So. Many. Amazing. Athletes.
Soak up the energy and revel in it all year. This may have been the best GoPro Mountain Games ever. Here’s how things wrapped up on Day 4.
UPDATED 9:36 AM June 12, 2018
See daily video recap HERE.
Donning tall socks for the tall grass and fresh off of his fifth consecutive Pro Trek Smart 10K Spring Runoff victory, Joseph Gray tried his first Pepi’s Face-Off Powered by Bang Energy event on Sunday and proved that he really is something more than human.
Taking off at a sprint and only slowing his pace when he was nearly to the top of the notoriously steep ski run – the place where most racers resort to using their hands to climb – the running champion from Colorado Springs averaged five-minute laps to win the event with six laps in 32 minutes and 15 seconds.
The format was slightly different than in last year’s inaugural Pepi’s Face-Off. Rather than crawl up Pepi’s Face and then scramble directly back down the steep slope as racers did in last year’s event, this year, the course was double in length, so when racers reached the service road at the top of Pepi’s Face, they had to continue on a slight uphill gradient to a less steep, zig-zagging downhill. The objective was to make as many laps up and down Pepi’s Face as possible in the 30-minute time period. Racers who made it to the uphill start by the 30-minute cutoff were able to complete their final lap for the overall finish time.
“The biggest challenge is that you’re going downhill pretty fast, then you really have to change gears for such a steep uphill,” Gray said after the race, looking by all accounts like he wasn’t even tired.
“It was hard in the moment,” he said, in answer to whether he was tired or found it difficult. “I feel like I could maybe do a couple more [laps]. But I don’t know how fast they would be.”
Local super athlete and XTERRA World Champion Josiah Middaugh, who arrived at the start line directly from the Road Bike Time Trial, in which he finished 11th, following up his third place finish in Saturday’s XC Mountain Bike race, was the No. 2 finisher in Pepi’s Face-Off. He and Gray were the only two racers to complete six laps and Middaugh finished nearly three and a half minutes behind Gray. In fact, he was just reaching the summit of his final lap as Gray was sprinting across the finish line.
“I had to ultimately just go at my own pace,” said Middaugh, who broke out of the start and trailed Gray by only a few yards on the first lap. “Joe is just too fast.”
Exhibiting that bionic really does run in the bloodline, Middaugh’s son, 14-year-old Sullivan Middaugh, was the fifth place finisher, finishing five laps behind third place Ryan Phebus and fourth place Sean Van Horn.
Only a handful of the 60-plus athletes competing in the event managed to pull off five laps, four among them were women. The fastest was Breckenridge’s Kelly Ahern, who notched five laps in 34:39.2. Also fresh off her 10K victory, pro runner Anna Mae Flynn of Marble ramped up her quadriceps and plowed through five laps in 35:12 to take second among the women. Not far behind were fellow Coloradans Brandy Erholtz and Patricia Franco, who took third and fourth, respectively.
Among the most noble efforts of the few women who made four laps was Kerrie Bruxvoort, who was in the process of sprinting uphill back to the start before the buzzer sounded and also kayaker Adrienne Levknecht, who is competing in the Ultimate Mountain Challenge and thus has tried her power at nonstop events all weekend. After kicking off with a third place in the Oh Chute Kayak race, Levknecht has splashed through numerous other water events (including another third place in the GMC Downriver Kayak Sprint) as well as the 5K running race and the XC Mountain Bike race.
“That mountain bike race is the hardest thing I’ve done,” Levnecht said, after collapsing into the grass upon crossing the Pepi’s Face-Off finish line. “In the downhill, I went over the handlebars. Then I just layed there in the briars for a few minutes and had some choice words. I had a snack and got back on the bike.”
Suffering as she is, Levnecht said she’s ready to do it all again next year.
“I paddled the White Nile earlier this year and was chased by three crocodiles. It was the most terrifying thing that’s ever happened to me. I was like, ‘I’m never, ever doing this again. Three days after I got home, I was planning my next trip,” she said.
