Keeping it simple: Sonntag, Smith win cross-country race using front-suspension bikes

Benjamin Sonntag of Durango works a steep inclined section of the 30-mile course Sunday near Westwater, Utah. Sonntag won the race with a time of 2 hours, 1 minute, 30 seconds.

More than 50 professional bicyclists in the men’s division begin the Mountain States Cup Rabbit Valley Ralley on Sunday.

A good hard-tail mountain bike was good enough.

Benjamin Sonntag and Jennifer Smith each rode their front-suspension bicycles to victory Sunday in the Mountain States Cup Rabbit Valley Rally cross-country race at Rabbit Valley.

Sonntag, 30, of Durango, won the 31-mile men’s pro cross-country race in 2 hours, 1 minute, 30 seconds.

His Cannondale Factory Racing teammate, Alex Grant, 30, of Salt Lake City, took second in 2:02:06. Bryce Alders, 25, of Boulder, was third in 2:03:40 and Ross Schnell, 30, of Grand Junction, placed fourth in 2:03:41.

Last year’s winner, Travis Brown, 41, of Durango took fifth in 2:06:37.

Mesa State College’s Brent Steinberg, 22, placed 34th in 2:20:16.

“It was pretty rough terrain,” Sonntag said. “I choose the hardtail today. My teammate, Alex, was on the dually (dual-suspension). I think that would’ve been the better bike today, but in the end I could still pull it off.”

Schnell was pleased with his fourth-place finish after nearly catching Alders for third.

“It was an interesting race,” Schnell said. “The first hour was like road race tactics, drafting and trying to get in front. I stayed in the front group. The big climb about halfway into the race, I kind of started to come apart. I can plug away with those guys on the tempo sections, but once we hit the steep pitches, I didn’t have enough horsepower to stay with them.

“(The course) had a little bit of everything. There were some steep climbs, it had some rocky, technical stuff and a lot of singletrack. I was pleasantly surprised with the course.”

Schnell will lead some group rides this weekend in the Fruita Fat Tire Festival before heading to France to compete in the French Enduro Series.

Smith, 37, of Gunnison won women’s pro cross-country race for the second consecutive year, despite the added bumpy singletrack portion of the course, Western Rim Trail.

“It was super sweet,” she said. “The new singletrack that was put in was so beautiful.”

The former Western State College runner, who is originally from New Zealand, finished the 31-mile course in 2:28:47.

“It was a little rougher than I would’ve liked,” Smith said. “It wasn’t as windy last year, so going out made it really hard. Everyone was riding in a pack. You couldn’t get away.

“At the bottom of the climb, there were six or eight girls together, so that made it kind of hard. I’m not very good at being patient.”

Smith was able to move in front on the climb and put some distance behind her, but Jennifer Gersbach, 31, of Durango closed the gap at the end and finished 1 minute, 3 seconds behind Smith.

Fruita’s Mike Driver took eighth place in the Men’s Category 1 age 40-49 division in 2:27:26. He finished 10 minutes behind the winner.

Driver placed third in the time trial on Saturday. Robb Parsons of Grand Junction took second in the Men’s Category 2 age 30-39 time trial.

“I thought it was absolutely great,” Driver said of Sunday’s race. “It was a great showing for Fruita and Rabbit Valley to the state of Colorado. This (series) attracts national talent. That was just an amazing course.”


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