Classic suffering
CT Classic endurance race enjoys inaugural year

SideStory: The Final Tally:

Four riders climb out of Hotel Draw and toward Orphan Butte during last weekend’s CT Jamboree. The event broke new ground on Aug. 2 with the inaugural CT Classic, a new standard for organized, endurance racing in Durango and beyond./Photo by Jason Hooten

by Will Sands

"A unique beast” was the consensus opinion of the CT Classic after last Saturday’s first running of the race. Ten Durango riders set a new standard for endurance racing when they dueled it out on 74 high-elevation miles of the Colorado Trail between Molas Pass and Durango. The competition – held in conjunction with the third annual CT Jamboree, a fund-raiser ride on the same route – also tackled another “unique beast,” multiple sclerosis.

Ian Altman, the race’s organizer, was first diagnosed with MS 11 years ago. However, he has by no means succumbed to the debilitating disease. Altman is the director of arts and rock climbing at Colorado Timberline Academy, and in his spare time has summited Patagonia’s Cerro Fitzroy and British Columbia’s Lotus Flower Tower, among other alpine climbing classics. Multiple sclerosis also furnished Altman with a new passion – endurance mountain biking.

“After I was diagnosed with MS, I really got into mountain biking because I couldn’t really run any more,” he said. “My cardio workout went from being on trail runs to rides, and pretty soon, I started doing Durango’s longer rides.”

Altman first rode from Molas to Durango – a stretch he characterizes as “some of the finest alpine singletrack on the plant” – over a 14-hour period in 2005. For that ride, his goal was to raise funds for and awareness about multiple sclerosis. The next year, he started the CT Jamboree, a two-day benefit ride on the same route, which last weekend drew 60 riders from across the nation and raised more than $45,000 for the fight against MS.

Since making that first Colorado Trail ride three years ago, Altman also dreamed of hosting a race along one the nation’s most challenging stretches of trail. When he first aired the idea, many responded, “yeah, right.” But Altman forged ahead and secured a Forest Service permit for the race. On Saturday, Altman saw the dream realized when he staged an event he appropriately named a “classic.”

“I think it’s classic in that it’s high-elevation singletrack,” he said. “You’re basically above 10,000 feet until the final descent. Plus, it’s on the Colorado Trail, which is a national treasure and a precious part of our state. It’s the highest quality riding imaginable.”

Travis Brown and his daughter, Zara Rose, take a load off at the Colorado Trail’s southern trailhead and the CT Classic’s finish line on Saturday. Brown finished the demanding 74-mile course in an astounding  8 hours, 55 minutes./ Courtesy photo

Ten Durango riders lined up on Molas Pass at 5: 15 a.m. on the morning of Aug. 2, flicked on their lights and set off on what was expected to be a major slog to Durango. When the day was done, a Durango native, Mountain Bike Hall of Famer and former Olympian shattered expectations and took CT Classic honors. Travis Brown crossed the finish line in just under 9 hours, but counted himself lucky.

“There were opportunities for lots of things to go wrong, whether mechanicals or getting bucked off and getting injured,” Brown said. “In the end, I had lots of energy and the truth is that I got lucky.”

During the first half of the race, Brown, Jon Bailey, Miles Venzara, Greg Lewis and Cale Redpath were all in the hunt for the lead. However, Brown broke away at Hotel Draw and hammered up over Indian Trail Ridge, the most demanding stretch of the trail, gaining 30 minutes on his nearest competitor.

“It wasn’t a matter of riding any part of the course at speed,” Brown said. “The secret was staying steady, riding as much as possible and just not getting off the bike.”

Brown is no stranger to epic racing, having claimed several singlespeed world championships as well as two Marathon National Championships. But even with this resume, Brown noted that the CT Classic sets a new standard for endurance racing.

“This is the longest race I’ve ever done,” he said. “As far as endurance races, it’s also the most demanding race I’ve ever done. You have long races out there, but they’re lower in elevation and include long stretches of dirt road. There’s nothing like this with more than 70 miles of high-altitude singletrack.”

Racers enjoyed remarkable weather for the heart of monsoon season with only a few small bursts of rain to contend with. They also had access to a Colorado Trail that was in remarkable shape, thanks largely to the efforts of Trails 2000 and the Colorado Trail Foundation, which recently completed major work on two of the less-rideable sections – the north side of Blackhawk Peak and the climb up to Bolam Pass.

“The trail was phenomenal,” Altman said. “I really think the race times are a testament to the work that’s been done and the overall condition. I was thinking the fast times would be from 10 to 11 hours, but wound up being blown away.”

Altman was also blown away by how much the cause – the fight against MS – galvanized riders in the Classic and the Jamboree. “When you’re dealing with MS and accepting that you have MS, you’re really out there fighting it,” he said. “The first thing you want to do is go and help other people out. The idea of the Classic and the Jamboree have always been tied to that cause.”

For his part, Brown plans on lining up and helping out the cause next year. However, the less rigorous two-day Jamboree, complete with the half-way party, might be on tap for the racer in 2009. “I think next year I’ll sign up for the Jamboree,” he said. “Now that actually looks like a lot of fun.” •

A lone rider makes his way on the haul from Molas to Durango during last Saturday’s CT Classic./Photo by Jason Hooten



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