Mo Phat racers endure Howelsen cross country race

As cyclists gathered at the finish line after the fourth race in the Town Challenge Mountain Bike Series in Steamboat Springs, one of the racers, slowly recovering from oxygen debt, observed: "Now I realize why we wear bright jerseys, it is so people can identify our dirt-covered bodies after we finish."

The cross country race on Howelsen Hill is known among the racers as one of the toughest in the series because of its long climb at the beginning followed by even more strenuous climbing in the back trails of the hill.

"This is one of the rootiest and rockiest races of the series," said Steve Martinson of the Moffat County-based Mo Phat racing team. "It is the only climb that I have to dismount and walk."

The section where Martinson, who placed fifth in the expert division, dismounted Wednesday night called "Stairway to Heaven" is infamous for the pain it inflicts on riders.

"When I'm completely fresh I can make it up most of the stairway," he said. "But after climbing for about 15 straight minutes in the beginning of the race and then hitting that stretch, it makes more sense to walk it and conserve energy."

Martinson and fellow Mo Phat racer Winn Wallcott returned this week from sea level summer vacations and were not expecting their top performances.

"I knew this was a long and strenuous course," said Wallcott, who finished third in the women's expert group. "I had very low expectations because of being at sea level last week."

With an excessively dry summer Martinson said the trails seem to be dustier and rougher than in years past.

"Once you get out in the open trails it is like driving through a fog bank," he said. "With so much dust, it is like we are riding by Braille."

The veteran cyclist said most important to a rider's success is to keep the concentration on each small part of the trail and not think about the dust or pain.

"There are so many ways to get knocked off the trail," he said. "It takes total concentration and that focus keeps you from thinking about the pain as much."

Once the race was finished Martinson smiled and as his bright white teeth shone like ivory in contrast to his soiled face he said, "Now that I'm done, I can say it was fun."

Other Craig area riders competing in the cross country climb were Mo Phat members Mike Markle and Chris Keiss, Eric Johnson, Luke Rummel, David and Mary Ann Keiss. Markle finished second in the sport 40-49 division with Keiss behind him in ninth. Johnson won the sport 30-34 division. Rummel and David Keiss finished second and fourth respectively in the 10-12 youth division and Mary Ann Keiss finished third in the women's novice.

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