A variety in the schedule and fun was the name of the game this mtb season and I have to give huge props to Epic Rides out of Tucson for making this happen. It started early in the season with the Whiskey 50 and this past weekend I raced in the inaugural Grand Junction Off-Road aka the Grand 40.
Gand Junction is cool. The Grand 40 is cool. Here's why: Epic Rides puts on a race that reminds me of the old days of Norba when there was a buzz in the air, an excitement about the races. The entire community is involved, people are stoked, and race courses are not dumbed down. You travel to new MTB destinations and race on real MTB trails for big prize money. Its the way a pro racer wants it to be, its the way a supporting community wants it to be, and its the way Todd Sadow from Epic Rides wants it to be. It just works for everyone.
The race for me started with a Thursday flight from Appleton - MSP - SLC - Grand Junction. We arrived at the airport and had a sweet Ford Aerostar limo and hilarious driver back to the hotel. Friday morning we woke up and walked down to Main Street Bagels for a cup o Joe to get the weekend started.
Once awake Chris and I went out to pedal around and pre-rode the 15 Grand race course. This allowed us to see the first 7 miles of our race course and the last. Definitely some techy stuff! Like I said before REAL mountain biking.
Friday evening was the Fat Tire Crit. A way for the racers to give back to the community by putting on a good show and race circles downtown while the spectators drink beer and listen to live music. Definitely a festival type atmosphere. The race doesn't mean much to the racers except for a call up on Sundays XC race and some sponsorship exposure. Some take it serious and others try to save there legs for Sunday.
I was feeling pretty good about 15 minutes into the race. Troy Wells and Ben Sonntag were off the front. I was ready to go for the win and was marking Carl Decker as the guy to beat. With a lap and a half to go I had a good feeling we were not going to bring back the 2 leaders and I settled in for the field sprint. I jumped on the high speed backside straightaway and was able to rip the last 3 corners to win the field sprint and finish 3rd! I was pumped and feeling good about Sunday.
Saturday was the hardest day. A full day of not much going on. Its hard to kill that much time in a hotel room, but important to stay rested. We did a little more recon of the course on Saturday and then went into chill mode. Chris and I did a Indiana Jones marathon and then went for a dinner with Trav and Chloe.
Sunday morning it was nice and early to avoid the heat of the day. We were on the start line at 7:30am. And then we were off. 40 miles of serious MTB action. What scared me a little was that 25 miles were unknow and somewhere in there was 1:00 hour of climbing and 1 hour of some serious descending with some big drops and open exposure. Turns out the descents were pretty awesome. After the first 30 minutes of racing/climbing I was letting the leaders go and trying to stay below the red line which is important for a flat lander to do while at altitude. However I was ripping the descents pretty good and was able to hook up with Carl Decker and at the bottom of the 45 minute descent we were a group of 6 battling for the win. Ben Sonntag, Sepp Kuss, Chris Baddick, Carl, Kris Sneddon, and myself.
We started the long climb out of the river valley and 3 guys attacked. Carl and I were in 4th and 5th and Sneddon was fading. By the top of the climb Decker was 10 seconds up on me. On the following high speed descents I was really letting it rip trying to close the gap, but in doing so got off line a few times. Sneddon caught back on and then proceeded to drop me up the super hard 1.5 mile slick rock climb. 15 minutes of brutal exposed, sun beating down on you, steep climbing. I was now in survival mode and limped to the finish line in 6th place.
Overall super happy I made it out to GJ. Big Thanks to Chris Peariso for twisting my arm. I'll definitely be back next year.