Another Epic event
GJ Off-Road highlights mountain bike experience for second year
Mountain bikers, more than 350 strong, are back and ready to exorcise their competitive demons and take on one of the most grueling race courses anywhere.
It’s the Grand Junction Off-Road, back for a second year.
“Last year went great,” said Dave Grossman, event director for Epic Rides. “We had a good turnout, and we surveyed people and had an overwhelming response, everyone was very supportive of the event.
“It was a rousing success. The city was very pleased, the county was pleased, all of our partners in the process were pleased with the event.”
Some of those responses from amateur and professional competitors were rather astounding.
“We heard some of them say it was one of the top five (mountain bike) events in the world. Some called it one of the top five courses in the world,” Grossman said. “That makes us feel pretty good.”
The three-day competition starts tonight with professional riders racing a fat tire criterium and Klunker Crit in downtown Grand Junction. Saturday is when the amateur riders take on the 30- and 40-mile courses, and Sunday the pros race the 40-mile course.
More than 350 competitors, including 41 professionals, competed last year, and Grossman expects a larger number of riders this year.
With most of the race course on public lands, the Bureau of Land Management issues permits for the race.
Chris Pipkin, outdoor recreation planner for the BLM, echoed Grossman’s comments about last year’s race.
“With any first-year event, we had a few bumps, but overall it went well,” he said.
Pipkin said the BLM is keeping a close eye on the event to see how many riders the event can accommodate.
Epic Rides has modeled the event after its popular Whiskey Off-Road in Prescott, Arizona, which drew more than 1,000 riders in April. Last year, Epic Rides organizers said the goal is to slowly grow the Grand Junction event, possibly reaching as many as 2,000 competitors.
The course will be the same as last year with the start-finish lines downtown, and the riders hitting the dirt at the Lunch Loop area off Monument Road.
“The great thing about this event is its strong connection between the urban community and the natural environment of the trail system on public lands, which is how local folks have been enjoying this area for years,” Katie Stevens, manager of the Grand Junction BLM office, said in a news release.
Grossman said the ultimate goal is to bring a competitive mountain bike race to the area, which will then be a great benefit to the community.
“The whole event is to highlight our trails and to highlight our great downtown,” he said.
The downtown area will host a number of other events, including a mountain bike and gear expo, music and a beer garden.
With more than 85 percent of the competitors coming from outside Mesa County, Grossman said the event showcases the mountain bike trails and the city to hundreds of visitors.
Pipkin agreed that’s what makes the event so beneficial.
“Obviously, it’s neat to be able to showcase some of those trails to riders from outside the area,” he said. “So, it not only highlights the public lands that the trails are on, but also the downtown and the community in general.”
The course is one of the most rugged and demanding in the nation.
“It’s a real mountain bike race,” professional rider Chris Baddick said.
The England native explained the trails are so technical and physically demanding that it takes optimum mountain biking skills to do well.
“It caters to the pros, but it’s still acceptable to the other riders, so there’s a good balance,” he said.
That balance might be disputed by some amateurs because the grueling course offers a tremendous challenge.
“It may have been more challenging than some of the less experienced amateurs were prepared for,” Grossman said.
For Keith Sullivan, who took over as the owner of LTR Sports in Grand Junction in late July, everything about the event is good for the area.
“I was so pleased to see it come here last year,” he said. “The fact that it was downtown and used it as the start/finish, and the community atmosphere, was great.”
When he was at the start line last year, Sullivan said he chatted with riders from “all over,” including Hawaii, Virginia, Arizona and Utah.
Sullivan, 46, said he’s been racing for many years, and the course is as tough as advertised.
“I’ve raced a lot around the state, and that’s right up there with the toughest,” he said.
One of the BLM’s concerns with the race is access to a number of the public trails will be limited for large portions of Saturday and Sunday. Trails will not be closed entirely, just limited during the race.
Pipkin said they put up signage and have tried to alert users in advance to advise them to find other riding options for the weekend.
Pipkin said there was little damage from last year, and the BLM has larger concerns with spectators than the riders. He wants to encourage spectators to limit their impact and stay on trails or in designated viewing areas as much as possible.
As for possible rain, the BLM has a weather contingency plan written into the permit.
“If conditions aren’t conducive and could possibly damage trails, we have options to modify (the race), postpone or even cancel,” Pipkin said.
Now in its second year, the Grand Junction Off-Road is quickly gaining a reputation as a great mountain bike race and a fun time over the Labor Day weekend.
All of the agencies involved were happy after last year’s success, and they’re expecting a repeat performance this weekend.
“We can appreciate how important this event is to the local community,” said Chris Joyner, BLM public affairs specialist. “There’s a huge financial economic impact on the area, and we’re happy to see that.”