Smith and Powers take golden victories.
Every race has a crux. The Crested Butte Classic has two as the three clover leafs of the race all start and end at the Brick Oven Pizzaria where the beer flows freely and the draw of pizza and good cheer proves to be too strong for some riders. Luckily, the draw of the some of the best singletrack in Colorado keeps the majority of the riders moving throughout the day as the race hits up three of the classic day rides in the area.
Starting in the sub-freezing temperatures of the morning, riders are released onto the first loop of Strand and Deer Creek before returning to town. The second loop requires monster climbing up the Slate D’Huez, Trail 403, 401, and new to this year’s race, lower 401, which added a noticeable amount of climbing, but an equal amount of singletrack descending. The final lap climbs up Kebler Pass to the Dyke Trail, which is a carpet of golden aspen leaves during the fall, before returning via the Wagon Trail.
Held at the climax of the golden aspens season, the route serves up classic singletrack, outrageous views, and an after party to celebrate the end of summer. Unique to this year's event was the concurrence of the town’s Harvest Celebration, Vinotok, on Elk Avenue. Riders finishing around the twelve hour mark, around 7pm, or later were greeted not only by fellow bike racers at the Brick Oven, but also by the Trial of the Grump, a giant theatrical production and street party, filled with dancing maidens, stilt walkers and drum players, which culminated with a 30 foot tall bonfire where bike racers and hippies mingled happily.
With a distinct local advantage on the unmarked course, the race blew apart quickly after the neutral roll out with Gunnison's Brian Smith making short work of the opening climb up Strand Hill. By the bottom of the singletrack descent, he was out of sight of the chase group that included past winner Kelly Magelky who was making his debut return from a season long back injury. Smith never looked back and held onto a several minute advantage by the end of the first lap. Evan Ross from Crested Butte gave chase holding onto a strong gap ahead of the next chase group before succumbing to cramps on the relentless course. Smith barreled through the second lap building his lead to 15 minutes over Jordan Williford before heading out on the penultimate lap. While he could have easily stopped for a swim in Lake Irwin with his time gap, Smith continued to put time into his competitors and finished in 7:59:48, just in time to see Brick Oven owner, Dan Loftus, tap the keg for the post-race party. It was well over a half an hour before a surging Mike McCalla pulled into the finishing parking lot just minutes before Williford. Dave Ochs, race organizer, finished a strong fourth before heading to a clinic to get injuries sustained on the Lower Loop, a beginner trail on the second loop, checked out. He returned to cheer on finishers with a broken radius bone.
As the leaders were finishing their final lap, other riders were still trickling in from their second lap. Some decided to call it good and join the festivities while others put lights in their bags and continued up Kebler Pass to finish their final lap.
Alison Powers, fresh off a third place at CrossVegas, took the women's race in style over one of the largest women's fields in Classic history.