Lance, others set to Blast the Mass at Snowmass | AspenTimes.com

Lance, others set to Blast the Mass at Snowmass

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Paul Conrad Aspen Times Weekly

SNOWMASS – Dave Elkan was star-struck Tuesday.

While prepping for this weekend’s Blast the Mass bike races, Snowmass Village’s sponsorship and event marketing manager ran into Lance Armstrong on the cross country course. He’s not quite sure how the exchange unfolded from there, however.

“I was nervous. … I didn’t know what to say to him. What do you say to a guy you’ve idolized forever?” Elkan added. “I think I asked him if he liked the course, or about a tree that was down on [a section called] ‘Anaerobic Nightmare’.

“As far as the exact quote, I don’t remember … but he said he really liked the course.”

Elkan is hoping to garner a similar response from all competitors when Blast the Mass returns this weekend. An estimated 500 to 600 riders are expected to take part in the event, the fifth stop in the Mountain States Cup series and the designated Colorado State Championship site for cross country and downhill, among others. Festivities open today with practice sessions. The pro cross country race kicks off at 10:15 a.m. Saturday and highlights a busy day on the mountain.

The finals of the pro downhill – one of only a handful of International Cycling Union Class 2-sanctioned events in the country, Elkan said – follow Sunday at 2:45 p.m. Competitors will have the chance to accrue points needed to qualify for international World Cup races.

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Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner who is roughly two weeks removed from a third-place finish in cycling’s premier event, tweeted Thursday afternoon that he will be in the field for Saturday’s cross country race. Pro competitors will ride two loops that cover nearly 23 miles and 4,700 vertical feet.

“We’ve had other world-class athletes here, and will have World Cup downhillers here this weekend. … But Lance transcends the sport,” Elkan said. “What’s so great about what he does is that he’s not only the best cyclist in the world, he’s pop culture, too. It goes above and beyond what you’d expect at a bike race.

“On a business level, you can’t ask for the amount of exposure he brings everywhere he goes. … On a personal note, just to see him enjoying the course that guys here spend countless hours maintaining and working on all year, to see someone like that say how great it is makes everyone feel good.”

Crews have been busy. A reconfigured cross country course now starts and ends at the new Base Village. The dreaded Powerline ascent – a roughly 800 vertical-foot climb that spans about two of the long loop’s 11.4 miles – has been removed, Elkan said.

“The change allows us to use Base Village and create a better, more flowy course, which is more fun for everyone,” he added. “This should keep pro times for two long laps at about two hours for the winning time, which should be perfect for this type of championship.”

On the downhill side, bank turns have been added to the steep upper section to aid riders, Elkan said. Competitors will receive little help from there, however, thanks to multiple new drops and a large table-top jump. And then there’s the Waterfall section, which poses a challenge to even the most accomplished riders – and provides quite a spectacle for onlookers.

All told, the downhill, which was extended some 600 vertical feet in 2008 and starts at the top of Sam’s Knob and finishes just above Fanny Hill, covers nearly 2,000 vertical feet.

Spectators will be able to purchase a $10 pass to access the course via the Village Express lift, which last weekend opened for the first time in summer.

“I think all that weekend did was fuel the fire for how good the course is,” Elkan said. “The downhillers were checking out the new course, and people were super excited.”

Conditions are ideal, Elkan added.

“[The downhill] is riding really fast, and the cross country is the best I’ve ever seen these trails,” he said. “It’s amazing how much water these trails can handle. Couple that with the rain we’ve gotten and the little bit of dry weather we’ve had, and it is sweet riding right now. … It’s like paved singletrack. … It’s not dusty and you can ride right behind someone without getting a spray full of dirt.”

Favorable weather is expected this weekend; forecasts are calling for clear skies Saturday and Sunday with highs in the mid-70s.

“Let’s hope it’s sunny for Lance,” Elkan joked.

jmaletz@aspentimes.com

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