18 Hours of Fruita gives riders a chance to relax, race

Around and around they go. Mile after mile, hour after hour, fat tire fanatics will grind away around a seven-plus-mile loop for up to 18 hours.

The 18 Hours of Fruita is an annual mountain biking tradition that celebrates its ninth year this weekend at Highline Lake State Park.

Starting at midnight as Friday turns to Saturday and ending at 6 p.m. Saturday, 102 teams and more than 450 riders will take part. Categories include solo and teams of two, four and six to eight.

The event draws all levels of off-road cyclists. Even though it is a grueling event, it’s also a laid-back, casual affair.

That was how George Gatseos described the event. As one of the event’s promoters who works at Over the Edge Sports in Fruita, Gatseos said it’s all about fun.

“The people really make it successful. It’s a fun, laid-back event and a great place for a yearly event,” he said.

For hard-core mountain bike racer Ross Schnell, the 18 Hours of Fruita allows him to unwind and relax.

“It’s a more casual race weekend, probably more than any event I go to,” he said.

Getting a break from his normal stressful race schedule is something Schnell relishes, and this year he will be pulling a few laps for the Over the Edge Sports team.

Schnell said the course isn’t real technical, but it offers some subtle challenges.

“It’s not overly technical, but there’s a lot of corners, and it’s hard to ride it real fast,” he said. “It gets pretty powdery at the end of the day.”

Schnell and Gatseos said the venue is one of the great appeals of the event.

“It’s a unique place to have a mountain bike race, but it really works,” Schnell said.

Gatseos said the venue, with lots of campsites, trees, the lake and a fun mountain biking loop, are all reasons why riders keep coming back year after year.

The event sells out virtually every year, and the team number is capped.

Schnell, who is looking forward to dialing his competitive spirit back for the event, said he enjoys seeing all levels of riders having fun.

“These riders are more weekend warrior than fierce competitor, and that’s what makes it special,” he said.

It may be a casual event, but it’s still a race, and the competitive juices will be pumping for many riders and teams.

Schnell added springtime in Mesa County is a great time to get on the bike.

“It’s the best time of the year. Trails are in great shape. People are jazzed to get back on their bike,” he said.

For spectators who want to catch some action, there is a $7 fee to get into the park.

To get to the park, take the Loma exit off Interstate 70, then north onto Colorado Highway 139 for six miles to Q Road. Go west on Q road for 1.2 miles, then turn north onto 11.8 Road for one mile to the park entrance.

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