Cameron Chambers made it look easy.
He coasted through the winding trails dotted with rocks, trees, sand and exposed roots with grace, a style that looked out of place at a mountain bike race.
It was Chambers’ second victory of the year at Palmer Park and the win gave the 30-year-old Colorado Springs rider a stronger grasp on the five-race Ascent Cycling Series title, which he led heading into the race on July 25.
Colombian rider Fernando Riveros’ climbing ability allowed him to grab an early lead, but by the end of the first lap Chambers looked in control.
“The trail’s kind of chaotic and you don’t necessarily look at it and [think], ‘Oh, you could ride really smooth and flow really nicely over this,’” he said. “But it’s possible. You can pump all those rocks and then all of a sudden you’re going really fast and you haven’t spent that much energy.”
By the time he finished his fourth and final lap, Chambers was 50 seconds ahead of second-place finisher and fellow local biking standout J.J. Clark.
For Chambers, who wore a pair of oversized reflective sunglasses and a Mohawk under his helmet, experience proved essential. He rides at Palmer Park once or twice a week and bumped into Riveros as he glided through the familiar rock gardens.
The winner said he extended all his effort in a five- to 10-minute stretch after the first lap, and after that conserved his energy for any unexpected late sprints.
“[Riveros] takes off at a full-blast pace and I was trying to pace myself with Cameron,” said third-place finisher Gerry Cody, who lives in Los Angeles and is in Colorado preparing for the Leadville 100 on Aug. 11. “Those guys just ripped a couple quick turns and … after that it was like, ‘Hey, I’ll just have a good time and enjoy myself.’”
Much like Chambers, Tracy Thelen ran away with the lead against other women riders, crossing the finish line more than 4 minutes before her nearest competitor. Thelen, 33, got off to a slow start after finding herself in the wrong gear but quickly turned things around.
With a slightly different setup than the first Ascent Series race at Palmer Park, she walked her bike up the steepest rock faces on all three of her laps. Thelen already held a commanding lead in the series standings, and Wednesday’s performance put her that much closer to earning the crown.
“Palmer Park is fun because it’s got everything,” Thelen said. “It’s got rocks, it’s got steep climbs, technical ascents, things that you have to really be aware and be able to maneuver the bike around.”
As a light rain helped mitigate the afternoon’s scorching heat, the riders climbed up a 3.8-mile trail that at the top included a brief road stretch with a stunning view of the Front Range and the city below.
Though Chambers had no shot at matching Riveros’ speed on the stretches where he could sprint, once the rocky terrain returned it was no match.
“I’ve won twice here, but [the] top five of these guys anybody can be fit and going good,” Chambers said. “So it’s still anybody’s game when we’re all on the start line.”
That didn’t look to be the case that evening.
©2012 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)