June 16, 2013 Updated: June 16, 2013 at 10:00 pm
The two signature races at Sunday's KMC Classic took on an international feel when a pair of foreign-born cyclists, both of whom now call Colorado home, cruised to victories at Palmer Park.
Frenchwoman Caroline Mani overcame a sluggish start to win the women's elite race, while Rotem Ishay, who moved to Durango from his native Israel three years ago, led wire to wire in the men's event as both earned the title of Colorado state cross country champion.
Sunday's races attracted 225 athletes in a variety of classes, ranging in three categories of men's and women's divisions and down to juniors that created an all-around day of mountain bike riding on the challenging, technical dirt and rock trails.
Mani, 26, the former French national champion racing for the Raleigh-Clement team, dug herself a sizeable hole early in the five-lap women's race. In fourth place after the first two loops around the 4.3-mile track, the two-year Colorado Springs resident didn't panic and managed to surge to the front heading into the final two laps.
"I've been sick the last two weeks, and it took my legs a while to warm up," Mani said. "I knew I wasn't too far behind. By the third lap, I started to feel better and I wasn't worried. I'm usually stronger at the end anyway."
Mani finished the 21.5 mile-race in 1 hour, 40 minutes and 11 seconds, more than one minute ahead of Rebecca Gross, representing Tough Girl Cycling of Denver.
Ishay, 24, started fast but couldn't shake Colombian-turned-Colorado Springs racer Hector Riveros, the two separated by just two seconds after the first two laps of the six-lap, 25-mile race. The advantage increased to eight seconds following the next loop, then it opened up to 30 seconds following an aggressive move coupled with mechanical problems.
From there, Ishay continued to lead by a wide margin, crossing the finish line 2:04 before Riveros. Ishay finished in 1:36.28.
"I had a small gap, and I knew it was my time halfway through the race to make that gap bigger so he can't see me on the trail," Ishay said. "From there on, I had to keep it going all the way through the finish."
Ishay grew up in Netanya, about 20 miles from Tel Aviv, and fell in love with mountain biking, more of an activity than a competitive sport in Israel. To get to that next level, he knew he'd have to find a new home.
He found it in Durango, where he recently graduated from Fort Lewis College and also serves as assistant coach on the school's club cycling team.
"At Fort Lewis, I fell in love with the possibility of academics with a high level of racing. I had never done a race for a state championship, so for me, it's a big deal to win it."
Riveros, from the capital city of Bogota, moved to Colorado Springs just one year ago. His inexperience with some of the city's trails cost him when his chain, perhaps too long for the bumpy terrain, fell off and forced him to lose valuable time.
"My chain fell off like 10 times, and it was bumpier than I was expecting," Riveros said. "Mechanics is part of the game. This is my home now, and I can't complain too much about being second."