by Cody Olivas

Mail Staff Writer

To compete in the Bike Transalp mountain bike race in Austria and Italy, riders need to be at least 18 years old. Salidan Sam Kearley celebrated his 18th birthday on his plane ride to Europe and started competing in the race a few days later.

Kearley was not only the youngest rider of the roughly 700 participants in this year’s race, he also became the youngest ever to take on the seven-day stage race through the Alps.

Kearley participated in the team competition with Camden Gillis, who is about five months older. Together, they were the youngest team in the race’s history.

There were only 12 competitors in the under-23 division at the event. Of all 193 teams that competed, the Salida duo finished 115th.

“It was nice to have someone to talk to and suffer with – much better than riding alone, I think,” Gillis said. “Sam definitely helped me stay in good moods and have more fun, and I think I helped him with that too.”

The seven-day stage race began in Tux, Austria. Seven days and about 340 miles and 61,000 feet of climbing later, the race ended in Molveno, Italy.

“The climbs were definitely tough with tons of elevation gain,” Gillis said. “Oftentimes (they were) steep and tiring enough to make many riders hike. Can’t really compare much to here because we don’t have as steep or as long climbs.”

After racing from Tux to Brixen, Italy, the riders traveled to St. Vigil, Eggental, San Martino, Folgaria, Trento and Molveno. While they may have been racing through the mountains, Gillis said they rarely went a few kilometers without seeing a small village or a restaurant.

“They were all super tough but equally amazing,” Gillis said about the seven stages. “They start to all blend together once I think about it. But one stage that stuck out for me was the sixth stage. It was the shortest stage and was mostly downhill, so Sam and I decided to ditch the Lycra for the day and ride in baggy shorts and plaid shirts. We ended up moving up in places that day and got lots of comments on our fun outfits.”

Three other Salidans also competed in the Bike Transalp July 4-11, all representing Absolute Bikes in Europe.

Brent Sites, Kent Townsend and John Diesslin also took on the challenge. Shawn Gillis, who rode in the race four years ago, was also planning to compete so Absolute Bikes would have had three teams there, but he got injured a few days before the event and couldn’t attend.

Sites ended up competing in the singles masters men division. He finished 56th in the category.

Diesslin and Townsend started the race as a team. After three stages, however, Townsend was unable to continue, so Diesslin ended up being an individual finisher, placing 14th in the category.

The race attracted people from all over the world. Competitors represented more than 30 different nations.

“The atmosphere was truly amazing,” Camden Gillis said. “The race atmosphere combined with people from around the world and the sheer size of it created something really special. It was fun to meet and talk with riders from around the world and hear how and why they were at this race.”

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