Thrills and spills at Blast the Mass |

Thrills and spills at Blast the Mass

A mountain bike racer (#6) tears down Fanny Hill on his last run Sunday afternoon July 20, 2003. Paul Conrad photo.

When ski racers crash, they fall hard, but snow is usually more forgiving than dirt and rock, which is what greets downhill mountain bike racers when they spill.

Over the weekend, about 400 downhillers on wheels competed in different classes at the third annual Blast the Mass Mountain Bike Challenge in Snowmass Village. The event drew close to a thousand riders in downhill, cross-country and mountain cross races.

And it’s that possibility of crashing on hard, packed dirt and rocks (and perhaps into any number of things) that makes downhill mountain biking dangerous and, thus, appealing to what some may regard as its crazed practitioners.

Decked out in body armor and motocross helmets, they look like extras from a gladiator movie. Parts of their bodies that are exposed are decorated with scrapes, cuts and bruises.

“I do it just for the thrill of it,” said Jeremy Hagerman, a downhiller from Colorado Springs. “The rush, freedom, speed and adrenaline.”

Hagerman’s been on the downhill circuit for two years. Competing in the expert class, he hopes to one day go pro.

“I’ll be doing this as long as I can go, until I can’t ride [any] more,” he said.

Appropriately named Bonzai, the downhill course at Snowmass dropped nearly 2,000 vertical feet over 2.4 miles. Basically a singletrack trail, the course was steep and fast. Racers navigated technical rocky sections, narrow glades and large jumps. Popped tires and nasty falls were common.

“It was a long, rocky, really fast course,” Hagerman said. In practice Saturday, Hagermans wheel “grenaded” (read: exploded) when a large rock became lodged between his wheel and frame.

“A few times, it gets a little sketchy,” Hagerman said of his sport.

“Certain parts are scary, but basically it’s pretty mellow once you get used to it,” said Christen Boyer, a 14-year-old downhill racer from Snowmass Village.

Boyer, who finished second in the junior girls class, got into downhill mountain bike racing when she saw it at last year’s event.

“I was like, `Wow, that’s really cool,'” she said. “I got my own bike and started doing it.”

In the men’s downhill pro class, Chris Del Bosco won with a time of 3 minutes, 41 seconds. Jennifer Whalen won the women’s downhill pro class in 4:42. (Complete results were unavailable Sunday.)

Big burning

Bonzai was not the only tough course.

On Saturday, about 350 bikers competed in the Big Burn Cross Country race on a 13-mile loop with 3,000 feet of climbing. The pro and expert classes rode two laps while the sport- and junior-class riders completed one.

“It’s really rough,” said Golden’s Mary Grigson, who won the women’s pro class with a time of 2:36:36 seconds.

“It is so hot out there,” she added.

Making matters tougher for Grigson, she dislocated her shoulder after being hit by a male racer in a sharp curve on the first lap of the race. The racer never stopped to check if she was all right.

“I was so mad at the guy,” Grigson said. “I really hurt myself, I have enough injuries as it is.”

Grigson said she sat down for a minute, tried to pop the shoulder back in (a shoulder she’s dislocated six times now), and then continued on.

“I should have stopped after that,” she said, “[but] when you’re leading it’s really hard to pull out.”

Grigson’s shoulder didn’t “slide” back into place until later in the race. While pedaling, she held out her hand to a fellow racer who was riding alongside her and asked him to “yank on it as hard as he could,” she said.

That did the trick, apparently.

In the men’s pro cross-country class, Jay Henry of Avon won in 2:05:28. Nicholas Ranno of Fort Collins won the men’s semipro class in 2:11:26, and Jason Donald of Winter Park won the men’s expert class in 2:17:17. The women’s expert class was won by Cynthia Hackel of Durango in 2:53:18, and Janelle Kenny of Denver won the women’s sport class in 1:33:40.

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