An Off-Road adventure
Earlier start time for GJ Off-Road race getting mixed reviews
The third annual Grand Junction Off-Road mountain bike race will be spring-loaded this year.
The second annual race was nine months ago, but organizers decided to switch the big event from the Labor Day weekend to the end of May.
“The date change has been really well received,” said Todd Sadow, president of Epic Rides, which puts on the race. “A lot went into the change, including rider surveys and looking at finding an open spot in the regional and national (race) calendars.”
Epic Rides, based out of Tucson, Arizona, brought the race to Grand Junction in 2013 and it’s been growing in rider numbers ever since. Sadow expects the final registration numbers to be more than 400 amateur and professional riders.
The three-day event starts Friday in downtown Grand Junction with a Fat Tire Criterium, which features professional men and women competitors.
Saturday, the amateurs take on the challenging 30- and 40-mile courses followed by the professional races Sunday.
The course will be the same with the start-finish line downtown, and the riders hitting the dirt at the Lunch Loop area off Monument Road.
Epic Rides has modeled the event after its popular Whiskey Off-Road in Prescott, Arizona, which draws more than 1,000 riders for its April race.
Sadow said one of the considerations for moving the Grand Junction race to May was it creates some “continuity” between the Whiskey Off-Road and the Grand Junction Off-Road. He also said Epic Rides is in the process of planning a June race somewhere in the West to create a three-race schedule in three consecutive months.
The true draw of the Grand Junction Off-Road is the great trails, including the fast and technical singletrack at various places on the course.
There have been different winners every year in the professional and amateur races.
A great course
Kris Sneddon of Durango, who was third in the 2013 pro race, will be back again this year.
“Grand Junction is one of the best courses in North America,” he said. “The course has some of the nicest desert singletrack I’ve ever ridden. The race starts and finishes in downtown, which gives it an awesome vibe.”
Palisade pro rider Dave Harrison said he loves that the race features the great trails in his hometown, and he likes the schedule change to late May.
“It works better as a spring race. It’s a long race season, so it’s good to set a date when everyone is still fresh and raring to go,” he said. “(It’s) possibly the most technically demanding one-loop cross-country course on earth. I have mountain biked on four continents, and this area of Colorado has more to offer than anywhere.”
The men’s amateur race has been won by powerful single-speed riders the first two years, including last year when they finished 1-2.
Grand Junction’s Vince Anderson, 45, rode his single-speed to victory in 2013 and was second in 2014. He’s not a big fan of the date change.
“I liked the race late in the season,” he said. “I’m not in my top form this early in the season; however, this may be the case for everyone else as well.”
Many riders are not using the wet and cold spring as an excuse for lack of training this year.
“The weather has not held me back for training,” he said.
Opinions are mixed on the date change.
“I was totally bummed that the race changed to May,” said Madge Saunders, a Grand Junction amateur rider. “Besides scheduling issues for my job, it’s just too early for me to execute my goals.”
Saunders raced last year after overcoming cancer earlier in the year. This winter she had a knee injury and thought she might have to bag the Off-Road for 2015, but she recently decided she will be back in the saddle come Saturday.
“I still wish it was in August for more prep time,” she said. “I had a goal after my cancer diagnosis to ride this race, and I did that last year, which was huge. I’m having so much fun on my bike this year.”
Most people believe the temperatures will be better in late May, but Anderson would have liked the move to have been even earlier in the month.
“I think having it in mid-May would have been a good move to benefit from the beautiful desert spring,” he said.
Training schedule AFFECTED
For the pros, the date change won’t have an affect on training, but for some amateurs who spend the summer riding and training, it could have an impact.
Grand Junction’s Kristina Kittelson, who won the overall 30-mile women’s race last year, said it’s a tough task to get ready for such a grueling race in May.
“It’s definitely more challenging conditioning wise, I’ve had to put more thought into it and make sure I’m riding often,” she said. “Last year, since it was at the end of the summer, it wasn’t that big of an issue since I had been riding all summer.”
She will ride in the 40-mile race Saturday.
For Robb Parsons, the defending champ in the men’s 30-mile race, he’s not letting his hard-core riding buddies influence him.
“Yes, I’m doing the 30 again this year, despite some good-natured ribbing from my buddies,” he said. “Everyone will eventually admit the 30 is a better mountain bike course, though.”
One of the main differences in the extra 10 miles of the 40-mile race is an arduous climb up Windmill Road.
Parsons likes the date change, but he has a different challenge to overcome in his training.
“I think I’m in similar shape as last year, but I may have had a few too many beers over the winter,” he deadpanned. “It will be a tougher field, I think. I know several fast guys that are doing the 30 this time, and they will all be contenders.”
The men’s professional race will once again feature some of the top riders in the nation.
Defending champ Fernando Riveros, a Columbian riding out of Colorado Springs, is back, but women’s defending champ Chloe Woodruff will be in Europe riding in the World Cup circuit.
Ben Sonntag of Durango is also back. He won the race in 2013 and was second last year.
This year, the Grand Junction Off-Road will feature one of the most accomplished mountain bikers in the nation. Durango’s Todd Wells is a multiple national champion in cross country and cyclocross, and a multiple-time winner of the Leadville 100.
He won the cross-country national championship and Leadville 100 in 2014.