognize our job is one of the coolest jobs in the world and we get to travel, do what we love and we get to do it together. But there are also other parts of life that I’m looking forward to when I’m finished skiing,” Caldwell said. “We’ll see where life after skiing takes us. I’ve never lived in the west; I think I would really enjoy it. And he’s a western boy at heart, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up out there somewhere.”

Hamilton has dreams of starting a family here in Aspen, and Teague has dreams of one day getting he and Caldwell involved with coaching AVSC athletes, completing the circle of when Hamilton grew up with the club.

But those dreams remain at least a year away. There’s one more World Cup season, one more world championship and one more chance to experience life as a professional athlete. Hamilton wasn’t ready to critique his career as whole, or judge the progress the U.S. has made in the sport over his time, but believes he’ll be plenty happy with it when he reflects back decades from now.

“You are always going to have a few regrets about how things went, but I think that’s just the nature of being involved in a really complex, a really fun, a really cool sport like cross-country skiing,” Hamilton said. “I am proud of what I’ve been able to do. I feel like the biggest thing for me is to have been part of an incredible team. I think it will be a lot easier in 20 years to look back and really realize exactly what this team accomplished.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Tour de France cycling race yet to be postponed amid coronavirus pandemic

PARIS — Perhaps no other sports event puts so many fans in such close contact with athletes as the Tour de France, with swarms of people clogging city streets, winding roads and soaring mountain passes during cycling’s three-week showpiece and getting within touching distance of the riders.

And yet, unlike almost every other major sporting event this summer, including the Tokyo Olympics, the Tour has yet to be called off despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

For now, the start date remains June 27 — and there is a possibility that the race could be held without any fans lining the course.

France’s sports minister Roxana Maracineanu said the Tour can still exist in a time of social distancing.

“The economic model of the Tour de France does not rely on ticket sales but on TV rights and media broadcasting,” Maracineanu told France Bleu radio on Wednesday evening. “Everyone has understood the benefits of staying at home and prioritizing the televised spectacle. In the end, it would not be so disadvantageous because we could watch it on television.”

But it would be a Tour unlike any other.

The race, which was first held in 1903, is synonymous with images of thousands of crammed-in spectators stuck together like glue on winding ascents up the Alps, cheering on the riders as they go past.

On the final day of the race, a ceremonial ride into Paris, legions of yellow-jersey wearing spectators normally amass behind steel barriers along the Champs-Elysees: several banks deep and shoulder to shoulder, with fast-turning heads catching a glimpse of the winner flashing past.

Millions of fans watch each year’s race in a festive atmosphere stretching across all areas of France. This year’s race has 21 stages, where fans traditionally stand watching all along the way, and the longest is 218 kilometers (135 miles).

Thousands of police officers are needed to keep crowds under control and help negotiate safe passage for riders from 22 teams, with several often sharing hotels.

Enforcing a lockdown everywhere along the route for three weeks seems difficult — if not impossible — given that groups of people could appear from anywhere at any point.

One of cycling’s big attractions is that fans get so close to the riders, running alongside them up climbs and sometimes giving them a helpful push in the back on the toughest ones.

Sometimes they get much too close.

Two years ago, former champion Vincenzo Nibali crashed into a police motorbike on a narrow street lined with spectators and later abandoned the race. Four-time champion Chris Froome has been spat on and had urine thrown on him.

Maracineanu is in regular talks with Amaury Sport Organisation — the Tour organizer — but says it’s “still too early” to predict what will happen. On her Twitter account she added: “there is a time for everything. Right now, we have a a more urgent battle to fight.”

On Tuesday, the International Olympic Committee postponed the Tokyo Games to next year. Likewise soccer’s European Championship, held in several countries, moved to 2021. Another major cycling race, the Giro d’Italia in May, was postponed this month.

Organizers of Wimbledon meet next week to decide on this year’s tennis tournament, scheduled for June 29-July 12. The French Open, normally in late May and June, is pushed back to Sept. 20-Oct. 4.

