Blast the Mass ready for liftoff
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
SNOWMASS ” It’s called Blast the Mass ” a title that needs little, if any, explanation.
The hundreds of fat-tire fanatics who will arrive at Snowmass on Friday for this year’s Mountain States Cup races are coming for one reason: To pedal up and down some of the state’s most daunting dirt tracks as fast as possible.
There’s an added meaning to the event’s title, however, now that series sponsors have secured International Cycling Union Level I status for both this weekend’s mountaincross and downhill races.
Mike McCormack of Bigfoot Productions, which puts on the Mountain States Cup, said the series’ aim has always been to groom domestic riders into top-flight pros.
With the new certification, Blast the Mass is one of only three events in the country where pro riders can pick up coveted UCI points needed to qualify for international World Cup races. That makes it a launching pad, of sorts, for those with serious aspirations to compete at the highest level.
“It’s a big deal,” McCormack said of the certification, which came after a drawn-out application process with the Swiss-based UCI. “Bigfoot is owned by Yeti Cycles, which is a manufacturer out of Golden. They’re part of a progressively thinking industry group ” which also includes companies like Fox Racing and Shimano ” who wanted to focus on training Americans to compete and win at the next level.”
The Level I status puts the Blast the Mass races two levels below a World Cup event.
The only other U.S. venues who offer UCI points are another MSC stop in Angel Fire, N.M., and the USA Cycling Mountain Bike Championships, which begin July 16 in Mount Snow, Vt.
“As far as developing pros, we’re killing it,” McCormack said. “It’s the best-produced race series at the lowest price in the country.”
While the UCI points up for grabs this weekend should attract a larger pro field than in previous years, McCormack said the MSC series still hasn’t forgotten about its other objective: To generate interest among young riders.
By the numbers, that mission is flourishing. The series has grown by an average of 15 percent each year for the past five years among juniors, McCormack said.
The largest gains have come from attracting young riders in the gravity-based events such as downhill, super D and mountaincross. There are certainly critics, McCormack said, who feel the newer, high-speed, high-impact races are taking away interest from other established cycling disciplines, including cross-country mountain bike racing.
In his opinion, McCormack said he’s just happy that kids still want to race bikes.
“When it comes to gravity, its appeal is just like freeskiing,” McCormack said. “It attracts the same kids who like doing stuff in the [terrain] park in the winter. While that may not be so encouraging to the road-biking segment, our take is that we got them to choose a bicycle over Nintendo. The degrees of separation between a road bike and a downhill bike are far fewer than, say, hockey pads and a road bike.”
McCormack did add, however, that while the series is doing its job, “We’d like to improve in cross country, because Colorado, with its terrain, should be a proving ground.”
In the meantime, the main improvements to this year’s Blast the Mass venue came on the gravity side; organizers lengthened the pro downhill course by 600 feet.
For the first time, racers and coaches will get to use the Snowmass Express chairlift, which will take them to a new starting area below the Sam’s Knob exiting station.
“It’s going to be super, super fast,” McCormack promised.
Blast the Mass starts Friday with cross country, downhill and mountaincross practice. For a complete schedule for Friday, Saturday and Sunday go to http://www.racemsc.com.
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Had Hailey Swirbul decided against going to Europe, she would not have finished with a career-best result in Friday’s World Cup opener. Yes, there was a time, and not long ago, when the U.S. ski team member and Roaring Fork Valley native questioned her desire to put on a race bib.