Organizers of the 2007 Teva Mountain Games were quick to credit the “Floyd Factor” for the record number of participants registered for the Trek Hill Climb, a 9.8-mile road time-trial up Colorado’s Vail Pass.
More than 150 elite and amateur cyclists showed up for the event — 40 more than in 2006. For all riders, the race was a unique chance to test their legs against that of Floyd Landis, the embattled 2006 Tour de France Champ.
For Landis, the ride marked his first road race since he learned that he had tested positive for exogenous testosterone after stage 17 of the 2006 Tour. The 31-year-old Landis was at the Vail, Colorado games competing as part of a three-member Athletes for a Cure team in the Ultimate Mountain Challenge, a team event that combined kayaking, mountain-bike racing, running and the road time trial.
Landis was the final rider to leave the starting ramp in downtown Vail. Missing were the time trial helmet, aero’ bike and skinsuit that helped him claim time trial victories at the Tour. Gone, too, was at least some of the world-class fitness that put him into the yellow jersey less than a year ago.
Despite a chilly drizzle, a mass of fans surrounded the starting gate, urging Landis to try and catch his minute man, mountain-bike legend, 51-year-old Ned Overend. Overend, the reigning hill climb champ, hit the course sporting aero bars, a sizable time trial helmet and a skin suit from the local Durango, Colorado Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory team.
“We’ll see, I’m not so hot at altitude,” Landis replied.
A day earlier Landis made his return to mountain-bike racing during the 21-mile cross-country mountain-bike race. Landis finished 39th, putting in a 2:04 effort that put him nearly 25 minutes behind the winner, Vail local Jay Henry.
Sunday’s time-trial course posed a shorter and admittedly less daunting challenge. The course sent riders on a flat, slightly downhill drag race out of Vail on a frontage road for Interstate 70, before ascending 1500 vertical feet on Bighorn road. The climb is stretched out over three miles, and climbs at a steady six-percent grade. Andy Hampsten’s record of 26:33.43, set during the 1987 Coors Classic, still stands.
Although the ascent was closed to all motor traffic, organizers allowed a chase car to follow Landis up the climb. Once he finished, Landis climbed into the car and was whisked out of the late-afternoon Colorado drizzle that turned to hail and corn snow at the higher altitude. Others weren’t so lucky, and had to descend through the precipitation.
Landis posted the eighth-fastest time on the day, three minutes behind Overend who again took the title. The Durango, Colorado native rode the course in 27:29, averaging 21.18 miles per hour from start to finish. Former Motorola pro’ Michael Carter finished second at 28:35 with Xterra triathlete Josiah Middaugh rounding out the podium.
At the awards ceremony, race organizers presented Overend with his winner’s medal, as well as a check for $2000.
“Man, this is like the good ol’ days,” said Overend, comparing the cash payout to the prize purses he earned at NORBA national races in the early 1990s.
Landis was at the awards presentation as well — his Athletes for a Cure team of kayaker Tao Berman and runner Andy Ames finished third in the competition. Overend’s team of kayaker Pat Keller and runner Matt Carpenter took home top honors.
The trip to Vail to race in what is now a non-sanctioned event was a welcome return to cycling for Landis, who has spent the last six months embroiled in a fight against the U.S. Anti Doping Agency over his positive test. USADA and Landis squared off in an arbitration hearing May 15-23 in Malibu, California in front of the North American Arbitration Association.
The outcome of that hearing will decide whether Landis keeps his Tour victory or forfeits his crown and faces a two-year ban from cycling and another two-year exclusion from the ranks of the ProTour.
2007 Teva Mountain Games Trek Hill Climb
1. Ned Overend, 9.8 miles in 27:29 (21.8mph)
2. Michael Carter, 28:35
3. Josiah Middaugh, 28:54
4. Mike Janell, 29:10
5. Greg Krause, 29:17
6. Jay Henry, 29:18
7. Ross Schnell, 30:24
8. Floyd Landis, 30:27
9. Lars Finanger, 30:28
10. Jimmy Mortensen, 30:51Open Women
1. Pua Sawicki, 9.8 miles in 38:27 (15.14mph)
2. Jenny Smith (NZ), 38:35
3. Chloe Forsman, 39:18
4. Keri Nelson, 39:52
5. Emily Finanger, 40:00
6. Kristina Maier, 40:01
7. Gretchen Reeves, 40:10
8. Lisa Isom, 42:13
9. Virginia Betty, 45:35
10. Maria Noriega, 46:51