Joel Reichenberger: Town Challenge heats up
Steamboat Springs — To me, it always seemed that Town Challenge Mountain Bike Race Series events should be half-serious affairs.
Steamboat Springs is a small city, and as popular as cycling is, the community eager and capable enough to race on the often-challenging courses represents only a small portion of the city.
I used to wonder, how serious could a small-time series in a small city really get?
That was before I spent much time covering the races.
Anyone who’s seen a Town Challenge event knows they aren’t for the noncompetitive. Each of the many age and skill divisions is hotly contested, at each event and in the overall standings. These aren’t just people out to ride a bike. The guys in the novice category are just as aggressive as the guys in the pro division.
As competitive as the series can be, this season is the first in the three years I’ve been covering where the passion and competitiveness of the top men’s and women’s divisions rival that of the slower divisions.
On the men’s side, Barkley Robinson holds a sliver of a lead against Brad Bingham and Peter Kalmes. Each has finished first, second and third at least once. That kind of competition isn’t entirely new to the division — Bingham pushed Robinson to the final race last year before the perennial champ wrapped up another season victory.
But this year is better, all three showing not that anyone has slipped or slowed, but that Steamboat now has a trio of riders at the level where just two years ago it had one.
Who’s going to win? Who knows. Robinson still appears to be the predominant hill climber, so he should have a big advantage in the next race, a mind-boggling climb to the top of Storm Peak.
The women’s expert division has proven just as compelling, thanks to the addition of Tammy Jacques-Grewal, who has moved to Steamboat and has returned to competitive cycling.
Kelly Boniface holds a slight lead in the series and can win so long as she wins one of the next two races.
Their rivalry is just as compelling as the men’s, though they make for some of the most unconvincing enemies in the history of sport.
They both want to win, and stress as much when asked. But they made easy friends, too, and neither can talk about the other without gushing respect.
“Kelly is really a phenomenal rider,” Jacques-Grewal said. “She’s great to ride with, to be around and to race with. We have accumulated a lot of great memories just from being around each other this year in races. I think of her as a teammate when we’re out of Steamboat here: ‘There’s my fellow Steamboat mom, us trying to do our best amongst all these fancy, world-famous riders.”
Although the Town Challenge offers great prizes, there’s nothing life changing at the end of this road for any of the top men’s and women’s riders. It’s fun drama for me, however, and that’s something I never expected from an event I once thought would be comparable to a fitness group.
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