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Duel between top racers highlights mountain biking series finale
Ascent Cycling Series accomplishes its goal in the niche community
A pair of national champion mountain bikers dueled to the finish, capping a day where more than 100 competitors took to the course next to picnicking families and at least one preschool age boy cheering while ringing a cowbell.
In short, Wednesday’s series finale encapsulated all that the Ascent Cycling Series strives to be.
“If you’re a mountain bike racer and you’re not here, you’re doing something wrong – you need to get here,” said Cam Chambers, who finished second to Russell Finsterwald at Bear Creek Park on Wednesday, but in doing so won the season series title. “It’s just the perfect local series environment. It’s competitive, obviously; we’re pushing each other and going hard. But it’s mostly about spending a Wednesday night with your buddies. It’s everything that local racing is supposed to be.”
This is what Andrew Bohlmann of Sand Creek Sports envisioned in 2008 when he approached Patrick Cross of Ascent Cycling, then a new bike shop, about restarting the kind of regular race Bohlmann had put on from 1991 through 2002.
“When Andy approached us, a lot of other people had turned him down and we were like, ‘Sure, let’s do this,’” said Cross, who said the races are open to anyone for a fee of $25. “Colorado Springs is a huge cycling community, but people were traveling all over state because there was nothing in town.”
Cross saw an opportunity to develop young racers while also building camaraderie between riders. As he heard the chatter at the starting line Wednesday, saw the young racers with medals around their necks and the families out together – he knew he had succeeded.
“That’s the idea is to try to build a strong sense of community,” Cross said.
That racers such as Finsterwald and Chambers happen to provide the races with a world-class feel is sort of a happy accident.
Finsterwald is the headliner whenever he is in town, winning all three times he has competed on the circuit this year. The 20-year-old Coronado graduate won the U-23 Cross Country National Championship in July in Idaho and has competed all over the world. He’ll be in Austria next month gunning for a world title.
“I definitely want to make a career out of it,” said Finsterwald, who used the race as a tuneup for a 50-miler this weekend in Steamboat Springs. “I want to be at the Olympics one day. Just overall I need to be a couple minutes faster each race. If only it was that easy.”
It took Finsterwald until the final laps Wednesday to finally pass Chambers, who is the single-speed national cross country champion.
“I could hear at the top of the climb that he was breathing a little hard, but so was I,” Chambers said. “I was about to choke on my tongue. I was racing hard and being optimistic, but I’m realistic. Beating him is a tall order.”
Chambers, a 30-year-old native of central Kansas, put the quality of the race in perspective, saying he won two races this summer at the Winter Park series – generally considered one of the state’s best – by several minutes.
Here, he finished second three of the five times he raced.
“People don’t realize the level of racing in the Springs,” Chambers said. “And there’s a lot of depth.”
Wednesday marked the 84th race in the Ascent Cycling Series history. The organizers aren’t interested in growing much bigger, but cementing the status as a series that is a vital and uniting force for the area's mountain biking community.
To hear the top cyclists talk, that’s the way things are heading.
“It’s great to have some local racing real close to home,” Finsterwald said. “Come out after people have been working, just do some racing, see your buddies; it’s just a good vibe, good community event. And for those of us who do take racing seriously, it’s good training for us.”