A ‘shredtastic’ ride
Amateur riders love challenge of Grand Junction Off-Road course
Kenny Wehn was feeling good, riding strong and comfortably at the front of the Grand Junction Off-Road 40-mile mountain bike race Saturday.
Being in the lead isn’t new to the wildland firefighter from Durango. But there were a couple of factors that conspired against the 44-year-old rider. First, as a firefighter for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, he was busy all last week battling a blaze and didn’t have the chance to get in his training rides.
Then, after the veteran firefighter set the first half of the course on fire and lit up the field on Saturday, he got lost. Or thought he was lost about two hours into the race.
“Some rain last night washed away the tire tracks and some of the markers. I just know if I don’t see markers for a while, I better wait,” he said.
When riders caught up with him, the race was back on, and Wehn again eased away from the competition on the Windmill Road climb.
“Then came that long climb and I was feeling pretty good,” he said.
But when the three lead riders — Wehn, Evan Ross and Vince Anderson — finally came together and hit the final three miles on pavement, Ross pulled away and got the win.
Throughout most of the race, Ross was hoping for a top-five finish.
“I honestly thought there was a group ahead of me,” he said.
Actually, he was right. A couple of riders took a wrong turn on the course, and Ross found himself in the lead group.
Pointing to the 44-year-old Wehn, Ross said, “That old guy is an animal. He can ride.”
Smiling, Ross, 29, called the course “shredtastic.”
“I really like (the course). It’s real mountain biking,” the Crested Butte rider said. “It’s edgy, technical, it was hard. That’s why we all mountain bike.”
Wehn, who has won the past three Whiskey 50 races in Prescott, Ariz., shrugged off his tough luck, but his frustration was still evident.
“It is what it is,” he said with a smile.
The lack of training last week took its toll late in the race, he admitted.
“You needed to be fast for three to four hours, and I was fast for about two to three hours,” he said. “At about three hours, the lights started going out for me, and they caught back up to me.”
The tough course and the heat sapped his energy, and when the three riders left the dirt, he just couldn’t hang with Ross to the finish line.
Ross finished in 3 hours, 30.55 minutes with Wehn at 3:31:07 and Anderson, who rode a single-speed bike, at 3:32:08.
Amy Nolan made it a sweep for Crested Butte riders in the 40-mile race when she won the women’s race in a time of 4:34:42.
The bulk of the amateur riders weren’t competing for podium spots or medals. Instead, they just accepted the challenge of a difficult race on the trails around Grand Junction. A total of 270 riders competed in either the 40-mile or 30-mile races.
With the finish line at Third and Main streets lined with spectators, the crowd greeted every finisher with cheers and ringing cowbells. Riders responded with fist pumps, raised arms or appreciative smiles as they completed the epic race.
Then racers mingled with one another in the finish area, sharing war stories and comparing battle scars. Some had dried blood caked to their mangled knees, and others limped from taking hard falls on the hip. Nearly every rider showed signs of fatigue but still wore proud and satisfied smiles.
Grand Junction teen wins 30-mile race
Grand Junction teen Jonah Howe plopped down on the street after winning the overall title in the 30-mile race with a time of 2:47:19. Another Grand Junction rider, Bobby Brown, finished second in 2:47:27.
“The finish,” Howe said was the best part of the race. He wasn’t smiling. “The Butterknife section was a lot of fun too.”
The 16-year-old, who goes to Grand Junction High School and has been racing for four years, said it was nice to race and win in his hometown.
“It was definitely tough, but winning the first-ever race in your own backyard is pretty sweet,” he said.
The race is put on by Epic Rides, which also organizes Prescott’s Whiskey 50. The hope is to create a national mountain bike race series that will be added to the Prescott and Grand Junction races in the future.
There was no doubt the course brutalized many of the riders.
“That was the toughest course I have ever ridden,” said Patricia Gilbert of Tucson, Ariz.
The 44-year-old said she’s been racing seriously for more than two years and has done well in a number of races, but she said this course was an unmerciful punisher.
Besides taking three falls, she said the heat and altitude proved to be difficult challenges.
When asked if she would race this course again, she smiled and said, “Ask me tomorrow, because I’m too tired to say right now.”
The course used some of the trails in the Lunch Loop area as well as in the Bangs Canyon Special Recreation Management Area.
Another veteran of the Prescott races, Christine Irelan of Colorado Springs, won Saturday’s 30-mile women’s race with a time of 3:01:19. She said it was a “fantastic” course.
“It’s a nice combination of some really technical sections, with some breathers in between, and the Jeep and fire roads,” she said. “(The singletrack) is definitely what separates people on this course because it’s definitely a technical singletrack.”
With some riders straggling in after more than seven hours of racing, many suffered on the long, technical, demanding and hot course.
For 51-year-old John Urkuski of Flagstaff, Ariz., the race was everything a mountain biker would want.
“It was epic, it had it all,” he said. “For those willing to take a moment and look around, the vistas were just great.”
He said he took time to savor the views.
The race drew riders from around the nation from as far away as Alaska, Hawaii, Pennsylvania and Georgia, plus other countries, including Canada and Spain.
Grand Junction rider and local mountain bike promoter Mike Driver, 40, finished second in the men’s masters 40-mile race. He said having a big mountain bike event is great for Grand Junction.
“It’s awesome. It brings people here from all over and shows them what we have and what we get to enjoy every day,” he said. “An event like this will bring them back.”
As far as his race and the difficult course were concerned, Driver smiled and said, “It was a good day’s work.”
The professional racers take the course today with the men and women racing on the 40-mile course.