College mountain bikers to compete at Snowmass | AspenTimes.com

College mountain bikers to compete at Snowmass

Dale Strode
The Aspen Times

Ben Sonntag of Durango, right, chats with runner-up Jay Henry of Avon in the finish area for the Power of Four Mountain Bike Race in early August. Sonntag, a former college racer at Fort Lewis College, won the race for the second consecutive. Current college mountain bikers will race in Snowmass on Sept. 20-21 in the annual CU Invitational.

Top college mountain bike racers from the Rocky Mountain West will cycle into Snowmass Village next weekend for the annual CU Invitational.

The two-day event on the Rocky Mountain Collegiate Cycling Conference calendar will feature up to 14 teams representing schools and cycling clubs from the University of Wyoming to the Air Force Academy.

National powers in the world of college cycling, a division of USA Cycling, also will be represented at Snowmass, including the host CU Cycling Team as well as multiple national champion Fort Lewis College from Durango and Division II national champion Colorado Mesa University from Grand Junction.

In addition to the cross country mountain bike race, there also will be a short track cross country race and a downhill.

"Snowmass is a cool venue because everyone will be together at the ski area," said CU Cycling head coach Jeff Winkler, himself a former college and professional bicycle racer.

Gravity fans

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"It's one of the courses the gravity riders really like," he said of the college downhill racers, who will use the chairlift-accessed downhill course at the Snowmass Ski Area.

The cross country course and the XC short track course both are challenging, Winkler said, with long, tough climbs at elevation at the Snowmass Ski Area.

Short track is basically a mountain bike circuit race with multiple laps on the same route.

The director of the CU club cycling program said other regional colleges with cycling teams will race in Snowmass — Colorado Western State of Gunnison, Colorado School of Mines, Colorado State University, Air Force, Wyoming, Adams State, University of Denver and Colorado College, among others.

College cyclists from Utah and New Mexico also may compete in Snowmass because of the downhill opportunity.

The schedule calls for the short track cross country races Saturday, starting at 9 a.m.

The top women's division will start at 10:35 a.m. The top men's division will begin at 11:15 a.m.

Also Saturday, the downhill will be staged. The course will be open for practice from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Racing will begin at 2 p.m. Saturday.

The featured cross country race will be staged Sunday, Sept. 21, with the start and finish near the Snowmass Village Mall.

The host CU cycling program, which operates as a club sport, also counts on the races at Snowmass to help in their fundraising activities through team entrance fees.

Races in Boulder

The CU cyclists also sponsor a short-track race series in bike-happy Boulder. And the cycling Buffs put on a community road race in the spring in the Boulder area.

Winkler said the Snowmass location also is valuable for the CU road cyclists, some of whom will compete in the National Collegiate Track Championships this fall.

"We'll bring the road team to Snowmass," Winkler said. "They can get in some great training rides. Hopefully, with good weather."

One year ago, the college cyclists battled snowy, rainy and tough conditions at the CU Invitational.

Winkler said the field at Snowmass will include top mountain bikers who recently competed in the World Mountain Biking Championships in Norway.

College cycling, as operated through USA Cycling, allows amateurs, pros and semi-pros to race together, much like college rodeo allows pros and amateurs together.

Sepp Kuss, the CU rider who won the cross country race in Snowmass last year, raced in worlds before returning to Boulder. He'll defend his title in the Snowmass race next weekend.

"It was a little wet last year," Kuss said in a telephone interview from Boulder, where he just stepped out of an English literature class. "But later in the day, by the time we raced, it was fine."

He said the long, steady climb up the ski area favored his abilities with a few steep pitches thrown in.

"I fare better on those steeps," said Kuss, a 19-year-old who is majoring in advertising.

He said on those long climbs at elevation cyclists have to adjust from the usual explosive ups and quick downs in cross country racing.

Kuss said the World Mountain Bike Championships near Lillehammer, Norway, were memorable.

"It was my first worlds, so it was a whole new experience," said Kuss, who grew up in Durango as a top junior cross country ski racer. "But it was a lot of the same field as the World Cups I had ridden."

He said at the World Cup level, the cyclists are able to start at a higher rate and then hold that high speed in races.

"Full gas on the first lap, and they keep going," Kuss said.

College cycling is a pleasant change of pace from battling for position among 100 World Cup pros, he said.

College camaraderie

"College (racing) is a good way to wind down from that season," Kuss said. "It's more of a group effort. We camp together, race together. It's the camaraderie more than anything."

That goes across teams, as well, he said, adding that college cyclists tend to help other riders regardless of team.

"It's competitive sure, but it's not like we're playing NCAA football."

The college mountain bike racers, who competed in Crested Butte last weekend in the Colorado Western State event, will target the Rocky Mountain Conference Championships in Grand Junction on Oct. 11-12.

The USA Cycling Collegiate National Mountain Bike Championships will be held Oct. 24-26 at Beech Mountain, North Carolina.

dstrode@aspentimes.com