Sterling’s Tyle Owens, 17, and Soldotna’s Angie Brennan, 45, led Kenai Peninsula riders Saturday in the Soggy Bottom Challenge mountain bike race.
The men’s race was won by Anchorage’s Jason Lamoreaux, finishing in 5 hours, 34 minutes and 35 seconds, ahead of Anchorage’s Owen Ala at 5:49:57. Owens came through at 6:16:44.
The women’s race went to Anchorage’s Ana Jager at 6:53:08, with Tazlina Mannix second at 6:53:57. Brennan crossed at 8:48:46.
The event is normally 100 miles, with 10,200 feet of climb and loss, but this year was shortened to 70 miles, with 6,700 feet of climb and loss.
The section of the trail that was cut off is Resurrection Pass South, from Cooper Landing to the junction with the Devil’s Creek Trail. So riders started in Hope, rode Resurrection Pass North and the Devil’s Creek Trail, then returned.
Owens said the race was cut because Resurrection Pass South was opened just days before the race after the Swan Lake Fire. Also, this was a good opportunity to test the 70-mile course in the event of a heavy rain year.
Competing in his third Soggy, Owens said the shorter course had a big effect on the pace. He said the distance drew some of the state’s top riders, and that showed right from the start.
“In the past two years, it started out a bit slower, with everybody talking up the gravel road to the trail head,” Owens said. “On the gravel road this year, there wasn’t much talking, and once on the trail, everybody took off like it was a sprint.”
Owens said he woke up with a bit of a head cold Saturday. Early in the course, he forgot about a 90-degree turn on an descent and went over the handlebars. Add all that to the unexpected quick pace and it was a rough start.
“In the first hour, I had a really rough go of it,” he said. “I couldn’t get my head in the game. Climbing after the first hour, I started to feel pretty good.”
At the front of the pack, the quick pace had taken its toll. Seward’s Chaz DiMarzio, the 2013 and 2018 champ, had the lead but crashed before the Devil’s Creek trail head and had to drop out of the race. DiMarzio had started every Soggy except one since the race began in 2004, and failed to finish a Soggy he started for just the third time.
“He was flying,” Owens said of DiMarzio. “It was pretty impressive.
“I think everyone was going so much harder and being a little less careful. They’re thinking they have to make up time here because they don’t have 40 more miles.”
That need for speed did not mix well with brushy trail conditions.
“It was so overgrown,” Owens said. “At times, I was just looking for a low spot in the brush. I ended up with some pretty good pushkie burns. I almost couldn’t see the trail in spots.”
By the Devil’s Creek trail head, Owens had worked his way into a tie for fourth with Dante Petri, a former Sterling resident now living in Anchorage. Owens said great work from his team got him out of the checkpoint a little more than two minutes ahead of Petri.
But Petri caught Owens by the climb to the junction with Res Pass and was able to beat him by a little over two minutes.
Owens will head to Seward this fall to enroll in the 10-month industrial electricity program at AVTEC. He wants the Soggy to be a part of his future.
He said he has his training dialed in, but needs more experience.
“It was a whole different race and the pacing was totally different,” Owens said. “A lot more of Alaska’s faster riders were there and it was interesting to see how they planned their race and where I was compared to some of those people.”
Brennan was able to hit her goal of finishing in less than nine hours despite a few rough moments in the race.
Two weeks prior to the race, Brennan sustained a concussion in a crash during the Soldotna Cycle Series. The recovery from the incident cost her a crucial week of training and forced her to adjust her goals.
She thanked Beemuns Variety and her husband, Tobin Brennan, for helping her fix her bike and getting her a new helmet, but a traumatic brain injury is not so easily addressed.
“I did not black out or lose consciousness,” Brennan said of the accident. “I just had balance and vision issues. I felt like I was very intoxicated, and that lasted for an hour and a half.”
A week after the crash, she did a six-hour ride and did not push hard at all. That gave her confidence she could do the race.
The morning of the race went poorly, with the water heater at Brennan’s house breaking and gushing hot water all over the place. That got Brennan’s heart rate up early, and a high heart rate is what had been bringing out her concussion symptoms. Halfway through the race the effects were showing.
“My heart rate got kind of weird and I felt kind of disconnected, and I could not give 100 percent on the climb up to Devil’s Pass,” Brennan said.
That feeling meant Brennan could not stand up and power over obstacles on the climb. First, she fell down a cliff on her side. Next, she fell and cut her knee.
“Of course, I wasn’t wearing my knee armor, like Mike Crawford had told me to,” Brennan said of the Kenai cyclist. “As I got up, I could hear Mike Crawford saying in my head, ‘You should have been wearing your knee armor.’”
After that spill, Brennan strongly considered quitting and wondered if what she was doing was entirely safe. But she was almost to the Devil’s Pass junction, so she decided to take it easy on the ride into Hope. She even passed a woman on that downhill, then went all out on the gravel road to the finish.
“In a nutshell, I didn’t give it 100%, but it was nice to be out there,” Brennan said. “It was a good race and a lot of fun.”
Brennan still would like to put 100% into the race. Two years ago, she broke her arm so she couldn’t do it, and last year her arm was still weak. Then this year the crash happened.
“If I can put in the training I want to, I’d really like to do it at 100% and be competitive,” Brennan said. “That’d be super fun, I think. There’s some really fast girls and I’d love to go with them and hang a little bit, and get a faster time.”
Also from the peninsula, Kenai’s Jeff McDonald finished 21st in 8:41:39. The central peninsula relay team of Sean Dunham and Scott Jackson finished fourth at 9:22:26, with David Arteaga and Greg Matyas taking the men’s relay at 6:11:25.
The coed relay went to Lucy Hankins and Ryan Bringhurst at 8:44:59.
Soggy Bottom Challenge
Men’s solo — 1. Jason Lamoreaux, 5 hours, 34 minutes and 35 seconds; 2. Owen Ala, 5:49:57; 3. James Stull, 6:07:41; 4. Dante Petri, 6:14:41; 5. Tyle Owens, 6:16:44; 6. Andy Duenow, 6:24:39; 7. Oliver Sternicki, 6:26:23; 8. Eric Flanders, 6:29:15; 9. Reed Fleming, 6:34:50; 10. Ryan Thrasher, 6:36:00; 11. James Howery, 6:42:01; 12. Casey Fagerquist, 6:52:50; 13. David Kingston, 6:53:09; 14. Elan Edgerly, 7:00:30; 15. Jim Jager, 7:02:47; 16. Brian Waldo, 7:09:24; 17. Jeremiah Bell, 7:23:58; 18. Otto Gilbert, 7:43:22; 19. James Temte, 7:51:44; 20. Noah Lohr, 8:28:29; 21. Jeff McDonald, 8:41:39; 22. Josh Pickle, 9:03:32; 23. Brian Senta, 9:44:15; 24. Daniel Hovancsek, 10:14:43; 25. Bernie Freeman, 10:14:43.
DNF — Dade Colberg, Chaz DiMarzio, Nick Harman, David Finnochio.
Women’s solo — 1. Ana Jager, 6:53:08; 2. Tazlina Mannix, 6:53:57; 3. Carys Evans, 7:49:41; 4. Nannette Bercu, 8:14:35; 5. Angie Brennan, 8:48:46; 6. Nancy Aguilar, 8:57:20; 7. Elizabeth Finocchio, 10:14:44.
Men’s relay — 1. David Arteaga/Greg Matyas, 6:11:25; 2. David Slyker/Kyle Van Peursem, 6:27:34; 3. Craig Rohwer/Randy Burnham, 7:29:44; 4. Sean Dunham/Scott Jackson, 9:22:26.