Photos by Scott Morris
(July, 2013) - In 2007, 10 people showed up for the inaugural Colorado Trail Race from Denver to Durango. Six of them finished with Jefe Branham setting the fastest time of five days and five and a half hours, beating out race organizer Stephan Griebel by 20 minutes after Griebel’s hands went numb. This year, nearly 70 riders started the route in reverse for the first time, leaving Durango from Velorution Cycles at 4 am, headed for Denver.
Instead of the gentle, rolling trail that normally greets riders with a Denver start, they were sent 6,000 feet straight up to Kennebec Pass to the notorious Indian Ridge Trail. From there, the trail traverses Blackhawk Pass (11,970 ft) and Rolling Pass (12,500 ft) before dropping down into Silverton. The other added bit of interest with running the route in reverse was the Silverton resupply. 85 miles from Durango, with 74 of them being on trail, riders had to make it to the small mining town by 9 pm to resupply before starting the 120-mile stretch to Buena Vista. Some riders opted to go light in an attempt to make the store, others started the race with four days worth of food to be able to by-pass the Silverton resupply completely.
The race quickly blew apart on the climb up to Kennebec with Jesse Jakomait taking the early lead. By the time he cleared Blackhawk Pass 10 hours into the race, he had over an hour lead on the chase group of Jerry Oliver, Matt Schiff, Neil Beltchenko, and Jefe Branham. The leaders spent a night with a full moon traversing the famed Sections 22 and 23, which stay above tree line outside of Silverton for 34 miles. Jefe took advantage of Jesse’s stop to sleep to catch up to the race leader in the middle of the night.
The two leaders rode together throughout the next day, never straying more than a few miles from each other until the bottom of Fooses Creek just outside of Salida where Jesse stopped to sleep for three hours while Jefe continued for an extra hour before bedding down for 90 minutes. Jesse gave chase the next morning, catching a struggling Jefe in Leadville midday. Both riders were starting to feel the effects of the sleep deprivation and the roughness of the trail as they climbed Searle and Kokomo Passes before dropping down into Copper Mountain.
From Copper, they stayed close over the 10-mile range, the climb up to Georgia Pass, and throughout the newly added Tarryall detour. The new detour avoided 20 miles of paved riding on Highway 285 down to Baily but added 50 extra miles to the course with several thousand additional feet of climbing. As darkness set in, both riders struggled with the thought of pushing through the night. Around 11 pm, after starting to fall off the edge of dirt roads, Jesse laid down to sleep, allowing Jefe to open up a gap that he’d hold on to until the end.
Jefe pulled into the finish at Waterton Canyon at 8:14 am, making for a time of four days, four hours and 14 minutes. Without the added mileage of the detour, both leaders would most likely have smashed Jefe’s old record of just sub-four days. Jesse pulled in just 45 minutes later. Like Jefe’s first win in 2007, the margin was incredibly tight for a 550-mile race with both riders pushing each other past the point of what is normally considered human. Even Jesse admits, “I charged all the way to the end (after sleeping) hoping to catch Jefe, but he is just too invincible in the CTR.” Jefe ended up sleeping for about four hours during the four day effort.
Matt Schiff, riding without a SPOT tracker, held onto third throughout the race and finished just six hours after the two leaders.
For the women, Bec Bale of Steamboat has held a consistent lead over Teresa Garcia from Fort Collins. Both women were hammered by a giant lightening and hail-storm on Indian Ridge during the first day of racing but have made it through the most difficult parts of the course.
Whether future editions of the race will include the Tarryall detour or be run in reverse is yet to be seen, but the level of racing continues to rise in these events as the limits of the human body and mind continue to be tested.