Posted by: Tom Boyd
Ready to rock? So are we. Here’s your 2017 GoPro Mountain Games preview of each and every sporting event
The beauty of the GoPro Mountain Games is that it lures athletes of all levels – from former couch potatoes splashing into their very first competition to elite veterans and world champions of each sport. Here’s a run down of who to watch out for (and who will doubtless catch your eye regardless) this week in Vail.
A couple of local bikers have the uphill advantage on the stunning but grueling EverBank XC Mountain Bike course: Gretchen Reeves and Josiah Middaugh. A lasting inspiration for up-and-coming pedalers, Reeves has dominated the local women’s mountain bike circuit for a decade and Xterra world champion Josiah Middaugh has decided to make biking his singular focus for the 2017 Mountain Games (after conquering the Ultimate Mountain Challenge for 10 years running). He’ll be up against the likes of Olympian Howard Grotts – who happens to be America’s No. 1 XC mountain biker and a world champion bronze medalist – and Chinese stuntman Jingkun Zhang.
After taking third in last year’s inaugural GoPro MTN Enduro race, 45-year-old Brian Lopes will be itching to add a GoPro victory to his litany of UCI World Cup wins and world championship titles.
The need for speed defines the Volvo Road Bike Time Trial once again this year as the event gets under way at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday. It’s a wide and competitive field for this historic route that was once a part of the Coors Classic road race.
The Mountain Masters Disc Golf made its debut in 2016 and sold out in less than 48 hours. With an additional 18-hole competition venue added Maloit Park in Minturn, this year’s event is even larger and more challenging as more than 200 competitors vie for the eye-popping $8,500 prize purse.
How can you not cheer for a pair of pups named Tango and Poukie? Whether or not that gives them an unfair advantage is a matter for debate, but distance, speed and vertical leap are the only things that matter in the Blue Buffalo DockDogs competition, and these two dogs from New York will be out to prove they’ve got the hearts of champions. They’re far from alone, however, as this always popular portion of the GoPro Mountain Games is even bigger and better in 2017, with competition in big air, extreme vertical, speed retrieve and a dueling dogs head-to-head jump and swim race.
On the social side, be sure to take in the Tito’s Vodka Happy Hour and high-flying daily performances by the K9 Kings. And, of course, the ever-popular jog-with-your-dog event at the Rocky Dog Trail Run presented by Camping with Dogs.
Never was our genetic kinship to the monkey so starkly displayed as at the Mountain Games climbing events, in particular the EverBank IFSC Climbing World Cup. The heroic comeback story goes to standout Alex Puccio, who returns to the only U.S. stop on the IFSC Bouldering World Cup tour following her record-breaking 10th national bouldering title and two years of injury-ridden, season-ending competitions in Vail.
Of course, Puccio will be up against two-time winner Megan Mascarenas, 19, and every other one of the globe’s tip-top spiderwomen. On the men’s side, American standout Nathaniel Coleman fires into the world class field fresh off of his second straight national bouldering title. All of these champs got their start as kids and the EverBank Youth Climbing Competition is guaranteed to exhibit the next generation’s cast of star climbers.
You never know what to expect from a day of fly fishing, much less from two days of intense casting competition followed by a final round of on-water fishing fury. But at the Costa 2 Fly X-Stream fishing competition, you can expect to see the best in the West hauling in trout like it’s their job.
Keep an eye on Camille Egdorf, who caught the biggest fish in the 2016 contest (21.5 inches) and Team USA fly fisherman Jeremy Sides of Golden, Colo., who landed 38 fish in one day for the win in 2016. With area rivers running high for the 2017 competition, expect still-water specialists like Sides and the always competitive Mike Pukas to fare well once again. Also keep an eye on Cameron Garcia of Ogden, Utah, who became the youngest finalist in Mountain Games history at age 12 in 2016.
It only makes sense that the GoPro Mountain Games kick off with the rowdiest kayak race in the region on Thursday, June 8. The Mountain Games began as a kayaking competition, and its soul remains rooted in river running.
Just ask Alec Voorhees of Meridian, Idaho, who camped out at the starting line for the 2016 Coors Light Steep Creek Championship at Homestake Creek for a week in order to dial in the fastest line as the river raged to historically high flows. Meanwhile, women’s champion Nouria Newman of Greenville, S.C., improved her time on three consecutive competition runs to rise to the top. The big water is pulling in heavy hitters young and old to the 2017 event, including all-world paddler Dane Jackson, Rush Sturges, Ben Stookesberry and stars of critically acclaimed film “Chasing Niagara,” Rafa Ortiz and brothers Aniol and Gerd Serrasolses.
Speed merchants have a chance to ride the more forgiving currents of Gore Creek for four miles through the heart of Vail Village during the Coors Light Down River Kayak Sprint before the action shifts to the Vail Whitewater Park for the Coors Light Kayak Freestyle. The Jackson Kayak clan comprised of Dane, sister Emily, her husband Nick Troutman and patriarch Eric “EJ” Jackson, always puts on a show for the rowdy crowd, and 2016 women’s champion Claire O’hara is sure to have a few new tricks up her sleeve.
