Epic Rides delivers Grand Junction Off Road
Labor Day weekend! These are Holy Days on my calendar. Labor Day weekend is for racing. That is plain and simple and needs to be carried out with the fervor of one of Dan Brown’s protagonists. I am not sure what was taking place in other parts of the world, but in the Mountain West us fat tire dirt bike racers had the choice of Dakota 5-0, Park City Point 2 Point, and the Grand Junction Off Road. In some ways it is a total bummer to have to choose among these three righteous options, but it is a lot better choosing between great races instead of going to the only mediocre one available.
Grand Junction Off Road is a 2nd year event but it is put on by the masterminds that bring us 24 hours in the Old Pueblo and Whiskey 50. Not only was it the closest race to me this weekend, it all goes down in the ridiculously fun “Lunch Loop” trail network outside Grand Junction. I have only ridden there a few times but I knew that it would make for a more than outstanding race.
I loaded up my good buddy Todd Shaffer and my Podium Cycles Carbon Single Speed and headed west across the mountains on Friday afternoon. It was great to feel that dry desert air and spin out the legs before enjoying some pre race pizza on Friday night. All systems Go.
A 7 AM race start shows up pretty early. But pulling myself together in the morning was made much easier by thinking I would be done before the heat of the day starts beating down on the mesa. This race is not huge yet, it will be, all the right ingredients are here and I will be talking about the time I cruised up to the start line 5 minutes before launch. I have to say I appreciated not having to stand on the line for 45 minutes to not be stuck back in 700th position but at the same time the race has to grow and someday I will either be shelling out the bucks for front corral or catching my last few hours of sleep on the start line.
I have always had this dream of pulling out a super noisy Schwinn Airdyne stationary bike at the start and making a massive racket warming up while everyone is getting their prerace serious face on.
We were off onto 3ish miles of flat pavement that lead to the trailhead. I was on a relatively stout 34 x 18 and was the only SSer that made it with the front group to the dirt. Although it was a pretty massive effort for me to do that. I spent the next 10 minutes easy pedaling to recover from the effort. Fellow SSer Vince Anderson caught up to me a few miles in, I knew we were going to be in a battle all day long when I saw his bright Orange POC helmet come bob’ing up behind me. I was right.
We were working our way through the top 20 of the gear riders and by the first long techy trail section I think I was sitting in 5th. I moved up to third but got passed by a gear rider when I pulled in to fill up my bottle at the aid station. Having looked over a profile of the course and the fact I was looking across at the Colorado River I knew I was fixing for a big climb. I had not seen Vince for a few miles but right as I U-turned to start the long climb there he was again single speed sea sawing away at his bike. I was able to find a rhythm that seemed to be decent enough, I moved past the top three gear riders and into the lead overall by the top of the climb. I was out of water and needing to find an aid station pronto before I ever topped out. I was hoping to find water there, but it was a few more miles of rocky downhill with several short punchers before I was able to refill. The volunteers filled my bottle while I downed cups of whatever they had on the table. Off again but just a bit ahead I heard them cheering and looked down to see Vince and his violent Orange helmet still in hot pursuit.
The next section was a brutal slick rock climb. I am not sure how long or how steep, but I know I had to employ every method of willing the one gear forward to make it up and over this dang thing. Holy suffering. Finally we topped out and I took a chance skipping the last aid station in hopes I could stop losing time on the bottle fill ups and hold of Vince. We went into a long road descent, which although brought much needed rest, I also had flashbacks of Crested Butte 100 when Vince blew past me coming doing Kebler Pass. I got as aero as possible and breathed a sigh of relief when I hit trail again. It couldn’t be much further from here. Some nice techy singletrack with lots of photographers lining the course took my mind off racing for a bit. I snapped back into reality at the top of a hike a bike when I looked down and yelled, “Go home Vince, I am sick of seeing you.” He didn’t listen.
Luckily I still was punching the pedals like it was a bike race. I started seeing homes and other familiar landmarks that encouraged me to pour out the last of the energy. My arms were starting to cramp from 40 miles of tugging and rock crashing, I came to a little rise that I knew was beyond the strength my arms had left and hopped off and impressed my self with a well spirited sprint up to the top of the climb. I think I confused some spectators as to why the person at the front is sprinting up climbs on his feet, but they cheered me on anyway.
I hit pavement and started the sprint coast repeat cycle of riding a single speed as fast as possible on flat pavement. That lasted about 2 minutes before a cramp started coming on in my hamstring. No Orange helmet behind me, I tried to relax and spin, I spun but I did not really relax. I hit town and started the sprint coast routine again. Finally into downtown and across the finish line for the Win. Right at a minute later Vince came turning in. Heck of a race and pretty rad to have single speeders come in 1 and 2 in the overall.
I know there are lots of options for spending your bucks at great bike races, especially on Labor Day weekend. But I wholeheartedly recommend that you get yourself to the western slope of Colorado and take part in the next rendition of the Grand Junction Off Road. Todd Sadow and his team are putting on the best off road races on the planet. That is a fact. They are trying harder and more diligent on every aspect of the race experience than anyone else out there, and I know there are plenty of other great promoters as well. As Todd and I were sitting having Burgers and drinks with the post race bliss buzz coursing through our brains, all that we kept saying was, “that was a course I would be thrilled to go do as a trail ride any day.” And that should be the real litmus test of a great race. Beyond the prize purse, the aid stations, the course markings, the Beer garden, the live bands, the real reason we are coming to play is because the trail gives us the exact challenge, thrill, and experience we are looking for. Epic Rides delivers.
Along with having Todd Shaffer also standing on the Podium in GJ, I was proud to have Podium Performance Athletes representing at races across the country. Great work to Brad Auen and Travis Donn for 4th and 11th place finishes at Dakota 5-0. Scott Kelly for throwing down a great 9 hour Park City Point to Point. Heidi Dohse for a strong 3:59 finish at Rebecca's Private Idaho. And Marcella Renna (although we are just getting started together and I cannot take credit for her results here) for a great 12th place finish in the Hy-Vee Triathlon. It was a great weekend of results.