That’s the sort of spirit we get out here at the GoPro Mountain Games.
Pro Trek Smart 10k Spring Runoff
Joseph Gray landed an unprecedented fifth consecutive victory in the TIAA Bank 10K Spring Runoff on Sunday, but what really separated him from the pack this year was the way he … separated himself from the pack. He’s no stranger to finishing a minute or two faster than his closest competitor, but on Sunday, he ran virtually the entire course all by himself.
“It was nice. I was able to think about some stuff .. enjoy the course. It actually wasn’t quiet at all because I could hear the crowd and the spectators cheering the whole time,” Gray said.
When the 34-year-old Colorado Springs resident traversed along the final ridge of Vail Mountain, it appeared that he was in a dead sprint. This, it turns out, was his jogging pace. He finished in 46 minutes, 40 seconds.
Seth DeMoor, who’s no stranger to chasing Gray in tough races, finished about two and a half minutes after the five-time consecutive champion, while fellow elite runner Joshua Eberly rounded out the podium.
Proving even more that he’s something beyond human, Gray was heading out to Pepi’s Face Off immediately after his 10K win.
Ultra runner Anna Mae Flynn, 31, last year’s Pepi’s Face Off champion, was the fastest woman in the 10K, finishing in 55:23 as 18-year-old Lauren Gregory and 25-year-old Dani Moreno took second and third, respectively, each a little more than one minute back from the other. The only additional women to break the one-hour mark were Nicole Mericle, who is always a top finisher in Mountain Games running events, and Tara Richardson.
Road Bike Time Trial
The 2018 Road Bike Time Trial served as a precursor event to the forthcoming Colorado Classic in August, in which you can expect to see even more lightning fast guys and gals on skinny tires.
The field was stacked for Sunday’s race, many competitors donning full-on time trial helmets and riding featherweight bikes equipped with disc wheels that are likely worth more than your car.
Cranking off of a start ramp in Vail Village, cyclists pedaled to East Vail and then halfway up Vail Pass, gaining 1,686 feet in 9.7 miles.
“The hardest thing is containing yourself at the beginning and not getting too excited. Once you get up into the altitude, it hits you quickly. You feel like a million bucks at the beginning, but you’ve got to really pace yourself and be patient. You win or lose this race on the climb, for sure,” said Keegan Swirbul, who clearly nailed the formula for pacing himself. The 22-year-old pro from Carbondale handily won the race, finishing in one of the top times ever recorded on the course – 26 minutes and 53 seconds. Before launching onto the course, which he had only ever ridden once before (in 2014), Swirbul said a good result in the Mountain Games Time Trial would definitely buoy him for the Colorado Classic on Aug. 16.
“It’s going to be pretty wild. I’m so excited for that race,” he said.
Pro rider Abigail Mickey of Boulder was the decisive winner of the women’s race. Her time of 31:19 was considerably faster than the majority of the men’s field.
“The biggest challenge is getting into a rhythm on the flat,” said the 27-year-old, who is also one to watch in the 2018 Colorado Classic race. “I love the change of terrain. This is one of my favorite time trials. I’m thrilled that it’s part of the Colorado Classic.”
Pro tip: Mickey was wolfing down a Gu right before her race start and says that a solid, high-calorie dinner is key before race day. She had pizza (cheese-free, because she’s lactose intolerant) on Saturday before the race.
“Pizza for dinner is one of my race prep go-tos,” she said. “If you’re thinking about breakfast on race day, you’re too late.”
TIAA Bank Citizens and Youth Climbing
The problems were by no means easy for the dozens of powerful Spidermen and Spiderwomen who defied gravity by scaling walls all day Sunday during the TIAA Bank Citizens and Youth Climbing competitions. Climbers as young as 7 years old were topping the routes like human monkeys, using creative strategies and all four limbs. It’s safe to say the future of the sport is secure. Good thing, because the U.S. needs talent on the big stage beginning in 2020, when climbing makes its Olympic debut in the Tokyo Games.
