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Blast the Mass - Snowmass, Colorado

Posted by: Shannon Boffeli |August 27, 2011 10:57 PM
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Blast the Mass – Snowmass, Colorado - MSC #8

Written by: Ernie Wattenpaugh

Snowmass Village was almost completely overrun by knobby tires last weekend as the Mountains States Cup rolled through for the annual ‘Blast the Mass’.  Staged amongst the iconic ski runs of Snowmass Mountain, cross country riders were greeted by some equally impressive singletrack. The eighth stop in the series saw an impressive elite turnout for both the men’s and women’s races as many top pro athletes used the Snowmass race as a training gauge for the upcoming Leadville 100.

An 11-mile loop packed in a wide variety of terrain that seemed to suit an array of talents.  The course began with a long climb on various service roads that were connected by tacky singletrack sections that were free of dust from the afternoon monsoons that had been pummeling the region.  Riders than began a hectic traverse across the ski area under the shadows of dense pines. Short rocky climbs, mixed with soggy rooted descents, were intertwined with BC esque wooden bridges that demanded focus and attention.  The traverse then dropped the racers head first into a lightening fast descent through four foot high vegetation where the trail seemed to unfold right underneath your tire.  After sailing through a sea of green, the course dumped riders back onto the open ski runs and service roads that led to the finish.

The Pro Men’s race saw a diverse group of racers that have been dominating the national scene.  Fresh off his National Championship and World Cup wins, 18-year-old phenom Howard Grotts (Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory) set down a blistering pace right off the line. Endurance specialist Manny Prado (Sho-Air/Specialized), rookie sensation Colton Anderson (Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory), and climbing ace Ernie Watenpaugh (Life Cycles/Specialized/Honey Stinger), all grabbed the wheel of Grotts, but struggled to hold on.

 Grotts made an early acceleration that went completely unanswered, and gave him the confidence to ride away with the race. Jay Henry (Tokyo Joe’s) and Colin Cares (Kenda/Felt) joined the remnants of the lead group before they began the Cross Mountain traverse.

 The traverse and descent would separate the leaders and field, as Henry and Prado used their complete set of technical tools to jump into second and third respectively.  The brutal first lap pace came at a heavy cost, as many riders dropped out after the first lap, including Cares. 

The second lap saw Grotts extend his already impressive lead.  "The climb was definitely my strong point.” Said Grotts. Henry put together a scorching second lap, but was unable to get Grotts into his sights.  Peter Kalmes (Honey Stinger/Trek) and Watenpaugh both made strong attacks up the climb to bring Prado back, and to separate themselves from Anderson.  Prado put it all on the line, and put down an unbelievable descent that left Kalmes a minute back in disbelief, and Watenpaugh bloodied in the dirt. 

"Jesus Howard.” Said Grotts’ close friend and teammate Anderson at the finish line in response to the youngster’s unbridled acceleration.  When asked if his initial attack was part of his game plan, he responded "I don’t know.  I was just kind of feeling everyone out.”

The women’s Pro cross country race saw a much tighter finish than the men’s.  Judy Freeman (Kenda/Felt), Erin Huck (Tokyo Joe’s), and Kelli Emmett (Giant) formed a solid breakaway right from the gun.

Rebecca Gross (Velo Bella), Heidi Rentz (Vermont Bike Tours), and Teal Stetson-Lee (Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory) all tried to bridge up to the three leaders, but could not hang with the brutal pace.  "Those girls almost sprinted from the start line.  They were just so fast.”  Said a bewildered Rentz.

Emmett made her move toward the end of the climb before the traverse began in order to have no obstructions through the technical singletrack.  The strategy worked as Emmett pulled away from Freeman and Huck to start the second lap almost thirty seconds in front of Freeman, and more than two minutes in front of Huck. 

And just like the men’s race, the hard first lap pace would shred the women’s field. Emmett struggled up the exposed climb, which allowed the solid form of Freeman to drop the fading Emmett. Freeman layed out a flawless descent to hold off a final charge from Emmett, and snagged an impressive victory. Emmett sailed in on a second wind just under thirty seconds back, with Huck coming in next to grab the number three spot.

The 2011 Mountain States Cup series will head into the final set of races for the season, and the overall rankings are close.  "The Sol Survivor” will set the stage for an epic battle through the mountains of Granby, Colorado over the weekend of September 3-6.  The top three overall in both the men’s and women’s fields are undecided, and the final showdown could leave the Rocky Mountain’s talking all winter long.

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