This one will get me up to date with all the racing and travelling that’s happened since the Soldier Hollow Pro XCT. I’ll briefly cover the Grand Junction Off-Road, Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, Missoula Pro XCT, and the Carson City Off-Road, and some new and exciting updates!
Grand Junction Off-Road
The second Epic Rides weekend of the year was set in Grand Junction, Colorado and is known for being one of the most technical and physically demanding marathon races of the year. With long, sandy climbs and rough, rocky singletrack descents it really takes it out of you physically and mentally. As usual, the Epic Rides race kicks off with the El Yucateco fat tyre crit on Friday night, then the amateur races on Saturday, and finishing with the Pro men and women racing on Sunday morning.
The crit this weekend was a lot different to the one in Prescott, with no hill to make it very selective it was set to stay together for the whole 25 minutes. It did stay together, and I was able to snag the first prime again with a sprint against Howard Grotts. The main goal for this race was to avoid the crashes because when the group stays together it tends to be just a little sketchier. With three laps to go I tried a solo flyer off the front, only to be brought back at the start of the last lap and dodge the last crash of the race, meaning no contending for the sprint at the end. It was good to stay upright and again a great opener for Sunday and fun to put on a show for a big crowd!
The 40 mile backcountry race on Sunday was an exciting one for me. I couldn’t quite ride with the top guys up the first climb but managed to find a good group to ride with and was able to bridge up to Jeremiah Bishop “JB” on the “butterknife” singletrack descent. From here we were at the bottom of the windmill climb, a ~12 mile climb with varying steepness with terrain varying from sand to rocks. I did about everything I could to sit on JB’s wheel up here and we eventually caught most of the front group containing Geoff Kabush, Alex Grant, Fernando Riveros-Paez, and Russell Finsterwald. It was the technical descent after this that I struggled to get into a rhythm and my upper body felt more fatigued than my legs. I rode with Kabush and Ben Sontag for as long as I could but as I struggled more and more to stay on the smooth lines I lost began to lose the time to them. I made it down all the rough stuff and rode strong down the paved road into the finish, losing a little time in the overall but keeping my 5th place, and 8th on the day. Things to do moving forward: incorporate more gym and core work to keep strength later in these long races, as well as doing longer MTB rides with more descending to also work on these upper body muscles!
Iron Horse Bicycle Classic (IHBC)
Back to Durango for one of my favorite races of the year! I wasn’t sure if I would be able to make it to this one but am very glad that I did. The weekend has a variety of races, from the classic road event racing the train to mountain bike events, a BMX straight rhythm down main street, and running events as well. For me it was all about the road and MTB races, hoping to make my way onto the podium like I had a few years before when Keegan Swirbul won the race.
The road race started early on Saturday morning, with the weather looking good and even a little tailwind through the valley and up the climbs. I was feeling good and didn’t want anyone to sneak away in the valley similar to what had happened last year. Once we started the climbing I realized that the good legs I felt in the valley weren’t going to carry me up the hill like I was hoping. I slowly dropped off the back of the lead group on the first steep section of the climb and as it flattened out just a bit I put in a big effort to bridge back up to the top 15 or so riders. With a little time to recover before the next climb up to Coal Bank Pass (10,640ft/3,243m) things were looking a little better and I started to get some feeling back in the legs. I soon realized that this really wouldn’t be my day as the pace picked up again and I started to go backwards through the group. I decided to limit my losses up this first pass and try to pick it up again up the next pass, Molas (10,910ft/3,325m). Before this one started I could see a guy maybe 45 seconds to a minute up the road and set that as my goal. I was able to catch him before the top and ride the fast descent (>55mph/~90km/h) into Silverton on my own to finish in 11th. Not the best day on the bike for me, but also pretty cool to be racing against some big names in the sport! Congrats to Howard Grotts on another IHBC hometown win!
The road race left me motivated to really have a crack in the mountain bike race and see if I could give Howard a run for his money, although I was a little nervous after the not so great sensations yesterday. I decided to keep things hard (and maybe too hard) up the road and into the singletrack, similar plan to the Soldier Hollow Pro XCT. This went well and everyone was breathing hard as we went around the Fort Lewis College campus trails. We descended “Lion’s Den” and prepared for the steep and rocky climb up Chapman Hill (the in town ski hill) which would prove to be a decisive part of the course on the next lap. Lap two went by at a good pace, and with a lap through one of the local brewerys called Steamworks. Up the hill and around campus again we went at a reasonable pace, with Todd Wells leading our group of 6. At the bottom of Chapman Hill Howard decided it was time to show us why he won the road race yesterday and turned it up so none of us could hang. I rode the front up to the top and back into town but had spent all my biscuits. The last lap through Steamworks I grabbed one of the beers being pushed my way and it was colder than the water in my bottle, which was nice and refreshing and got a ton of cheers! I limited my losses on this last lap and rode no mans land in to 5th place, a good result considering the fast guys out there!
Missoula Pro XCT C2
I spent the next week and a half in Durango, doing some big rides on the MTB with Howard to build the diesel fitness into the second half of the season. These rides were great and we added in a fun day on the Colorado Trail with a few more mates! By doing the long training rides it’s a good way to build a foundation of fitness that is hard to do when racing every weekend because of the high level of fatigue that comes along with it. After this week I was going to drive up to Heber City, Utah and then jump in the car with Sofia Gomez-Villafañe and Evelyn Dong to get up to Missoula, Montana for the next Pro XCT round.
