Author: Fritz Stafford
Published: May 20, 2016
The weather was perfect, upper 60s F at the start. There was a threat of showers, but none developed during the race or post race festivities. The partial overcast conditions were ideal for race photography minimizing shadows on the rider’s faces. The course condition was excellent, mostly dry and firm dirt with no mud.
The Coyote Classic courses provide unique challenges for all levels of racers, long tough climbs mixed with and / or followed by innumerable technical features, many of which are ride-able with practice, but some that are best taken on-foot by most. The Pro Open/Cat 1 course begins with a loop around the shorter Cat 3 course followed by a loop around the longer Cat 2 course amounting to 23.7 miles and 3250 vertical feet.
The courses are mostly single-track with much of it being true single track (i.e., no room to pass), and there are plentiful cows, as the courses are located on a healthy cattle ranch. Some have called this race the “Cow Path Classic”, as this is the origin of some of the trail constituents. It is amazing that animals that are ~4 feet in diameter are able to create paths <6 inches wide on steep side slope creek banks. I had close encounters of the "Big Cow" kind during a training ride and again during the race, and in both cases there were riders on my wheel who had even closer encounters.
The cows add several features to contend with ranging from cow pies and soft dirt wallows in the middle of the trail to cow hoof print roughness on many trail segments that make the case for suspension.
There are three distinct ecological habitat zones between the bottom and top of the course, each with flora that was in full bloom for the race, but there is poison ivy in the riparian areas. There are also tremendous bird watching opportunities throughout the courses ranging from raptors (hawks, owls, eagles, osprey) to finches and other songbirds (red polls, siskins, juncos, tanagers, gold finches, hummingbirds).
The shorter Cat 3 loop begins with a “prelude” climb up to the water tower saddle followed by a twisting single track descent into the main Cat 3 climb. The first half of this climb along Broken Horn Creek includes several technical features and an ~100 meter technical section that dismounts most riders. The climb then continues through the Hills and Dales section with several steep rough two-track dirt climbs. Most racers push to the red line throughout the climb, and this makes it difficult to refuel and hydrate adequately prior to the flowy but feature filled ~3 mile descent along Spring Creek to the start of the longer Cat 2 loop.
It seems the Pros and top experts lap through the start / finish area with little sign of exhaustion, but the normal human experts show varying degrees of exhaustion-anxiety as they anticipate the very difficult Cat 2 loop.
This loop begins with the ~1+ mile medium grade Shooting Range climb. It is important to fuel / hydrate over the top of this climb in anticipation of the long upcoming climbs. Then come a close spaced series of technical features on the way over to, across and down Bovine Creek ravine. The area where this ravine expands into meadow is known as the Bone Yard portion of Bovine Nirvana (if you see it, you will know why). Then comes the ~1.5 mile Bovine Nirvana climb up to the main Willow Creek climb. This Bovine Nirvana climb has some steep sections, but it is the copious hoof print roughness that make the Bovine Nirvana climb demanding. There are a couple of short, smooth, wide hill top segments near the top that are the last fueling / hydrating opportunities prior to the main climb.
The brief descent down to Willow Creek ends with a tricky creek crossing, which is the beginning of the next series of technical features along the lower half of the ~4 mile Willow Creek climb. This section of the climb is only medium grade, but the narrow trail, technical features and exhaustion combine to make it difficult to ride efficiently, especially in anticipation of the steep ~2 mile finish of the climb. Then comes a ~100m false flat respite where the trail widens to allow one final fueling / hydrating opportunity, but then the trail narrows to ~6 inches for much of the duration of the steep two mile finale climb. The climb is steepest before the ridgeline, and this is where the bonking and / or cramping occurs, but when you get to the ridge line, you quickly find there are several more short steep sections before reaching the top.
Ironically, the last ~1 mile of the climb where the suffering is greatest is the most beautiful / unique habitat portion of the course. Wild flowers not seen elsewhere on the course were in full bloom, raptors were soaring. The local geography / topography creates a micro-climate that spawns thunderstorms that keep the area wetter longer into the summer dry season.
The ~4 mile high speed 2-track dirt road descent down to the top of the second pass down Spring Creek is not difficult, but it is possible to miss turns, and this year there was a detour at the end that I was vaguely aware of, but had not seen. Course familiarity is beneficial. The main feature of this section is the high speed roughness that again makes the case for suspension.
The main issue with the second descent down Spring Creek is to maintain focus under exhaustion and not make any mistakes, while not being overly cautious and losing time to the competition.
XC MtB events have been in decline in recent years both locally and nationally due to decline in participation rates. The 2016 Coyote Classic had a very sustainable participation rate, and very strong fields at all levels but especially the Pro level. The later was no doubt aided by Trailhead Chiropractic’s sponsoring of the Pro purse with equal payouts guaranteed to both the female and male Pros.
Jamey Yanik continued XC MtB dominance by taking 1st place Pro/Open Male freshly adorned with National Championship stripes for his 4x current National Championships (XC and STXC Mountain Bike and RR and TT Road Bike). Michael Tobin was 2nd place Pro/Open Male at 8:00 minutes back, and Cary Smith was 3rd Pro/Open Male at 8:40 minutes back. Lucy Collins was 1st place Pro/Open Female, Michelle Byers was 2nd place Pro/Open Female, and Katie Clouse DNF (ankle injury).
Wild Rockies Race Team was well represented with 8 participants: Dave Harrison 7th place Pro/Open Male; Raul Garcia 7th place Expert Male 40-49; Michael Wieser 3rd place Single Speed Open; Weston Wheat 4th place Expert Male 50+; Fritz Stafford 5th place Expert Male 50+; Ben Thomas 1st place Sport Male 40-49; Kari Jerome 4th place Beginner Female; Steve Chafin 2nd place Beginner Male. Darren Lightfield was present providing team support, and Michele Swan provided expert photographer services (i.e., click or tap on the “Photo Galleries / Coyote Classic” main menu item).
Ben Thomas was ~25 meters behind Chris Edwards as he exited the final technical feature with ~1.5 miles to the finish. Ben was able to overtake Chris to win the Sport Male 40-49 race, and Chris had to settle for 2nd place. Competitor familiarity is beneficial.
The photographs included in this article were taken by Michele Swan. To view / copy the full resolution available in these “quarter resolution” images, set web browser to full screen, click or tap the images to bring-up the attachment page, click or tap on the image size icon located between the image title / filename and the image (e.g., 1440×960), clicking or tapping the image a second time may be necessary to view the full size image (depending on display size), and then right click on the image to copy (on a PC). Instructions to purchase the full resolution photos are available at Fitness and Grace Photo.