Mountain Masters Disc Golf
Mountain Masters Disc Golf suddenly turned serious when a wildfire near the 4 Eagle Ranch course, in Wolcott, endangered play June 9 and the area was evacuated. The finals today moved to Cross Creek in Gypsum, CO, a course that was co-designed by Disc Golf event specialist Steve Klehfoth, and which opened earlier this year. Cross Creek turned out to be quite the treat, and was definitely a worthy Mountain Games course.
“Cross Creek requires a lot of finesse and technique,” said Klehfoth. “It’s all about focus and accuracy out there. Everyone was really pleased with it.”
The winners of the day were Mitch Soderfan for the men with a 49, and Des Reading for the women with a 63. Soderfan is a successful disc golfer from the Front Range who has just recently moved up to the Master’s Division, and this win marks his first GoPro Mountain Games championship. Reading is a recent Disc Golf Hall of Fame inductee. Both Soderfan and Reading won by just a single stroke.
For Klehfoth, it was less about the victories and more about getting to play. “All in all it was a good weekend,” he said. “Thankfully no one was hurt [in the wildfire], and our course is still intact.”
Costa 2 Fly X-Stream fly fishing
While it may not mean big whitewater, moderate river flows in the Vail Valley generally offer outstanding fishing opportunities on the Eagle River. And that’s just what the 10 finalists of the Costa 2 Fly X-Stream found on Sunday after earning the rare chance to float the Eagle in the finals of the 2018 GoPro Mountain Games.
“When we can float this river, which is only for a very limited time each year, it rivals most any river on the planet,” said event organizer Rick Messmer. “These competitors enjoyed the first of the truly epic fishing that is to come over the next two or three weeks.”
The river delivered for gold medalist Patrick Duke, who chose his custom imitations of a Prince Nymph and a Pat’s Rubber Legs as the two flies in his box for the competition. Duke boated an impressive 18 fish, taping the largest at 18 inches to double up as the big fish winner of the day as well. Troy Garner’s 11 fish and big fish measuring 17.5 inches totaled 28.5 points, good for second place behind Duke’s 36-point total. Jace Garcia was third in the men’s division with 22 points (five fish, biggest 17 inches) while his twin brother AJ Garcia placed fourth with two fish, neglecting to measure either.
“It came down to bug choice and presentation which is especially difficult when I only allow them two fly patterns out of the thousands and thousands that will catch trout. To make it even harder, I only allow them to have a total of six flies,” Messmer said. “Even with multiple anglers finishing round two with zero flies left and one angler blowing up his rod attempting to land a good fish, there were smiles, fist bumps and hugs all around at the take-out and back in Vail at the awards ceremony.”
Skylar Phillips landed five fish, measuring her largest at 16 inches to win the women’s division with 21 points. Mandy Hertzfeld scored 18 points with three fish, the largest at 15 inches, for the silver medal and Emily Davis boated one fish for third place.
“Each year I hear from multiple anglers that compete in fly fishing events all around the country that Mountain Games is their absolute favorite,” Messmer said. “This competition tests the anglers’ casting prowess in both accuracy and in distance, their ability to eliminate the pressures of thousands of people watching them and then puts them head-to-head against the fish themselves.”
YETI SUP Cross
A massive field of some 50 competitors pushed the limits of stand-up paddling in Sunday’s YETI SUP Cross, lapping the Gore Creek race course multiple times until a winner was decided.
The men’s final found Team Badfish paddlers and the past two defending champions Spencer Lacy of Boulder and Mike “T” Tavares of Salt Lake City squaring off against teammate Bradley Hilton of Grand Lake, CO, on the tight, technical course. Tavares led the charge into the first gate, but couldn’t contain Hilton, who snuck past on the inside and found a clean line to the top of the podium. Tavares and Lacy got hung up again on the final gate before Tavares broke free for the silver medal and Lacy was bumped to bronze.