Tour organizers declined to comment Thursday when asked whether plans to host the race as planned this summer have changed, or whether a race without fans could be an option.

The last time the Tour was not held was in 1946, with the nation emerging from the second world war. It was also stopped during WWI.

Five-time Tour champion Bernard Hinault — the last Frenchman to win the race — cautioned against it going ahead amid the uncertainty of how long the epidemic will last.

“There’s a crazy illness which is spreading and, if it happens to last months, we shouldn’t hesitate to call it off,” he said in an interview with French daily Le Parisien on March 18. “We should ask ourselves if it’s reasonable to allow people to go out on the roads if there’s still a risk … The Tour de France is a fantastic party. But it’s less important than life.”

Scott Mercier: Using two wheels to cope with the uncertainty of COVID-19

These are trying and uncertain times. The COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc on people’s health and wealth. They say that misery loves company, and while that may be true, to help slow the virus’ spread we are all being asked to gut this out alone.

As an extrovert, like many of you, I crave social interaction and isolation from work and friends is mentally challenging. Judging by the lines at the liquor stores and dispensaries, people are seeking an escape. For me, that escape will involve riding a bike.

To add insult to injury, the high country is firmly in the grip of old man winter, and most of our local trails are either closed or too muddy and packed with snow to ride, while the desert trails of Western Colorado and Moab are probably in perfect riding condition. But out of respect to our fellow citizens, we really shouldn’t be jumping in our cars and heading west. We need to stay put.

If you’re going to ride, it’s important to ride alone, or at most with one or two additional riders. The reasons are twofold: First, we’ve been asked to maintain a distance of at least 6 feet between other people so as to minimize and reduce community spread of the virus. At high levels of exertion, when your heart is pumping and your lungs are gasping for air, you tend to cough, blow snot and spit. One contaminated rider in a peloton could infect the entire group.

Secondly, however, is that riding in a large group exponentially adds to the risk of an accident. I’ve never had a solo accident, but I’ve hit the deck many times in a peloton. We don’t want to create an issue where we potentially add more stress to the medical system by riding in a group and having an accident.

If you do ride, approach it as if you were heading into the backcountry; meaning, be prepared and don’t take unnecessary risks. Don’t bomb down descents like you normally would; back it off a bit. Many of the roads seem to have been swept, but there is still a fair amount of pea gravel which can easily cause a crash in a corner.

You also need to be aware of wildlife; a deer jumping in front of you will send you straight over the handlebars. When the trails dry out, don’t push your limits and ride well within your abilities. Have spare clothes for sudden changes in weather, a phone, and extra tubes for flats. France, Italy and Spain have already completely banned cycling. Group rides and willful ignorance by the cycling community will almost certainly lead to similar measures here.

Most of the roads in the midvalley are dry and have minimal traffic. Missouri Heights, in particular, offers a smorgasbord of small and medium length loops. You can get great loops of as short as an hour to as long as three hours. Cattle Creek Road is a perfect early-season ride with a steady, but not too steep, climb. The Rio Grande Trail is another great option. Some portions of the trail are still closed for animal migration and habitat, but much of the trail is open, clear of snow and in good riding condition.

These days I prefer riding trails on my mountain bike, but for decades the road bike had been my refuge, and I find myself turning to it now more than ever. I cannot overstate the value, both for mental and physical well-being, of riding a bike. The sun and wind on my face, and the steady rhythm of thousands of pedal strokes during a ride bring a sense of normalcy to an uncertain and chaotic world.

The community, and the world as a whole, is in for a tough time that may get tougher still. But going for a ride is a small reminder of how fortunate we are to live in this special little community. Be patient, give each other space and remember that we’re all in this together. Smile and wave if you see another rider or a family out walking their dog. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but I’m pretty sure the sun will rise in the east.

Good riding and be smart!

Scott Mercier represented Team USA at the 1992 Olympic Games and had a five-year professional career with Saturn Cycling and The U.S. Postal Services Cycling teams. He currently works in Aspen and can be reached at scottmercier24@gmail.com.

