Grotts cruises in GJ Off-Road race
An Olympian conquered the Grand Junction Off-Road.
Actually, Howard Grotts annihilated it.
Riding a course that went from 40 to 43 miles, Grotts still churned through the demanding and technical course in 2 hours, 57 minutes, 14 seconds.
Canadian Geoff Kabush was a little more than three minutes back in second place.
Grotts, who’s from Durango, dominated the men’s professional race on Sunday, which was his first time racing in Grand Junction.
“Out of the whole Epic Rides series, this is the most technical course is what I heard, and racing it today, backed that up,” he said. “It’s a little shorter course (than other Epic Ride races), but all the rocks and technical parts make up for that.”
Grotts rode for Team USA in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics last year but had mechanical issues that thwarted his chances at a medal.
In the first four years of the Grand Junction Off-Road, the long Climb on Windmill Road has been the attack point, and this year was no different.
“All of Butterknife and all of Windmill was new to me, which maybe was a good thing because you don’t know how long the climb is, so you go hard the whole time,” he said. “As soon as Windmill started, I figured that was my best chance to get away.”
After placing second in the Whiskey Off-Road in Prescott, Arizona, Grotts, 24, is also targeting a win in the Epic Rides series. And that’s why he kept the hammer down after he got a gap.
“I had no idea where they were after the climb, so I just went hard the rest of the way. This series is going to be decided on accumulative time so you have to try and get every minute you can,” he said.
There have been five different champions at the Grand Junction Off-Road, but Grotts is now the third Durango rider to take the crown.
Durango’s Ben Sonntag won the first Grand Junction race and then placed second the next three years. He was fourth on Sunday.
Two-time winner in women’s race
Katerina Nash has ridden the Grand Junction Off-Road twice and has won it twice to become the first two-time winner.
The Emeryville, California rider posted a time of 3:38:12 to beat Amy Beisel of Colorado Springs by 3:32.
Nash has a good handle on the demands of the rocky course, riding hard at times and being conservative at other times.
“I wanted to get into the singletrack first, that was my goal, but it’s such a long race,” she said.
Even after she got the lead, she wanted to conserve her energy and make sure she didn’t go too hard too early.
“The second half is just hard, hard, hard, there’s so much climbing and there’s so much left in the race. I wanted to go harder but you just kinda maintain it,” Nash said. “Most of the singletrack, there’s so much out there, and you’re a couple hours into it, and your reflexes aren’t as quick, and so I’m really trying to remind myself to slow down a little.”
With a total purse of $30,000 split evenly between men and women, there’s big money up for grabs. The winners take home $5,000.
For Fort Lewis College grad Sofia Gomez Villafane, a third-place finish was special.
“I’m pretty excited because $2,000 is about 10 months of student loan payments,” she said laughing.
The 23-year-old finished sixth last year but “cracked” on the Windmill climb after not drinking enough water.
She said the course is extremely demanding, but that’s what makes it so rewarding.
“It’s extremely difficult, my back is really hurting, but then again, that’s what makes it the most fun, and the winners are truly the most complete all-around riders,” she said.
Two local women placed in the top 10 with Grand Junction’s Alexis Skarda in seventh and Fruita’s Sparky Moir in ninth.
The pro race has grown steadily over the five years with 63 men and 22 women racing on Sunday.