Taking a new path
New route excites Grand Junction Off-Road riders
They will come to Grand Junction by the hundreds with high-dollar, lightweight bicycles to take on a grueling course.
Adding unmerciful to grueling describes the Grand Junction Off-Road mountain bike race courses more accurately.
“That course and those trails have beat the you-know-what outta me,” said Melissa Andersen of Carbondale.
She laughed, but she was serious.
More than 400 recreational, as well as some highly skilled riders, will take on the 40-and 30-mile Grand Junction Off-Road races this weekend.
“The course is super tough but that’s what makes it so rewarding when you finish,” Andersen said.
Doug Brady offers a similar laugh about how difficult the course is, then somewhat unconsciously touches his right elbow.
“Oh, me and that course know each other really well. Too well,” the former Grand Junction mountain biker said.
An unexpected trip over the handlebars ended his race a couple of years ago.
“I thought I was OK, just cruising along, then bam, I hit a little edge and I went sailing,” he said.
That crash left him — along with plenty of others over the years — bloodied and battered.
He crashed in what virtually all riders say is the most difficult part of the ride — Andy’s Loop.
The treacherous section comes late in the race, so riders are battling fatigue in addition to the difficult stretch of technical singletrack.
Mostly by hiking and pushing his bike after his crash, Brady made his way back to the Lunch Loop parking area where he got a ride.
He would later discover that he broke his right elbow.
When he heard the course had changed and the Andy’s Loop section had been eliminated from the course, Brady was happy.
“Maybe I’ll come back and race again,” he said.
Race organizers decided to take out some of the overly technical sections for this year’s races.
Andy’s Trail, Eagle’s Tail Trail and Pet E Kes trail have been replaced with a new route featuring Gunny Loop, Holy Bucket to Coyote Ridge, Ali Ali Loop to Ali Alley, Curt’s Lane and Curt’s down to lower Hop Skip and Jump and Noreaster.
In a press release last month, race organizer Epic Rides said the new routing will be safer for all participants.
“Andy’s Trail was a blast for riders during the first four years of the event, but replacing it with Gunny Loop and connecting to Noreaster is adding some of the community’s most prized trails to the event while greatly improving the riding experience for out-of-town guests on event weekend,” Bill Cooper, Grand Junction Off-Road course manager said in the release.
Now in its fifth year, the Grand Junction Off-Road race has grown.
In 2013, the race was held over Labor Day weekend and drew around 200 amateur riders. The race was moved to Memorial Day weekend in 2014, and then shifted to an earlier date in May.
Last year, more than 400 amateur riders raced either the 40- or 30-mile races.
The 40-mile race begins at 7:30 a.m. with a start and finish in downtown Grand Junction. The 30-mile race starts at 8:30 a.m.
The Grand Junction Off-Road racing begins on Friday evening with the Fat-Tire Criterium in downtown.
This race pits the professional riders in a high-speed race around the criterium course on mountain bikes.
Racing begins at 6:15 p.m. with the women, and the men to follow.
The off-road course takes a toll on the pros, too, with a number of them having to deal with flat tires and other mechanical issues, as well as the occasional crash.
For the women, there has been a different winner all four years.
Rose Grant of Whitefish, Montana, won last year’s race with Grand Junction’s Alexia Skarda in second more than five minutes back.
The pro men have also had a different winner every year, with Durango’s Todd Wells winning last year. The interesting part of the men’s race is the same rider has finished second for the past three years.
Ben Sonntag of Durango won the inaugural race in 2013, then finished second for the past three races.
The pros take off on the 40-mile course Sunday morning with the men starting at 8:30 and the women to follow 10 minutes later.
Last year there were a combined 74 men and women professional riders.