June 4, 2014 Updated: June 5, 2014 at 8:45 am
Colorado Springs is beginning to feel like home for Fernando Riveros.
The Colombian cyclist moved to town from his home country, where he serves as a member of the national team, three years ago and has been training to get acclimated ever since. According to Riveros, the land he covers here compared to what he's known his whole life has a night and day difference.
He's taking more steps in learning the ropes of his environment that includes thin air and steep, rocky terrain. Riveros has started to settle in, which was clear Wednesday night when he claimed victory in the Ascent Cycling Series' first race at Palmer Park.
"I like to say that I'm a Colorado Springs guy now," Riveros said. "This isn't really often what I do. In Colombia, we don't really have this type of course, it's a lot more technical. I'm not used to it but I come here to practice my laps in the rocky sections."
Adaptation was also a factor in the professional category on the women's side. Caroline Mani overcame a rough start to edge Tracy Thelen for the first-place finish. Not accustomed to this year's shorter version of the course, Mani fell behind for the first two laps, which measured 2.15 miles.
However, once she found her ability to produce quick speed, she closed the gap Thelen had built before making her own and taking it across the finish line in 1:03.02. Thelen was three minutes behind at 1:06.00.
"It was really tough for me for about the first half an hour. Tracy got off to a really good start and it felt like it took me the first two laps to really get warmed up and get the feel for my mountain bike," Mani said. "I wasn't expecting the course like that but it was fun once I got over the early mistakes."
Defending champion JJ Clark put up an effort to defend his race crown Wednesday but went home with third after clocking a time of 1:02.24. Local racer Cameron Chambers repeated his second-place finish from 2013, crossing the line at 1:00.17. Riveros was the only competitor out of 115 total to post a sub-one hour time, completing the 12.9-mile course in 59:28.
"It's exciting because JJ and Cameron are fast guys and I have a lot of respect for them. It's nice to ride with them," Riveros said. "But I was out here finding my speed and it's exciting to start with a win."
The second race of the five-stage Ascent Cycling series will take place June 18 at Bear Creek Terrace.