The final challenge
Andy's Loop section gives GJ Off-Road riders nightmares
It’s a little slice of Earth called Andy’s Loop.
But this ain’t no casual cruise through Mayberry.
One by one, worn-out riders rolled across the finish line of the Grand Junction Off-Road in downtown last year.
Fatigue and pain mingled with the smiles of satisfaction.
Amateurs and professionals alike agreed it was one of the toughest mountain bike courses they’d ever ridden.
Nearly every rider didn’t hesitate long to finger Andy’s Loop as the most brutal section of the course.
The windy, flowing, technical singletrack is a fun ride for any mountain biker and one of the most coveted rides of everyone who regularly hits the Lunch Loop area. But the real challenge of this section for the off-road racers is because it comes near the end of the race.
“Andy’s Loop is a challenging piece of trail,” said Dave Grossman, Grand Junction Off-Road event director.
A number of competitors agreed with his obvious understatement.
“Andy’s Loop has a lot of exposure to the canyon, and that makes it really tough,” said Chris Baddick, a professional rider from England who finished fifth last year. “It’s so tough because there’s no room for error and you’re really tired at that point.”
The Andy’s Loop section is a little less than three miles and is close to the Lunch Loop parking lot, which finishes the off-road portion of the course. The final three miles of the race are all on pavement into downtown Grand Junction.
But after nearly 35 miles or 25 miles of hard-core racing, Andy’s Loop is waiting to give riders one final test of their technical riding abilities.
Ben Sonntag won the pro race last year and opened a small gap on his competitors by the time he got to Andy’s Loop. But that didn’t make it any easier.
“By then, everyone is pretty tired, and it’s an easy spot to flat or crash by riding sloppy,” he said. “The section would be no big deal early in the race.”
Then he gave a rather ominous comment about Andy’s Loop.
“Some sections make you nervous because a crash would have some consequences,” he said.
Consequences are things no mountain bike rider wants to think about.
For young rider Jonah Howe, 17, of Grand Junction, who won the overall 30-mile race last year, the rewards didn’t outweigh the risks at times. He admitted he hopped off the bike and walked a couple of the more rugged parts of the section.
“At that point I was so tired,” he said.
Riders all agreed after that much time on the course, fatigue has eroded the mental part of a rider’s game. And when it gets rocky and rugged in the technical singletrack areas, that’s when crashes can happen along with those possible unmentionable consequences.
There were plenty of riders last year who arrived in Grand Junction with dried smears of blood caked to their knees, shins, thighs, arms and elbows. There’s no telling where they crashed on the course, but there were probably a few who tasted dirt on Andy’s Loop.
Grossman, the Bureau of Land Management and the Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association got together after the race to evaluate the section, which can also sustain damage after hard rains.
“We worked to make that trail less intimidating. We know it’s one of the big features of the course,” Grossman said.
The result is a wider singletrack at the more technical and dangerous spots.
A seven-mile climb on Windmill Road was another section many riders said was extremely challenging. About midway through the 40-mile course, riders will grind up this steep section, gaining close to 2,000 feet before topping out.
The climb can be an attack point for some riders, and others, probably most, are just trying to survive because there’s still a lot of riding left.
Even starting early in the morning, the sun was a factor for riders as they trudged up the slow climb last year.
There are plenty of other challenging parts of the course, including the Gunny Loop, the first singletrack of the race, and the Butterknife section.
But most riders talk about the painful climb on Windmill Road and the intimidating singletrack of Andy’s Loop as the toughest parts of the race course.
The best thing about Andy’s Loop is the end is nearly in sight. But after being on the bike for three, four or five hours, they know they can’t let down or let up, and they have to keep a titanium-strong mental focus on the demanding section.
Once they hit the pavement of Monument Road and head into downtown, the nightmare of Andy’s Loop is over, and it’s time to relax a little.
Three miles to go, then they can smile.