Thankful. In a year in which almost all bike races were canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic, the chance to line up at five local races around Southwest Colorado this fall had area cyclists feeling just that.
The 2020 Zia Taqueria Four Corners Cyclocross Series concluded with its fifth race Nov. 7 at a special venue on Durango Mesa. Normally, the series race in Durango would be held on the Fort Lewis College campus around Ray Dennison Memorial Field, but campus health guidelines would not allow for the event this year. So, the FLC cycling program worked with the Durango Mesa Foundation to utilize the private property to set up a course. It was the same venue in which Durango had hosted the high school mountain bike state championships in 2018 and 2019.
“We were so fortunate to have venues that wanted to host us,” said FLC cycling director Dave Hagen. “In these crazy times, we feel so fortunate to have pulled it off this year and pull it off safely with the mitigation we had in place. Outdoor sports have shown they are relatively safe. We were thankful San Juan Basin Public Health gave us the OK to operate as well as our college administration. We were able to get it in and finished in the nick of time.”
The series, which is a fundraiser for FLC cycling, completed before the COVID-19 dial was upgraded to level orange and then red. It started Oct. 10 in Pagosa Springs on the Shaeffer Property, private land that Hagen said the owners have helped develop a custom built course. That race is also a fundraiser for Pagosa’s youth mountain bike program. The series also returned to Pagosa Springs for an Oct. 31 race.
Oct. 17 saw action at Dolores’ Joe Rowell Park. Registration fees for that race helped benefit Greater Dolores Action, which has been involved in local trail initiatives such as the Boggy Draw area. A week later, the series went to Parque da Vida in Cortez.
The finale in Durango was dedicated to FLC cycling alum Benjamin Sonntag, who was killed in March while riding his bike when he was struck by a motorist southwest of Durango. Riders wore armbands to honor “The German.”
“We had been thinking about Ben a lot and know he would have been there for every race having a good time like he always was,” Hagen said. “The German, he was a character and was always great to have around. He was such a great person, and we just thought we should do something for him and name that race after him. We hope to do something else here in the spring. We miss him.”
The cyclocross series started and ended early this year. Hagen said it was a bit odd to overheat during cyclocross races, as usually they are held in cold conditions through the late fall and winter months.
Numbers were a bit down as some opted to skip this year because of the pandemic. But the series gave everyone in Durango, from juniors to FLC cyclists to local pros and masters age category riders a chance to get back to a start line.
It was especially welcomed by the FLC athletes who had the college mountain bike and cyclocross seasons largely canceled following last spring’s road season cancellation.
“We were hoping to have the Colorado cyclocross state championships, but that got canceled, too,” Hagen said. “A bunch of our student-athletes were really into it and had a great time all season. For some of our new athletes, we finally got to show them that Durango and Fort Lewis cyclocross is pretty darn good.”
FLC’s Michaela Thompson won the women’s open race in Durango ahead of junior racer Ruth Holcomb of Durango. The open men’s win went to Durango’s Riley Amos, an FLC freshman and one of the top young mountain bikers in the world. He was followed by junior rider Ivan Sippy of Durango and FLC’s Keiran Eagen, also of Durango. They took advantage of a tough day for Durango’s Cody Cupp, who had largely dominated the series going into the final stop along with FLC alum Henry Nadell. Other women’s open races throughout the season included stars such as Savilia Blunk, Sarah Sturm, Ellen Campbell and Teal Stetson-Lee.
“We have some big freshmen kids who came to us from the New England cyclocross scene, and they were surprise at the level of competition they found here,” Hagen said. “It was exciting to see such strong riding this year.”
The cyclocross national championships also were canceled this year because of the pandemic. Now, the FLC cyclist can only sit back and hope the road season is able to happen in the spring if the situation gets better.
“All we can do is be hopeful,” Hagen said. “Maybe if the virus gets more under control I will feel more confident. The kids have been riding together in hopes they get to compete, and we have really strong teams this year. That’s important because a team that rides together will know how to win together. I hope they get that shot.”