The Missoula Pro XCT is well known for A. How late the start is (7pm), B. The classic “ski resort” style lap, with a long climb and quick descent, and C. The drop, one that looks scary from the top with the narrow landing between trees and high speed exit. Again, I had high expectations of myself leading into this race and wanted to prove that I could race at the front end of the field in the XC races. The race unfolded similar to the IHBC mountain bike race last weekend, and a strong start led to suffering legs in the second half of the race. Even though we were at lower altitude I felt like I didn’t have the top end I needed to ride with the guys at the front… This could definitely be a result of the week spend doing the “diesel” rides with Howard. I came across the line in 7th, still enough for a couple UCI points and a large dose of motivation to work on the high intensity side of my fitness.
Short track on Sunday was another interesting one, at the start line the clouds were light although the forecast was for some rain to come down. The first 10 minutes went well with a select group of ~six guys racing for the podium before the sky darkened and the rain and hail started to come down. This made the track get a little more slippery each lap we went around and I was reminded that growing up in Alice Springs didn’t really prepare me for rain making a track slippery, not tacky… I hung in there to finish in 5th and grab the last spot on the podium and a six pack from Big Sky Brewing which went down nicely after the race. Now it was time to get back to Heber City and do the last little preparations for the Carson City Off-Road.
ps. No sweet photos from this one because no Kenny Wehn... He was at GoPro Mountain Games instead.
Carson City Off-Road
The third race of the Epic Rides series in Carson City, Nevada is the only one that I did last year and I was excited to do their planned course this year (last year was a shorter loop with 3 laps because the high parts of the course still had too much snow to ride bikes). This weekend would also show if the training at higher altitude had made any difference to being able to race at elevation (the highest point on this course is around 6,700ft/~2040m). Howard and I also got to stay at the same awesome host house as last year, with Keith and Andrea lending us access to their house as though we are family. We loved staying with them and their family for this awesome weekend, and Keith is super rad and does the Saturday 50 miler and gives us inside tips for the course!! As always, Todd and the Epic Rides crew were going to show why their races attract so many people no matter where they are in the country.
The Fat Tyre Crit
This one was set to be similar to the Grand Junction crit as it was flat an didn’t have a whole lot to separate the field. They decided to have a prime on the first lap of the race which always causes some chaos which I decided not to be a part of this weekend, instead trying to save my legs to get onto the podium at the end. The race was fast and hard for most of the 25 minutes, and Keegan Swenson was alone off the front for most of the second half. With three laps to go, Garrett Gerchar and I bridged across, thinking that the group was not going to make it up to Keegan before the finish. I did everything I could to hang on for those last couple laps but dropped off the back and was swamped by the charging field, who also swamped Keegan and Garrett only two corners from the finish. Oh well, it was worth the effort and with the main focus on the 52 mile backcountry race on Sunday I was going to rest and recover to be firing on all cylinders.
52 mile Backcountry
It was tense at the cold start line on Sunday, with ominous clouds swallowing the mountain we were about to climb up and pretty much everyone wearing warmer clothes than at the previous events. Similar to Missoula, about ten minutes into the race it started to hail and rain and I was expecting a long and cold day on the bike. The cold didn’t last too long though, especially as Keegan and Howard cranked it up the fire road and into the singletrack climb, making everyone else chase. I was caught behind a crash in the first corner of singletrack and from there it would be chasing all day. After the first ten miles of singletrack we came out onto the long fireroad climb, one that suited me because it was mostly gradual and not too steep. I managed to get into a little group with Cypress Gorry and Sandy Floren and we worked up the climb to the first official feedzone where a big chasing group caught us, including my overall rivals Kabush, Riveros-Paez, and Alex Grant. I was still feeling pretty good at this point so twisted the screws as we climbed higher up to Marlette Lake before hitting the flume trail. Our group went from about ten riders down to four of us, again Cypress, Sandy and I were together along with Jerry Dufour. As we wound our way along the side of a big cliff overlooking Lake Tahoe, it was hard to focus on the racing and not get caught up on the amazing view (and miraculously blue skies!). Coming off the flume trail there was another feedzone and just after that I decided I needed as much time as possible on Kabush before the descent. I rode the top as hard as I could because the long descent would give enough time to recover before the last 3 miles of pavement to finish. To be sure Kabush didn’t catch me I was sprinting out of every corner on the descent, choosing to ditch the recovery because the downhills have been where I am caught at all the previous Epic Rides races. This plan worked and I maintained my spot in no mans land for the last ~20 miles into the finish. Similar to the Soldier Hollow Pro XCT, this race made me feel a sense of belonging near the front of the race, finishing 5th and about 2.5 minutes behind the winner I looked at the split times and after losing the initial time in the first hour, the next two and a half hours were consistently about the same speed as theirs. What did I take away from today? Even in the longer races I need to focus a little more on warming up so that I can stay with the front group of guys early in the race to be sure I have the opportunity to sprint for the finish.
After the race, Howard and I drove to Ely, Nevada to camp on our way back home. We decided to go for a little mountain bike ride and see if we could find some local trails... We ran into a guy riding the trails on his way home from work and he pointed us to the local 'secret' trail and we were treated to this view from the top.
What else is new?!
I’ve thrown in a local(ish) Colorado race this weekend called the Crested Butte Fat Tyre 40, it’s part of the CB Bike Week which looks super awesome and I wish I’d gotten my act together to be there on Wednesday. Oh well, I’ll just have to enjoy the festival atmosphere after the race tomorrow!
And last but definitely not least, the Selle SMP Mongolia Bike Challenge. This race is something I’ve looked at since Payson Mcelveen did it in our last year of college and Justin Morris did it last year. I’ve heard great things and it looks like a really tough race, with stages ranging from 45km to 145km and staying in a travelling camp of Gers/Yurts/Tents for the week on the Mongolian Steppes. There are still spots available, so if you haven’t gotten your adventure fix for the year (and are free from August 10-18) click here and check it out! If not this year then maybe pencil it in for next year.
That’s all for now, thanks for reading, and I’ll try to keep the next ones a little shorter