Always a fan favorite, the Coors Light 8-Ball Kayak Sprint is a full-contact kayak race combining speed and strategery as paddlers do their best to avoid being bumped off line by a gang of irksome “8-balls” in Sunday’s grand finale.
Nothing strikes fear in the hearts of raft racers quite like the name El Chupacabra. Whether racing the Tudor Down River R2 Raft Sprint or rubbing rubber bumpers in the Tudor Raft Cross, El Chupacabra teammates Jeremiah Williams and Robbie Prechtl are generally considered the beasts to beat.
But Chupacabras beware: The Shake and Bake team of Joe Sialiano and John Ancito from Colorado managed to get the best of them after two years as the fastest raft on the rio, setting the stage for a rubber (raft) match of legendary stature.
Everyone at the finish line of last year’s Superfeet Après 5K race did a double take when 12-year-old Alayna Szuch streaked past every woman and nearly every man in the field, including her 14-year-old brother Colin, who finished third among the stacked lineup. The Szuch siblings are a year older and probably 10 times faster (if that’s humanly possible) coming into the 2017 Mountain Games.
Freshly-crowned Mountain Running World Champion Joseph Gray comes primed to four-peat in the Superfeet 10K Spring Runoff and female World Champion Addie Bracy will force the women’s field to dig that much deeper up the steep Spring Runoff course. Meanwhile, police detective and Mountain Games mainstay Gina Crosswhite will once again take on the trail with charisma, only to be outdone in that department by The Mud Stud, providing guck-covered competitors with comical encouragement at the Kyocera Mountain Mud Run Saturday afternoon … with rumors that Olympian Missy Franklin will be on hand to sound the starting bell at this un-timed fun run.
And, all new this year, runners with even the most iron-like quadriceps will be trembling if not faceplanting during the vertical uphill/downhill dashing of the Pepi’s Face-Off.
By now, almost everyone in the GoPro Mountain Games world knows Heather Larsen. Her iconic image has become part-and-parcel to the GoPro Mountain Games. Joining her this year will be Emi Gimenez, Martin Hernandez, and many of the world’s top slackliners to make the Tudor International Slackline Invitational the best yet.
Also on the scene this year is Mickey Wilson, known for his astounding rescue on a chairlift this winter. The slackline skills that have taken him around the world to perform became critically life-saving when he climbed onto a chairlift and maneuvered across the line to rescue a friend. Wilson will be performing all throughout the Mountain Games this year.
The name to remember in river SUP is Spencer Lacy. This Colorado-bred river surfer is rapidly reshaping the boundaries of possibility on a stand-up paddle board roughly 1,000 miles from the nearest ocean. He’ll face plenty of challenges — including from Badfish River SUP teammate Make Tavares and big wave SUP giant Chuck Patterson — defending both his Yeti Down River SUP Sprint and Yeti SUP Surf Cross titles.
On the women’s side, the always effervescent Izzi Gomez, a multiple Standup World Tour Champion, returns for her third Mountain Games, where she’ll try to unseat Camille Swan of Utah and Olympic kayaking silver medalist Rebecca Giddens of California, who traded the top two spots on the podium in both events last year.
They’ll all need to keep their eyes peeled for world champion Annabel Anderson, who makes her debut at the GoPro Mountain Games this year. In typical fashion Anderson won’t be satisfied by just competing in SUP – she’ll also be gunning hard for the all-new TriggerPoint Ultimate Mountain Challenge title by competing in multiple events all weekend long.
When you put athletes, art, music and mountains all in one place, you get the GoPro Mountain Games. When you compile all the results from more than 25 different events in one place, you get the all-new TriggerPoint Ultimate Mountain Challenge.
The event takes on a whole new dimension this year as points, rather than time, determine the winners of the $8,000 prize purse. Not a pro? No problem … points can be earned for almost any event, and in each category. The men and women with the guts to go big all weekend long will be featured on the leaderboards available online and on public display at Check Point Charlie and Registration headquarters at Golden Peak.
Each evening a new leader will be crowned, earning the right to wear the L.L.Bean yellow jersey the next day.
Last year’s women’s winner Gretchen Reeves will be gunning for the title once again in the new format, but she’ll face tremendous pressure from newbie Annabel Anderson. On the men’s side, 10-time champion under the old format Josiah Middaugh is focusing on Mountain Biking this year, leaving room for contender Ryan Petry to go for the title. But it won’t be easy, Petry will have his own newbie to face: Eric Holmlund, who found out about the event via an Esquire TV feature – and has registered for a gobstopping nine events in his quest to earn the most points.
It’s going to get competitive. It’s going to get complicated. It’s going to be one of the wildest events we’ve ever undertaken to host … and in the end it’s going to be some good, clean, fun in the mud.
Even if it’s not the competitive variety, there is plenty of athleticism involved in asanas. At the helm of the hundreds of practitioners of all levels expected to take formation for this year’s wall-to-wall schedule of live music-infused classes is Under Armour icon Kathryn Budig as well as Yogini on the Loose and Colorado School of Yoga Founder Gina Caputo.
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