Professional mountain bikers waited a long time to get back on a start line. Saturday offered that chance, but the event wasn’t for the timid.
The Telluride 100 was held Saturday for the seventh consecutive year. With mountain bikers well distanced across the course, the race was able to obey COVID-19 health protocols. At the start, riders wore masks and went off in waves in groups of 10. There were no pre-race gatherings and no post-race podiums. Cold rain and mud proved to be the biggest obstacle.
Wet weather forced course alterations and eliminated some sections of the planed course, including Last Dollar Road. It was deemed too muddy for search and rescue to access if something went wrong.
In all, the 100-mile race ended up coming in between 82 and 83 miles. Instead of the expected 13,000 feet of climbing, there was 10,800 feet of climbing, most notably the ultra-steep fire road climb from the bottom of Telluride Ski Resort to the top that had even the top riders in the event off their bikes pushing uphill. The high point of the course checked in with an elevation of 11,182 feet
Erin Huck of Boulder braved the conditions in the women’s race to win in 8 hours, 41 minutes, 34.9 seconds, while Grand Junction’s Alexis Skarda was second in 8:57:56.9 They were the only two pro women to finish in the six-rider field.
The men’s race had a strong field and 31 registered riders. Utah’s Keegan Swenson, the 26-year-old defending cross-country mountain bike national champion, claimed the victory in a strong 6:32:16.2.
“Waking up at 4 a.m. and seeing it properly raining and that it had rained all night, it was tough,” Swenson said. “It rained the first four hours into the race, and mountain rain at 10,000 feet is really cold. Most of us were uncontrollably shivering and having a hard time riding our bikes. When we got to the second feed zone, the sun kind of came out. It got a little better, thankfully. After the first lap, I didn’t think I could get through another lap.
“The second lap was actually fun. I got to enjoy the descent and have a good time. We hadn’t raced in so long, and to be in heinous weather for a 100-miler in the mountains, it was kind of a bummer. But, in the end, it is always kind of fun, makes you tougher and adds another challenge. The race itself is hard. Throw in nasty weather conditions and starting in the dark with rain, it’s another level, and it’s kind of cool.”
Swenson’s time was 18:15 faster than Colorado Springs’ Russell Finsterald, as the 29-year-old reigning marathon mountain bike national champion placed second.
In perhaps the most impressive performance of the day, 18-year-old Riley Amos of Durango placed third in 6:51:29, only 1:07 behind Finsterwald.
“I’m really trying to make that leap to where (Finsterwald and Swenson) are next year,” Amos said. “To hang with them at this race in these conditions, it showed me that, even in a hard year with not a lot of racing or motivation to train, I am still progressing as an athlete. It’s reassuring to have that sense of forward progress, seeing that I am getting better and moving in the direction I want to be.”
Amos, Finsterwald and Swenson rode together the entire first loop. Amos had shown in 2019 he could ride with the top pros in endurance events with his podium result at the Carson City Off-Road 50-mile race. He proved to have even more in the tank Saturday.
“He was impressive,” Swenson said. “He’s riding well, and it’s really cool to see.”
On the big fire road climb to the top of Telluride Ski Resort, Amos and Swenson would ride away from Finsterwald together. But it was at the top of the climb that Swenson dug deep and put a big gap between himself and the teenager.
Amos would hold a gap of more than four minutes on Finsterwald. But he would have an issue with his front brakes because of all the mud. Eventually, his brakes locked up and wouldn’t allow his front tire to move. It required him to take his wheel off and jam his destroyed brake pads back into place with a multi-tool. From there, he had no use of his front brakes at all.
“The last two hours, it was just the back brake,” he said. “It was a slip and slide fest. I had to be super careful and slow on the singletrack, and Russell pulled back time on me then. The last 45 minutes on a dirt road with a gradual climb back to Telluride, my gas tank was completely empty. My legs barely turned over. I saw (Finsterwald) coming behind me, and he passed me like I was standing still. I had given everything I had, but he played a smarter race than me.”
Also for Durango, Stephan Davoust, 25, placed eighth in 7:22:30. Henry Nadell, 23, was ninth in 7:28:36. Scott Simmons, 49, was 12th in 7:55:23.
Ryan Standish, a fellow FLC cycling alum of Davoust and Nadell, placed 15th. The 27-year-old Australian who now calls Utah home finished in 8:26:58.
Durango’s Andre Breton, 49, was 16th in 8:31:17.
Of the registered men’s riders, 21 finished. Across all divisions in the event, there were 187 registered riders, and 108 finished. Some spent more than 11 hours on the course.
“It was a great race,” Amos said. “I am super thankful to the Telluride 100 organizers who figured out how to make it happen. They were super strict with the procedures and health protocols to make it a safe event and give us the opportunity to race.”