Folks who love spokes | AspenTimes.com

Folks who love spokes

Nate PetersonAspen, CO Colorado
Joel Mischke leads out the pack during the Aspen Downtown Criterium on Sunday.
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ASPEN There are plenty of clubs in this valley, many of them exclusive enclaves for a select group of members.Then there’s the Aspen Cycling Club, a fraternity with but one precondition: a love for pedaling. Everything else, said Charlie Tarver, one of the founders of the 20-year-old club, is irrelevant.”The focus when we started it was not to attract the fastest riders in the valley,” said Tarver, owner of the Hub of Aspen. “The goal was for people who were entering racing or leaving racing. It was really focused on the guy with kids, as well as the guys who were young, 18 and 19, to see what competitive racing was like. We knew the really good guys would come, too, but we focused on other things.”It’s a formula that has created a unique weekly gathering during the late spring and summer months. Consider the road race up to Ruedi Reservoir at dusk Wednesday: an undulating loop along the banks of the Fryingpan that had plenty of ingredients for a good omelet. Among the field of 79 were Aspen Skiing Co. executives and Aspen ski bums, housewives and hotshot juniors, weekend warriors and well-tested veterans, old-timers and, well, more old-timers – all sharing the same road on a postcard-perfect Colorado evening.

An hour and 20 minutes after the start, the first batch of racers – citizen men, juniors and women – began to trickle across the finish line after completing a 28-mile loop.Two of those in the pack were Dave Borchers, a Basalt-based physician and admitted recreational cyclist, and Katie Brooks, a sales and marketing representative with the Skico in the midst of her training for an upcoming triathlon.”I have to say I only hit about two or three of the races a year, but it’s fun to just see friends, and yeah, get a little competition,” Borchers said after catching his breath. “Just for training, it’s great. It motivates me to keep riding. You could never ride this hard by yourself.” “I can do my best when I’ve got somebody else pushing me,” added Brooks, who said she just began racing in the series last summer. “I hate to lose, so I definitely wouldn’t have gone as hard tonight without all the people around me and all my teammates pushing me.”

What’s most impressive about the local cycling series is its scope and its level of competitiveness, Tarver said. Other comparable-sized communities have cycling series during the summer, but “none with 20 races, and one every week.”To be accurate, the club offers 23 races between April and September, 12 of them traditional cycling races and the remaining 11 mountain bike races. There’s even diversity among the events, from time trials and mass-start road races and criteriums in the cycling events to downhills and cross-country races for the fat-tire crowd.”It’s unheard-of, and we’ve done it for 20 years,” Tarver said. “To have a local series that is this competitive is amazing. It’s competitive in every age group. It’s as good as any race series in [Los Angeles], where you have 8 million people. It’s a wide breadth of athletes out there each week checking themselves. The women who come in third here might come in third in the whole state of Florida. That’s because the average housewife in this town gets on her bike four days a week.” Max Taam, the defending overall champion who won Wednesday’s 49-mile loop for the senior and veteran men, said the local series is ideal for a young rider looking to make headway in competitive cycling.”There’s a lot of top guys around here, both current pros and ex-pros and up-and-coming guys,” said the 24-year-old ski patroller who works at the Hub during the swing seasons and the summer. “I’m one of the younger guys. I’m Category 3 on the road right now, but I’m hoping to upgrade to Category 2. This is a great series because there’s so many guys who know so much about cycling, and who’ve been around a while.”One of those is Danny Sullivan, Taam’s 39-year-old Hub teammate who has an extensive road-racing résumé. Sullivan, while living on and off in the valley for the last 20 years, said he has used the series to train for larger road races on the Front Range.

In his opinion, the series isn’t as competitive as it used to be in the ’80s and ’90s, when some of today’s veteran riders were in their primes, but “it’s still very, very competitive.””I think there was sort of a hiatus from a few years ago when there were a lot of high-profile riders in the valley -guys like Rishi Grewal who raised the profile of the series and the competition,” Sullivan said. “Right now it’s a little less competitive, but it’s still hard and challenging. You can tell by the grunts and screams that everybody really gives it their best.”Tarver agreed that the senior fields arguably aren’t as competitive as they used to be, but then reiterated that the series was never solely for elite riders. Its success rests with its ability to appeal to racers of all stripes – everyone from 70-year-old Jacques “Frenchy” Houot to 12-year-old Max Maroz.”The focus wasn’t on just guys like Max [Taam], the focus is on the young kids, older guys like [Aspen Skiing Co. vice president of mountain operations] Rich Burkley,” Tarver said. “Someone like Rich, he still needs to test himself, but he can’t really travel every weekend and have new competition, like Max. However, someone like Max, who is 24 still has to bust his ass to get a win here. That’s a great thing.”Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is npeterson@aspentimes.com


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