Wheelmen cometh for S’mass NORBA National | AspenTimes.com

Wheelmen cometh for S’mass NORBA National

Tim Mutrie
Pro mountain biker Kyle Ebbett jumps down a hill during his final run of the 2002 Blast the Mass mountain bike downhill Sunday afternoon July 21, 2002. Ebbett finished 15th in the Pro 19-99 division.Aspen Times photo/Paul Conrad.

The highest-caliber bike racing in a decade invades Snowmass Village today through Sunday with the Snowmass NORBA National Championship Series event.The field includes a handful of cross-country specialists who are headed to the Athens Olympics later this month, and a total of about 1,500 racers competing in various divisions in five events: cross country, short track, downhill, super downhill and mountain cross.Local cycling observers say the event brings the first national-level races to the upper valley since the Tour of Aspen in 1994.”This will be the first time in a while where you’re getting the best riders in the nation,” said Rishi Grewal of Missouri Heights, a former U.S. national champion mountain biker and road rider who has largely retired from racing. “And what you’re looking at is an extremely intense event as far as the effort you have to put out,” Grewal continued, referring to the 26-mile Big Burn cross-country race. “You can’t even ride tempo, so to speak; heart rates in the 180s and almost some 200s. It’s really tough racing.”

The National Off Road Biking Association (NORBA) has named Snowmass as a national series stop for the next three years as well, adding to the prestige of a resort that hosted the fourth annual Blast the Mass last month. But while the Blast the Mass was a Rocky Mountain-region series event, the Snowmass National is part of a national tour.Earlier this season, the national series stopped in Vermont, West Virginia, Big Bear, Calif., Waco, Texas, Sonoma, Calif., and Switzer, Idaho.The courses for the Snowmass National are identical to the Blast the Mass, with the Bonzai and Luge downhill courses, the Big Burn Cross Country, and the mountain cross on Fanny Hill. (Topo maps are available online at http://www.snowmassnational.com.)Kevin Willson of Aspen, owner of the Wienerstube, will be racing in the expert class of the cross country. Dozens of locals are expected to compete.”I’ve raced the course before and it’s super,” said Willson, who won the Leadville 100 in 2000 and a NORBA National cross-country race in Park City in 2001.

“People have said it’s one of the best courses they’ve ever ridden on. It’s the perfect cross-country course: lots of singletrack, jeep track, uphill, downhill and river crossings.”Charlie Traver, owner of the Hub of Aspen, is a big fan of the event.”Anytime you bring a national-level race to the valley, it does two things: It inspires local people to ride more and race more and it shows what a wonderful place this is to come ride,” Tarver said.The two Olympians that could be confirmed yesterday are both Coloradans – Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski of Boulder and Todd Wells, according to event organizer Pamela Jean of Cycle Cyndicate.”For Colorado, this is going to be one of the biggest races of the year,” she said.

As for local contenders, Grewal didn’t hesitate to single out Alex Hagman, a young rider with promise.”There’s probably only one guy who can come close to a top 10, and that’s Hagman,” Grewal said, again referring to the endurance racing and not downhill or mountain cross. “He’s by far the fastest mountain biker in the valley.”It’s really a great sport to watch and participate in,” Grewal added. “It’s relatively safe and extremely challenging. There’s nothing really like it in the sporting world that I’ve ever seen.”Today serves as a practice day, with racing slated for Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

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