cycling utah July 1999

Riders discover gold in the hills at Utah Summer Games

By John McConnell

For most of the cycling community, the Utah Summer Games are just a small blip on the racing calendar. But with no major races scheduled for the weekend, it was a prime opportunity to get ready for the Kamas to Evanston stage race the following weekend.

Road Racing

The draw that the Summer Games have created is one that appeals to the entire spectrum of racers - everyone from first timers to hardened world champions.

The cycling events started Thursday, June 10 with a short but near vertical four-mile climb up Right Hand Canyon, just before Milt's Stage Stop in Cedar Canyon.

Last year's winner and local hero, Brian Jeppson (Cedar Cycle) was poised to reclaim his title of "King of the Mountain" and didn't disappoint. Jeppson's time of 23:38 was nearly a minute clear of Dirk Cowley (9th & 9th) of Salt Lake City who clocked 24:24 on the brutal ascent. The best time on the short course was Park City's Hardin Davis (PCCC) with a time of seven minutes and 18 seconds.

Day two of the competition was delayed due to the possibilities of sheep on the road. But once Lund Road was cleared the time trial began. No wind and the flat, fast 10-mile out-and-back course provided Dan Cooper (Logan Cycling Club) the perfect opportunity to set a new Summer Games mark. And his time of 22:25 did just that, just beating out Cowley's 22:38.

Checkshani Cliffs, a residential community south of Cedar City was the setting for the criterium. The loop is just over a mile in length and starts on a slight climb. With a few 90-degree turns, a quick climb and faster drop with more sharp turns, you have what some racers described as a "Lemans" type of course.

A broken collarbone due to a rubbed wheel was the only tragedy of the games as William Bedford of Fairview was climbing with the lead pack and went down.

Triathlete Jo Garuccio (Canyon Bicycle) took the finish tape in the all Women's flight that started the afternoon's racing.

The sprint off the starting line was fast for the largest group of the race, the Junior Boys 12-14 category. Riders were gunning for bragging rights to this race. Once the racers settled in, Tyler McConnell (Canyon Bicycles) took the top mark lapping a number of racers in the process.

In the 45-minuted criterium the pack played around for the first 15-20 minutes testing riders on the climbs. But the crowd broke up half way through and the race turned into a four-man sprint to the finish. Utah Premier's Christian Johnson claimed the win.

After two days of racing, the final stage was set for Saturday's road race. It began as a downhill start on the Desert Mount Road to WECCO Road. The course then turned southwest and climbed State Road 56 up and over to New Castle and the turn around point.

All three distances played out about the same. The packs stayed together until the climb up SR 56 to New Castle where the stronger riders began to break up the pelotons. Distances were 20, 40 and 60 miles, each being out and back races.

With fresh legs from the descent, it was a matter as to who wanted it the most on the short three-mile climb back to the starting line. This is where the groups of four or five riders in the lead of each race made their moves.

Sheila Knight and Marvin Melville (Gramps Champs) both hit the line ahead of Junior Girls 15-18 champ Sidni Taylor (Gramps Champs) in the 20-mile event.

The 40-mile distance saw a four-man breaks from both Men's groups, 40-45 and 50-55, Cowley and Charles Palmer in the 40-45 and Davis and John Haney (PCCC) in the 50-55. With 300 hundred meters to go, World Champion Cowley pushed it to the finish line beating out Davis by three seconds.

In the 60-mile group, there were seven riders in the lead pack at the turn-around point. The number quickly dropped to four and was reduced to a sprint finish between Johnson and Mark Walker (X-Men) with a half mile to go. Johnson rode clear and won by 20 seconds over Walker.

Quinn Pratt has been race coordinator for the road cycling events at the Summer Games for 13 years. As he walked away from the awards ceremony Saturday afternoon, Pratt blew a great sigh of relief as he wiped his forehead.

The pressure of running the games is one that not everyone sees and can be missed by those who just show up to race. He said, "I've been doing them so long that they just happen." But he walked a little lighter as he took the scores to the press box.

Everyone I talked to expressed their fondness for him and said that this article should be about him and not the racers. Somehow I think he'd say just the opposite.

Mountain Bike Racing

Week two of the Utah Summer Games found riders with much fatter tires riding in dirt rather than on asphalt. Events scheduled were the 1.5 mile, 500-foot vertical drop downhill and the 4.5 mile cross-country loop the following day.

The downhill course is part of the cross-country loop. A steep and technical start flows into a big-ring slalom through sage, juniper and sand. With 2News covering the event, excitement was high. Riders looked like a strange brew with roadies in team jerseys and shorts to moto-crossers with pads and full-face helmets.

The experts were the first off the mountain setting fast times for all to shoot for. 40+ expert Lowell Bagley, wasted a bush in the first turn flying head over tail off his Cheetah downhill bike but protected by his downhill gear, he didn't pause a moment grabbing his bike and ripping off a first run of 4:02, good enough for second place.

An hour later the same motley group got ready for their second run. The wind had picked up and made the lower section slower. But without a crash Bagley was able to drop six seconds from his time to set a course record of 3:56 and the gold medal in his group.

Tracin Kirk won the kids' race on Saturday morning before the main event cross-country race. Three ability levels raced: expert, sport and beginner. Riders made a mad dash for the best line up the steeply rutted and narrow start. Once past the onset, the race leveled out and turned into a wonderful single track through sage, over rock outcrops and finally to a long climb on a fire road to the downhill course used the day before. Just before the start/finish, riders navigated through a crazy maze of technical click rock before starting another lap. Beginners did two laps, sport riders did three and the experts rode four laps.

The expert race turned into a family affair with Brian Jeppson racing with his younger twin brothers Kevin and Theron from Logan. The first lap was slow as it turned into a chat and ride as they caught up on family gossip. But from lap two on, it was about not getting beat by your brother. Brian would pull away on the descents as the sand seemed to bother the twins and on the last climb he was able to put a couple of sport riders between himself and his brothers. Brian cruised to the win.

The sport class clawed their way past the start with riders going down as they pushed for position heading into the single track. A 45-year-old led the first two laps but a younger Ryan Gunnel was the first racer over the final climb.

Fun competition is why many choose to race for the first time at the Summer Games and explains why the beginner class was the largest group. Riding a rigid bike, 60-year-old Gordon Warren, a multi-sport athlete, typified the beginners. With a smile and quick little dance he collected his gold medal at the award ceremony.

The Color Country Cycling Club was in charge of the event held at "The Three Peaks" BLM racecourse just northwest of Cedar City. The club is very active in promoting riding bikes both on and off road and does a great job promoting this event. The Summer Games is the perfect venue to introduce kids, families and even grandma and grandpa to the sport of mountain biking. If you want to get someone exited about the sport of cycling, whether it's mountain or road, bring them to the Utah Summer Games and watch them have a ball.

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