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Last week's Kettle House Beer League race at Marshall Mountain in Missoula had another stellar turnout of about 85 riders. Racers battled through a heat wave that left many of them verging on heat stroke, shivering with dehydration. Nothing a Double Haul couldn’t cure. The Kettle House series is beginning to draw racers from around the state. John and Lisa Curry drove over from Bozeman to dominate the race, with John Curry taking the men’s race and Lisa placing third for the women. Frank Gonzalez from Helena took fourth for the men. Lindsy Campbell of Missoula won the women’s race yet again. Alex Gallego, owner of Missoula Bicycle Works and a sponsor of the series, took third for the men in his first series race. I asked Alex what he thought of the race: “It was just hard.” Well-said.

Putting Down the Pen, Getting on the Bike to Experience Marshall Mountain Brutality

Last week’s Kettle House Beer League race at Marshall Mountain in Missoula had another stellar turnout of about 85 riders. Racers battled through a heat wave that left many of them verging on heat stroke, shivering with dehydration. Nothing a Double Haul couldn’t cure.

The Kettle House series is beginning to draw racers from around the state. John and Lisa Curry drove over from Bozeman to dominate the race, with John Curry taking the men’s race and Lisa placing third for the women. Frank Gonzalez from Helena took fourth for the men. Lindsy Campbell of Missoula won the women’s race yet again.

Alex Gallego, owner of Missoula Bicycle Works and a sponsor of the series, took third for the men in his first series race.

I asked Alex what he thought of the race: “It was just hard.”

Well-said.

Because of the short course, many riders, including myself, opted not to bring water. Normally this probably wouldn’t be a problem, but temperatures were close to the 90s last week, and dehydration was a threat.

“After the first lap, I decided to just start drinking water whenever I could, and that helped a ton,” Gallego said.

It Was Brutal

LISA CURRY. Photo by  Robin Carleton.

LISA CURRY. Photo by Robin Carleton.

I decided to jump in the race this last week. I’ve been using the fact I’m writing about the races as an excuse not to get in the mix, but the pressure to compete finally got to me. On the ride over I had worked myself up so much that I started to get a stomachache.

In case you haven’t heard, the course has earned quite a reputation as a difficult ride. I’ve done a fair amount of mountain biking in my life, but I had a feeling I was getting in a little over my head. We arrived early with plenty of time to do a practice lap, so I headed out on the course.

I rode a ways up the first hill with a kid who was racing for the UM Griz cycling club. After a couple of minutes, I decided to head back to the starting line. I asked him if this was a long climb. He just giggled. “Uh…yeah, and it gets um…steep ahead.”

Jen Bardsley, who took second in the women’s two-lap race, tried to calm me down. A bridge crosses over the course at the point where it doubles back on itself, and Jen suggested that we ride it together. Good thing, since it’s impossible to tell how steep that bridge is until you are staring down the 35 degree pitch into the gravel pit landing, shooting out into yet another section of single-track.

I talked to Helena cycling and skiing legend Randy Beckner who, during last week’s race, tore open his calf muscle requiring stitches, and was back for more. “I would run the (downhill) switchbacks. You don’t lose much time and it’s worth it.” I admire Randy Beckner. I aspire to be as much of a badass as he is. I decided to listen to him.

Finally the race started. The two-lap women headed out with the two-lap men and we rode through the crowd of cheering onlookers and up into the hills.

That first lap of the race was my first time riding the course in its entirety. Bardsley, all decked out in a tutu and hot pink t-shirt, held my hand as we climbed. “Steep downhill coming up girl! Watch out for this switchback!”

By the time I finished the first lap, I decided to quit and not do a second lap. I was so hot and dehydrated that I was actually cold and had stopped sweating. I could feel the salt caked on my face.
I told Kellie Carim, who was just in front of me, that I was out.

“No way!” she said. “Come ride with me, you’ll be fine!”

I have never voluntarily quit a race before, so I began praying for a mechanical failure in my bike. Please God, let me get a flat tire. Please God, let me break a chain. Pathetic!

But I managed to finish the race, getting lapped by about 15 of the three-lap men. “Nice job,” I chortled as they passed. “Thanks!” they replied, as if they were out for a Sunday stroll.

It was hard to stay tired and grumpy at the finish line though, with gangs of people cheering and hanging out, enjoying No Bad Dogs brats and Kettle House beer. The Big Dipper donated a cooler of amazing popsicles and everyone was happy.

Even though it was one of the shortest races I’ve done, it was one of the most brutal. The heat and the non-stop technical climbing, all contributed to make the course unendingly challenging. You are either heading straight up or straight down; there is no rest for the weary here.

Looking Ahead

The course is essentially set for the pro race at the end of the month. Race organizers have gotten the logistics pretty well dialed in and are looking forward to the influx of elite racers.

“Overall, the race went well (last week),” said Jed Dennison, race promoter. “We had some attrition from the heat, seeing as how we went from March to full-on July in a week. But the course is riding well.”

Shaun Radley, race organizer, said that the course rode somewhat differently last week, since summer has finally hit and things are drying out. “But this is how the course will feel for the pro race, so people will have a better feel for it now.”

As far as the grand finale Pro XC Tour race on July 23, Radley said that UCI (the world organization for cycling racing) has made a few changes. The elite men will ride five, instead of six, laps. This means that every other category will be reduced by one lap as well. Registration for the races starts on Friday evening. The pros will race on Saturday, the amateurs on Sunday.

There will be even more entertainment at the finale as well. Russ Nasset will be playing during the race and directly after, providing a fun and festive environment for riders and their families.

Caffe Dolce will be hosting a beer garden and more food and vendors will be available. And, for those who believe the rumors that Dead Hipster night at the Badlander is going away, you won’t want to miss the Dead Hipster DJ at the Marshall Mountain late-night party.

There’s still one Wednesday night race to go, and the race scene is getting more amped every week. The kids’ race will continue, and if you didn’t stick around to watch it last week, you definitely should this week. Little guys rallied the course on Strider bikes and older kids tore it up on 20-inch wheels. Future pro racers right there.

This week, organizers would like to encourage people to carpool or ride to the race. Everyone I talked to mentioned how amazing Cindy Schultz, mother of World Cup racers Sam and Andy Schultz, has been with the registration. She keeps her cool every week, despite the madness and laid-back (aka, forgetful and spacey) attitude of mountain bikers. Still, organizers would like you to pre-register if you can at missoulaxc.org.

As for me, I swore I would only be a spectator from here on out. But, the mind has the amazing ability to block out certain painful memories. Missoula is such an amazing and supportive community, especially when it comes to local races. I think I’ll get out there again and try to redeem myself. Hope to see you there!

Editor’s Note: The above post had been corrected to reflect the 23rd as the correct date the Pro XC Tour begins.

About Laurel Douglas