Kate Oldham leads record group of AVSC Nordic athletes at junior nationals

After rapidly climbing the U18 ranks in a breakthrough season last winter, Kate Oldham finally took a small stumble at U.S. senior nationals in January. The cross-country skier didn’t have a bad showing by any means, but she didn’t finish high enough to get invited back to any of the European competitions like she wanted.

A small setback, yes, but it also was an important lesson to take in for the 17-year-old Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club athlete.

“It was definitely disappointing, but it was a good reminder for me that progress isn’t linear and you just have to keep working and you’ll have another breakthrough,” Oldham said. “It was a good lesson, because I hadn’t really learned that one yet. I had sort of just been getting better and better and better and hadn’t had a missed goal.”

A senior at Colorado Rocky Mountain School in Carbondale, Oldham made up for it by finishing the season strong at junior nationals earlier this month. The biggest junior competition of the season, the event was hosted by Auburn Ski Club, just down the road from Truckee, California.

The highlight of her two races was a third-place finish in the March 9 classic individual start, with second-place finisher Emma Reeder, of Vail, besting her by only a tenth of a second. Stratton Mountain School’s Nina Seemann won the race.

“We’ve been leapfrogging each other all season and have just been super close and it’s fun to have somebody always there to push me like that,” Oldham said of Reeder. “I was really happy to be able to show up fit. Since I didn’t make some of my other goals earlier this season, it actually gave me a chance to get a couple more big blocks of training in and that was helpful for being as prepared as I could be going into that race.”

Oldham also made the B finals of the March 11 freestyle sprint, a race also won by Seemann. By finishing top 10, Oldham earned All-American recognition in both her races.

“To get medals in both races, I think Kate was absolutely floored,” said August Teague, AVSC’s Nordic program director. “That third place was special. It was one going into we knew we had a chance of doing well in. I think she was disappointed we didn’t get to try the skate distance, because I think she had her sights set on that win.”

LITTLE BREAKTHROUGHS

Junior nationals had been scheduled to hold a skate mass start on March 13 and a classic relay the following day, but both those events were ultimately canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic that was just reaching the Truckee area.

Still, it was a strong showing for the Aspen club as a whole, which sent a program best 11 athletes to junior nationals. Their previous record of attendees had been eight, which came only last winter. Aspen’s Everett Olson had arguably the next best result behind Oldham, taking 12th in the men’s U20 classic, the highest-level race at junior nationals. Teague said Olson would have been a strong All-American contender in the skate race.

The most surprising finish, according to Teague, was Roaring Fork freshman Corbin Carpenter, who finished 17th in the U16 race. He was one of the many “little breakthroughs” the club saw while in California.

“We are slowly building the culture around hard work and year-round commitment to a sport,” Teague said. “I was lucky in that I had some really good support and staff that have been in place now for a couple of years that have helped build that culture. Then I think the kids themselves went out and actually did the hard work.”

IN SIMI’S FOOTSTEPS

With the coronavirus bringing an early end to the ski season, athletes like Oldham can now look ahead to those next steps. For the CRMS senior, it will be moving on to compete at Middlebury College in Vermont, the same school that Aspen Olympian and World Cup cross-country skier Simi Hamilton also attended.

“I’ve been looking for the next step up in training and I’m really excited to have a strong girls team; the Middlebury team was really, really good this year,” Oldham said. “I’m really excited to have a new training group.”

Being a private school, Middlebury asked for an early commitment from Oldham. At the time, she didn’t have many other offers — although they would come by the handful as the season progressed — but she felt comfortable with the coaches and current Middlebury athletes to make it official and follow in Hamilton’s footsteps.

“I had a choice to either wait and try to figure something out after or commit to Middlebury. It wasn’t actually too hard of a decision because I was really excited about Middlebury and I loved it when I visited,” Oldham said. “While it felt a little bit premature, it in the end wasn’t really a hard decision.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com