Howe plans to bump up race length
Jonah Howe slumped onto his handlebars and breathed in the sweet taste of victory.
But really he was just sucking in as much precious oxygen as possible after a grueling 30-mile race.
With both grime and fatigue pasted on his face, he managed a proud smile after being the first rider across the finish line in the Grand Junction Off-Road 30-mile race last year.
Now 17, the Grand Junction High School senior is ready to tackle the 40-mile race.
“It was definitely satisfying to win a race in my backyard,” he said. “I thought it was time to move up and race the 40 this year.”
Last year, Howe finished in 2 hours, 47.19 minutes to claim the junior male title and edge Bobby Brown, also of Grand Junction, by eight seconds for the overall 30-mile victory.
Howe knows the challenge of an extra 10 miles will be huge.
“I’ve ridden the 40-mile course, and obviously there’s some elements that are going to make it a lot more difficult,” he said. “I wouldn’t say I’m nervous, but I just know it’s going to be a hard race.”
Howe and Brown were part of more than 300 amateur riders who raced one of three courses — 40, 30 and 15 miles — during last year’s inaugural event.
Reflecting on the physical impact of the 30-mile race, Howe remembers hitting the technical part of the Andy’s Loop section late in the race.
“That section to the Tabeguache parking lot, I was so tired at that point,” he said. “Then you have to go through that technical section when you’re really fatigued.”
The youngster doesn’t have any lofty goals now that he’s racing the 40-mile course in the men’s open category.
“With the 40, I don’t necessarily have any goals (on placing), I just have a time goal,” he said. “If I can finish in under four-and-a-half hours, I’ll be happy.”
Brown, who was crowned the men’s open division champ, will also be moving to the 40-mile race this year.
He said racing last year was a memorable time.
“Honestly, riding in the inaugural event was an experience I couldn’t pass up,” he said. “To win that wine bottle that says inaugural Grand Junction Off-Road first place is the best trophy I will ever own, because in 20 years when this event has thousands of competitors, I will know that I was in the very first one.”
The 31-year-old rider knows this will be a harsh test of his abilities and conditioning.
“Those extra 10 miles are all uphill, which will add at least an hour to my time,” he said.
Dave Grossman, event director for the Grand Junction Off-Road, said last year was a huge success with more than 300 professional and amateur riders competing. He said it’s great to have a professional race, but it’s the amateurs who make the event special.
“The amateur races bring in more than 300 riders, and they get to ride the great trails we have and check out our great community,” he said, adding there are hundreds of family members and friends who also come to Grand Junction for the event to support the men and women who race.
Grand Junction’s Madge Saunders, 43, finished fifth in the women’s 30-mile open category, and she will be back for another 30-mile race this year.
“A group of us decided to just go out and do 30 miles on our home turf, and loved it,” she said about last year.
The fact the event is growing and continues to benefit the community is a big appeal for Saunders.
“I like the fact that Grand Junction brought the race to the area. It’s a good way to bring money into the valley,” she said
On Saturday, while Howe is grinding away on the 40-mile course, his dad John Howe will be taking on the 30-mile course.
Jonah Howe also competes with the local high school mountain biking team that’s made up of riders from several Mesa County schools. The Colorado High School Cycling League season begins Sept. 6.
He said he loves competition, and mountain bike racing offers variety.
“For me, I just love to go out and race a new course every time, it’s never the same,” he said. “Even on the same course, you can expect a totally different race.”
Just like last year, the Grand Junction Off-Road will be a grueling challenge for all of the amateurs. But it will be a satisfying accomplishment when they cross that finish line.