Chambers takes GJOR 40-miler with single-speed
Breakneck speed means something different to Cameron Chambers.
The Colorado Springs rider came to Grand Junction on a mission and was soon on the fast track to victory Saturday in the Grand Junction Off-Road 40-mile amateur race. But one year ago, he was on the slow track to recovery after a wicked mountain bike crash near Pikes Peak.
“I clipped a tree and slammed headfirst into another tree,” Chambers said with the nonchalant attitude of a mountain biker. But it was serious.
Six hours after eating bark, he was off the mountain and in the hospital, diagnosed with a broken neck and broken back.
“It feels good to be back,” he said Saturday with a satisfying smile.
It took eight months of recovery and another eight weeks of physical therapy before he was back in the saddle.
This year’s 40-mile race was unique because the first- and second-place overall finishers rode single-speed bikes, an impressive feat.
Chambers finished the course in 3 hours, 32 minutes, 45 seconds and held off Grand Junction’s Vince Anderson, who finished in 3:33.50.
The 32-year-old Chambers cruised through the 40-mile course with his take-no-prisoners philosophy.
“I knew my gear was pretty big, and my racing strategy is to always just go right from the gun,” he said. “Make people hurt, make them chase you, make them make mistakes. Sometimes it backfires, but I found that it’s easier to do than just wait around and try to be strategic.”
He was hammering the course from the start and was in the top 10 at the first singletrack section and in the top five after the first climb. Then, it became a two-rider race between two powerful, single-speed riders.
“Vince caught up with me about five or six miles in, and that’s when I thought, ‘All right, game on,’ ” Chambers said.
Anderson said the large gear that Chambers used made the difference in the race.
“If you can push it, which obviously he can, it’s really good,” Anderson said about the large gear.
Anderson, who finished third overall last year, carved into Chambers’ lead on the climbs, but once they went over the top, Chambers pulled away again.
Relaxing with his wife and three kids at the finish, Anderson said the race was tough, and he was satisfied with second place, admitting he probably could not have gone any faster.
“I felt really good,” he said. “I didn’t have anything left when I got in. I left it all out there on the course.”
Late in the race, ignoring the challenge of a long course and mashing a big single gear, Chambers kept the pressure on.
“I was still feeling pretty sprightly and still had some punch in my legs, so I liked my chances at that point,” he said.
The one area where single-speed riders have the toughest test is on the climbs. They can’t pick an easier gear to help them get to the top. Chambers joked that he’s always gathering information about the course.
“I’m always asking people on the side about the trail, and the information is wrong like 90 percent of the time,” he said, grinning. “If I had a nickel for every time someone said it’s all downhill from here, I’d be a rich man.”
For Jonah Howe, a 17-year-old Grand Junction rider, the jump from 30 to 40 miles proved to be a smooth move.
“I beat my goal for sure. It went a lot better than last year,” he said. “I definitely prepared better this year, and my nutrition on the course was a lot better this year.”
After winning the 30-mile race last year, he finished the 40-mile race in 3:50.28 to place 11th. He easily won the junior male category.
Racing in the women’s masters division, Joan Orgeldinger, 48, won the overall women’s title in 4:21.16.
She didn’t do the race last year and wondered what she got herself into this year.
“I endo’d in the first 30 minutes,” the Denver woman said with a smile, referring to an over-the-handlebars crash. “The first 30 miles was good, and the last 10 miles were tough.”
She admitted she was on survival mode the final 10 miles but hung on for the win over runner-up Amy Nolan of Crested Butte (4:40:59). Grand Junction’s Ginny Jeppi was third in 4:42:36.
Fatigued and satisfied, Orgeldinger admitted the course took its toll on her physically.
“Now, I have to just work on riding more, so I don’t get so dang tired,” she said, smiling.
Looking rather refreshed, and yes, sprightly, after a grueling 40-mile victory, Chambers was thrilled with the win.
“It feels real good. To go out and win and race against a great competitor (Anderson) on his home turf is great,” he said.
He also couldn’t help but think about that painful crash last year. It even had him adjust his breakneck mentality about the sport a little.
“I think I’ve been on the rivet for a while, always trying to get faster and faster, and these bikes we have today are so good, and you can go so fast,” he said. “But this year, I’ve been a little more chilled.”
On Saturday, his ride was anything but chilled. He hammered that one gear to the fullest for 40 miles. He buried the field and in the process buried some of the memories of a nasty crash that could have been even worse.