Racers take off down Central Avenue in Dolores for the Escalante Days Mountain Bike Race on Saturday morning.
It was hot, dry and dusty.
But those conditions are typical in mountain bike racing.
Jens Nielsen took a nasty spill in Bean Canyon during the 14th annual Escalante Days Bike Race in Dolores. But that didn’t stop the Durango resident from completing the 35-mile expert category trail through the San Juan National Forest.
Nielsen, 41, fended off Ted Compton to win the geared expert class in his first Escalante Days appearance. He finished the grueling course in 2 hours, 2 minutes, 4 seconds.
“It’s a fun event with fast trails,” Nielsen said. “There’s definitely some technical sections. I did crash in one of them. I hit a tree with my (right) hand. I just kind of fell into the bushes. I thought I was going to die I was going so fast.” Nielsen took home $400 in winnings and praised the annual race that’s apart of Dolores’ celebration of the Old Spanish Trail Dominguez-Escalante expedition of 1776.
“The payout’s amazing,” said Nielsen, who rides a Santa Cruz highball 20-speed. “This is awesome that the community puts this race on. A ‘Shout out’ to the city for doing this.”
Reigning singlespeed expert champion Dave LeFevre returned from Telluride. LeFevre left as singlespeed champion once again, his third consecutive Escalante Days win. The 32-year-old Wagner Custom Skis designer finished at 2:10.26 on his Salsa singlespeed.
“It was pretty dry out there, but another clean race. No technicals, no flats, and stiff competition as always,” said LeFevre. “Bean Canyon is where I work my magic. It’s a good crowd down here. It’s a fun course.”
Another Durango racer displayed why her town has the strong mountain biking reputation it’s known for. Professional cyclist Teal Stetson-Lee, 26, competed in her third Escalante Days race. She is in her first year as a member of the LUNA Chix Pro Team. Stetson-Lee looked every bit the professional winning the women’s expert class in 2:14.09. Her finish was more than a minute ahead of runner-up Krista Park (2:15.42).
“I’ve always loved this course here. It suits me really well,” said Stetson-Lee, who rides a Orbea Alma hardtail 26 bike. “I love how flowy it is. It’s got some technical sections to it, but it’s got some really fun single track. All of that is great because it’s kind of a power course. I can just hammer the whole time. I felt good today. It all came together really well.”
The pro had added motivation to win her final endurance cross-country race of the season Saturday. Stetson-Lee’s LUNA teammate, Georgia Gould, won an Olympic bronze medal in London a few hours earlier in women’s mountain bike cross country racing. It’s the first medal in the event for the United States since 1996.
“That was something that was going through my head while I was out there today, too,” said Stetson-Lee, who will race cyclocross in the fall. “I knew that I had to throw down, too.”
Roughly 100 athletes made the 2012 Escalante Days race a success once again.
The annual event is sponsored by the Dolores Rotary Club and Dolores Chamber of Commerce, and proceeds go toward Rotary Club Projects.