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    Aug 2003

    142-mile Kokopelli Race

    Curiak wins Kokopelli Race, sets new record.
    Text and photo by John Weirath

    Mike Curiak (Clif Bar/DT Swiss/SRAM Racing) set a new course record at the 4th annual Kokopelli Trail Race. Curiak's time of 14:17 for the 142-mile course smashed the previous mark by almost two hours. Kokopelli's Trail boasts over 14,000' of climbing on a route that winds eastward from Moab, Utah to Loma, Colorado.

    Following the 3 A.M. start at Moab's Slickrock Trail, racers climb immediately up the Sand Flats Road and into the La Sal mountains. Gary Dye (Paragon Sports) set a blistering early pace, quickly stringing out the field on the initial climb into the La Sals. Chad Oleson (Handle Bar and Grill) underestimated the amount of lighting needed to safely navigate, leaving him no option but to match Dye. "I was severely underlit, so I had to stay close to Gary to 'use' his light." Curiak fought to hang on to the two leaders, but eventually decided to let them go. "I was in difficulty right from the gun because Gary took it out so hard. I knew I couldn't hold that pace all day, so I backed it off a notch and found my own rhythm, eventually catching back on just after sunrise."

    When Dye stopped to filter water from Fisher Creek (Note: The race is unsupported with no aid stations, meaning racers carry all food and survival gear, and must filter water from surface streams along the trail) he lost contact with Curiak and Oleson. Post-race Dye recollected that, "Mike looked back just as he went over the top, and that was the last I saw of either of them." Dye would soldier on to finish third after suffering a partially seized bottom bracket through the second half of the race. "Honestly, the conditions were so good that I couldn't see dropping out just because of a little extra friction. Plus I wanted to get a full 145-mile shakedown ride in to see how ready I am for the Divide. I'm psyched to have finished as strong as I did--nothing about this race is easy." Curiak and Dye used the Kokopelli to test their preparedness for the upcoming 2500-mile Great Divide Race.

    Curiak attributed the pace to fast trails, cool temps, and relentless pressure from Oleson. "Chad was killing me on the downhills, but I was usually able to close the gap on the climbs. We went back and forth for over 11 hours." Curiak estimated that throughout the entire 14+ hours of racing, the biggest gap between he and Oleson was three minutes. "Leaving Fisher Valley and heading toward the Entrada Bluffs, I had to stop to stash my jacket and arm warmers, and that brief stop meant that it took me until after Dewey Bridge to catch back up to Chad. I could see him descending toward Professor Valley, and I'd visually mark him and check my time against his 'spot', and each time it was three minutes or less." Curiak added that, "There was never an accord between us, and we never worked together--we simply rode such a similar race that we were never far apart."

    Oleson agreed that the biggest factor in the fast times was weather. "Typically, once you leave the La Sals and drop into the desert you just start to wilt. Today was unseasonably cool, with an afternoon breeze that was mostly at our backs. Although it was damn cold in the mountains, you'd be hard pressed to get better overall conditions. Crossing Dewey Bridge you usually climb into the inferno known as Yellowjacket, but today we cruised comfrotably through there. We couldn't have asked for a better day."

    Hoping to demoralize Oleson after almost 12 hours in the saddle, Curiak attacked on the ascent of Westwater Mesa, but Oleson was able to reel him back in on the descent towards the Colorado River. Curiak accelerated again on the climb into Rabbit Valley, only to have Oleson close down the gap near the end of Lion's Loop. Curiak quipped that, "With the benefit of hindsight, it's easy to see that had we been working together we could have been even faster, but I was so intent on staying ahead of Chad that it didn't occur to me until afterwards."

    Rarer than the cool late-spring weather was that the race concluded in a sprint. Said Oleson, "Mike really upped the speed on the last descent--I think he was taking some chances there". Curiak recounted the home stretch, "As fast as Chad had descended all day, I kept expecting him to come around me on Mary's. I kept the pace as high as I could there to discourage him. When we got spat out at the base of the final climb through the ridge, I locked out the fork and put it into the big ring. Once we came around the final right-hander and it got steep, I jumped and got a gap, and was able to coast across the line."

    Did they know they'd just broken the record? Said Oleson, "I had no idea what time it was. Originally I'd just hoped to finish before sunset, but as we got closer it seemed like the sun was still awfully high in the sky". Curiak didn't know either. "Somewhere after Fish Ford I lost track of time. I was unwilling to expend the energy to move my hand to check (the time), so for the last 7 hours of the race I truly didn't know where we stood with respect to the record. Once I crossed the finish and rolled to a stop, I checked it and immediately got head-to-toe goosebumps. I had to do the math a few times to make sure that it added up."

    Oleson was just happy to be off the bike after 14 hours of racing. "I'm taking the year off from training and racing, but I couldn't resist coming down here--I've always wanted to try this. I have a decent base (primarily from riding South Africa's Cape Epic in February) but haven't done any intensity work. I wasn't really into racing, but we were rolling along so well that I just had to take advantage of it. When Mike jumped at the end he had a lot more speed in his legs and I couldn't match him. But really, I was just happy to be where I was at that point, and to be done."

    Curiously, each of the top three finishers rode 29" wheeled bikes. Curiak raced a Moots YBB, Oleson piloted a Titus Ti Racer-X, while Dye rolled on a Willits New Sheriff hardtail.
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