At Teva Homestake race, nobody’s perfect
Aspen, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colo. ” There are times when you just can’t attain perfection.
And it’s in those times, like at Thursday’s steep creek kayak race at the Teva Mountain Games in Vail, when you hope that that a mistake or two won’t cost you the race.
From the instant they launched their boats into the water at Homestake Creek through the final paddle stroke, the world’s top racers did their best to hold a straight line, not to mention keep their heads above water.
“I expect to have two perfect runs, and we all train enough where we should be able to, but it’s very difficult to put together two great runs,” said Tao Berman, who won the two-run, combined-time competition with two stellar, but self-admitted imperfect trips down Homestake.
“On my second run, the top three-quarters was really quick, but I wasn’t as quick as I wanted to be on the bottom drop. I may have lost a a second and a half or two.”
Berman finished with a total time of 3 minutes, 41.51 seconds. He was in third after his first run, 1.4 seconds behind then-leader Todd Anderson, but had the best second pass by more than 1.5 seconds. Anderson finished second, while Andrew Holcombe was third. Tanya Faux won the women’s race despite a hard crash during her second run, while Nikki Kelley was second. Carbondale’s Eleanor Perry was third.
“My theory was to be able to get two consistent runs, and that would be really good,” Faux said.
“On the first run I was in fifth,” Holcombe said, “and I was three seconds back. I told someone, ‘If you’re within five or six seconds after the first run, you totally have a chance to win this thing.’ But it’s really hard to stack together two perfect runs out there.”
OK, so what makes this stretch of water so difficult? Well, the creek drops 480 feet per mile, the levels were running at more than 100 cubic feet per second and the banks are only a rope’s throw apart.
“You can be as fast as you want and then come into one spot and spin out or flip, and it’s over,” said Ken Hoeve, a Gypsum resident who started the race in 2002.
Freestyle World Champion Eric Jackson plowed through almost the entire course on his first run, only to flip after a drop right before the finish.
“If I was doing the freestyle competition, it would have felt really good,” Jackson said.
“He’s the world champion and he flipped,” Hoeve said. “That guy has more balance in his little finger than most people have in their whole bodies.”
Even the launch ” something a racer might take for granted ” was no cakewalk. The kayakers slid off a titled ramp perpendicular to the flow of the water.
“The water is only a few inches deep, so you have to land really flat on your hull,” Hoeve said. “And you’re landing from 4 to 5 feet up. It’s a Class V launch in a Class V creek.”
In addition to their practice runs, most racers walk the course for an hour or more, looking for the best lines to take and any potential snags. But there is only so much planning that can be done.
After the launch, there is a relatively flat, but fast-moving section with plenty of shallow rocks ” a “manky” or sketchy section. Then come several drops, where racers need to be in good control of their boats.
“Sometimes having more speed in the wrong spot can put you off line,” Faux said.
After the final drop ” Leap of Faith ” there is a flat section that leads the finish. But before the competitors could paddle hard to the finish, they had to land the Leap of Faith.
“That’s actually a really hard move not to mess up,” Holcombe said. “You’re at (8,750 feet), you just sprinted for 1 minute and 40 seconds and you are dog-tired coming over that.”
Berman, who is known for pushing the limits of the sport by dropping waterfalls almost 100 feet high, said that Homestake Creek requires more than just brute strength.
“There’s three components: Part of it is having the technical skills to run this course. The second is being in good enough shape to pull hard enough that you can sill win. The third component is the physical side. It’s a difficult course ” you know you are going to be red-lining your body. If you can’t hold your line, you can crash, and you might crash big.”
Aside from some bloodied-up knuckles and a cut to one racer’s face that needed to be bandaged up, there weren’t any major injuries. Still, the course instills some fear into the world’s best kayakers.
“When I came up and saw how high the levels were, I asked whose full-face helmet I could borrow to protect my teeth,” Perry said. “Everyone should have at least a little respect for the rocks if nothing else.”
Thursday’s race one of the most anticipated all season.
“This one seems like the most important one in the United States for extreme racing,” Anderson said. “It’s a really big deal for me. This is the one I think about all year as I’m training.”
For Coloradans, it’s also a big deal.
“I’ve always wanted to do well at Homestake and sometimes it’s been kind of a nemesis,” Perry said.
Among the local residents competing, Gypsum’s Brad Ludden had the top finish, coming in sixth. Glenwood Springs’ Tommy Hillike was 11th. Hoeve was in the top 25 out of a field of more than 60 after his first run, but decided not to take a second run due to a problem with his kayak.
“It’s good as a local to come out here and compete and see how you do against the worlds best competitors,” he said.
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