“It feels really good, especially just being in there with my buddies, Mike and Spencer. They’re both pioneers of the sport and I respect them a lot. I’m always looking to them for different things to incorporate into my technique,” Hilton said after winning his first gold medal in six years. “My number one rule this weekend with all the excitement that the Mountain Games bring is just to keep my mind calm, especially during the race. That’s what did the trick.”
The women’s race saw a hectic final run with 17-year-old freestyle kayaking specialist Sage Donnelly breaking away for her first SUP Cross win at the Mountain Games. In the race for second, Team Badfish paddler Brittany Parker and Japanese powerhouse Yuka Sato got tangled up on the final gate until Parker managed to fight her way around the gate to take the silver. Sato finished third while Courtney Kerin of New Zealand settled for fourth.
“I thought I wasn’t going to make, for sure,” said Parker. “The low water can make things a little crazy because the eddies are so small, but I managed to hang on.”
8-Ball Kayak Sprint
The traditional battle royale finale of the GoPro Mountain Games once again delivered a knockout punch with the chaotic 8-Ball Kayak Sprint sending athletes off for another year. Adriene Levknecht used a string of fast-paced maneuvers to juke her way through the crowd of 8-ball “blockers” to win the women’s race for her first time, just ahead of Nouria Newman and Emily Jackson in third.
“I snuck right in there,” Levknecht said. “It’s not talent. It’s luck. (And maybe a little talent here and there.)”
The men’s race saw Matias Lopez edge out perennial favorite Dane Jackson in a photo finish that left even race officials scratching their heads. After finishing second in the GMC Kayak Freestyle on Saturday, the sprint through the gauntlet of 8-ball kayakers looking to knock racers off course was Jackson’s last opportunity to win a gold medal at the GoPro Mountain Games where he has dominated for the past several years.
“This year was definitely not my strongest podium placing for sure, but I still had a fun weekend,” Jackson said. “It was a great freestyle finals yesterday and I’m so stoked for (winner) Hunter (Kadich). In the end — first, second, third, whatever it was — it’s all just fun either way.”
Bennet Smith finished third for the final whitewater medal of the 2018 GoPro Mountain Games.
Many records have been broken on the GoPro Mountain Games Slackline stage, and today another one gets added to the list — the 2018 Pacifico Slackline Invitational champion Abraham Hernandez took home the gold with an astonishing 814 points, which has never been achieved in competition before.
“Tears [of joy] were definetely shed,” said professional Slackline Heather Larsen, “Two years, 400 would have been an unthinkable score, and today Abraham just broke 800.”
Though the athletes were all competing for the top title, upon seeing that score, they all ran up to hug and congratulate Hernandez. That kind of camaraderie may only come in extremely niche communities, like that of Slackline, where seems to want to see others succeed as much as themselves.
“They really are a big family, they are so supportive of each other. When someone finally lands a trick they’ve been working on, they others are right there, cheering for them,” said Larsen. And there’s still plenty of records left to be broken. Though it was attempted many times this weekend, the Triple Butt Flip has yet to be landed in competition. Larsen said she looks forward to seeing what else these athletes come up with, and with the sport having grown and evolved so much, there’s no telling what next year will look like.
“Who knows what’s possible,” Larsen laughed. “It’s all up to them, how creative they can get, and what boundaries they want to push.”
These Slackliners are fearless, so it’s safe to say that when it comes to boundaries and records, none will be left unchallenged.
There were many impressive pups this weekend, but the one who stole the show this weekend was the Malinois, Aegon, and his handler Dane Seidlitz of Vancouver, British Columbia. Seidlitz & Aegon won both the Big Air and Extreme Vertical events, which grow steadily more competitive each year. In the Big Air finals, the lowest jumps in the Pro Division started at 25 feet. David Kroyer and his dog Irie won Speed Retrieve.
In the Dueling Dogs competition, the final face off came down to a husband and wife team who went head to head for the gold. Leslie Plummer and her Belgian Malanios, Kehpri, took the medal, but more importantly, the bragging rights.
– Jaimee Rindy
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