A gnarly ride
New GJ Off-Road course still challenges mountain bikers
With tired smiles and slumping, fatigued shoulders, riders cruised across the finish line one by one.
The Grand Junction Off-Road mountain bike race has a way of extracting a physical toll.
When those tired riders gathered in downtown Grand Junction on Saturday, to regale their tales of a tough but rewarding race, those smiles lingered long after the finish.
After some cold and wet weather, Saturday turned out to be an ideal day for racing for the 399 amateurs.
“It was perfect, I call it performance weather, you start cold and work into it. Last year was too hot,” said Grand Junction’s Robb Parsons, who won the 30 Grand Men’s Open division.
The 40 Grand race, which was about 43 miles, turned into a one-rider show when Cary Smith from Jackson, Wyoming, ran away with the men’s race. His winning time of 3 hours, 29 minutes, 9 seconds was more than seven minutes faster than the second-place finisher.
Placing second in the 40 Grand was 16-year-old Levi Gavette of Carbondale, who had an impressive day on the bike.
He wasn’t the only youngster to do well Saturday. The overall winner of the women’s 30 Grand race was 12-year-old Ruth Holcomb of Durango, who completed the 30-plus miles in 3:13.08.
Holcomb said her parents got her involved in mountain biking and racing when she was very young so she is undaunted by difficult singletrack riding.
“I like technical riding so this was really really fun for me. It was definitely difficult but I really enjoyed it,” she said.
Her parents also raced Saturday, with mom Tracie in the 30 Grand and dad Tom in the 40 Grand.
Ruth, who races in the Junior Female category, said she’s raced against adults for so long that she’s not intimidated by it.
“For a while it was (intimidating) but I race against them so much that I’m not anymore, and I know that I’m not really racing against them,” she said.
Ultimately, she said her goal is to someday make the Olympic team.
Grand Junction’s Lisa Roberts was second overall and first in the women’s open category in a time of 3:23.20.
Still a gnarly course
When it comes to the Grand Junction Off-Road course, one word is always passed around: Gnarly.
This year, race organizer Epic Riders out of Tucson, Arizona, decided to tweak the course for the fifth annual race. Some of the more difficult singletrack sections were removed.
That didn’t mean the course was easy.
“I just like mountain biking, it’s all good. Gunny is gnarly, too. Gunny takes skill,” Parsons said.
Andy’s Loop, which always took a toll on riders, was replaced by the Gunny Loop section. The new section was met with positive reviews.
“When I heard they took away Andy’s, I was a little bummed but I think (the new course is) an improvement,” Smith said. “(Gunny) is a fun trail, too, and it flows the whole time. Andy’s Loop really has some grinds but Gunny Loop is fun the whole way, which is a nice way to finish.”
Smith, 48, raced in the professional category last year and was in the top 15 until he came to Andy’s Loop. That’s where he broke his rear derailleur and his hopes of a top-15 finish were done.
But he came to Grand Junction this year expecting to do well in the amateur race.
“I kinda wanted to win it,” he said smiling.
When it comes to the 40 Grand, it’s all about staying fast through the technical sections and attacking on the Windmill Hill climb. That’s what Smith did. After getting a gap on the long climb, he was all alone all the way to the finish.
The men’s 30 Grand was a four-person battle for much of the race.
Durango’s Kenny Wehn, 48, finally got a small gap on the 36-year-old Parsons to take the overall 30 Grand men’s title with a time of 2:31.38 to beat Parsons by 23 seconds.
Taylor Bushong of Grand Junction was third.
Wehn has raced in all five Grand Junction Off-Road races, placing in the top five overall every time — twice in the 40 and twice in the 30 — but this was his first overall win.
He knew he had to be patient since there were several local riders with him in the race.
“I had some of the local boys with me, so they were a little faster on the descents,” he said smiling. “Some of those (descents) made me a little nervous.”
Wehn stuck to his strategy of letting the locals blast the descents while he waited to hammer the uphills.
He put a little distance between himself and the three other riders, but then Parsons ripped through another technical section and turned it into a two-rider race.
“We were battling and there was another climb that I went by him on, then I went all in from there and held on,” Wehn said.
The Grand Junction Off-Road has long earned the reputation as one of the most technical race courses in the West. On Saturday, that reputation was once again upheld.
Dax Massey, 42, of Denver placed eighth overall riding a single speed in his first-ever Grand Junction Off-Road.
“I kinda knew what to expect because I’ve ridden these trails before and I just love the technicality of them,” he said. “They are so difficult and fun, it really separates the men from the boys, so to speak, when it comes to technical riding.”
Marilyn Kastens was all smiles after picking up her award for first place in the 30 Grand Distinguished Female category.
“It’s more of a challenge for me. When I turned 60, I said ‘what can I do?’ The other time I did this, I did horribly, so I was ready this time,” she said.
The professional men’s and women’s races are today.