Cyclists trek to annual Town Challenge

Eric Havrilla didn't expect his first race of the Town Challenge Mountain Bike Race Series in Steamboat Springs to be easy, but at least it was short.

"I'm really not in biking shape," said the recent Moffat County High School graduate. "I've been playing a lot of soccer, but I've maybe rode three times this spring and that was just to soccer practice."

The Howelsen Hill Criterium kicked off the eight-race series. The course was an up-and-down ride around the base of Howelsen Hill. The loop was 2.8 miles and depending on the level of the rider -- they could do two, three or four laps.

Havrilla's group of 29-and-under sport went three laps and he soon found out that riding his bike to soccer practice wasn't quite enough training.

"I wasn't in good enough shape to be aggressive," he said. "I was with two guys coming up a hill on the second lap and I just let them go. I was lazy today."

Havrilla finished seventh out of 13 riders in his division. A division he has still yet to meet the minimum age of 19.

The 2003 graduate, who is bound for Laramie County Community College in the fall, hitched a ride with Steve Martinson for the beginning of the annual mountain biking series. A handful of Craig residents make the trek about twice a month during the summer for the races. Two years ago, Martinson, Havrilla and three other riders from Moffat County captured the team title. The team, which calls itself the Mo Phat Racers, slipped to fourth in the team standings last year -- mostly because of the move up into more competitive age groups by Martinson and Havrilla as well as an injury to mainstay Roger Mason. This year, the team hopes to get back on the winning trail but another team from Craig may be the favorites.

The Keiss family brought a truckload of bikes and family members as father, Chris, mother, Mary Ann and children Katherine, David and Emily made up a team. Chris finished fifth in the men's sport 40-49 age division, Mary Ann was third in the women's novice 40-and-above division, Emily won the girls 13-15, David won the kids 10-12 division and Katherine was fifth in her division.

"Two firsts and a third will be hard to beat," said Martinson, who finished fifth in the men's expert 40-and-over division. "In the team competition, it's not a matter of who has the best riders, but what division they're in and the Keiss' are positioned well."

While Havrilla and Martinson would have like to have been positioned better in their finishes, they agreed that the first race of the season was a good kick off.

"It was nice to start out with more of a sprint than a technical race," Martinson said. "It's the best for the mountain because most of the upper trails are still too muddy and it's best for the riders who haven't trained too much."

Eric Johnson also made the trip from Craig. The winner of the novice division last year, Johnson moved up to sport. He went on his longest training ride of the spring Monday and he said the course reminded him of that.

"On the second lap, I could feel Monday's ride," he said. "I came around the second lap thinking, 'I have to do this again?'" He finished seventh in his first race in the sport division.

Larry Lambrecht, a newcomer to Craig and now to the Mo Phat riders, rounded out the scoring for the team with a fourth-place finish in the 40-49 novices.

The next race in the series is the Thunderhead Hill climb on June 11. The race will be a different kind of challenge for the riders with an ascent from Steamboat Ski Area to the top of Thunderhead lift.

David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031 or dpressgrove@craigdailypress.com

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