Thrill of the ride

Fruita teen wins age group at Rumble at 18 Road mountain bike race

Denzel Stephenson from Broomfield races on the trail during the 15-16 age group race Saturday at the Rumble at 18 Road. Fruita teen Aidan Clark won the age division.

Nolan Stephenson competes in the 11-12-year-old race Saturday at the Rumble at 18 Road.

Mountain biking has long appealed to the adventurous nature of young and old alike. On Saturday, the Rumble at 18 Road drew more than 350 racers of all ages and abilities to tackle a challenging 10-mile course north of Fruita.

For a pair of 15-year-old local riders, Aidan Clark and John David, the appeal of the sport has multiple layers.

Both in their second season of mountain biking, the pair were familiar with the territory.

“I knew the course pretty well,” said Clark, who attends Fruita 8-9 school.

Clark blasted out of the start and put the hammer down. The Cat 3 rider dominated the 10-mile race, winning his 15-16 age group by more than four minutes.

“The sand gave me a little trouble but I felt good,” he said.

Clark is a former BMX rider who took up mountain biking last year. The teen took to the sport like a Labrador to water.

“The endurance part of it really threw me off at first, I had to push to get into it,” he said. “After a while I got used to these two-hour, one-hour long rides.”

Proudly wearing his first-place medal around his neck, Clark said his BMX training prepared him for the technical riding that comes with mountain biking.

“I like riding over big rocks and going up stuff that looks impossible. I come from the BMX background, so I have the jumps and stuff like that down pretty good,” he said with a smile.

David, a Fruita Monument sophomore, finished fourth in the Cat 3 15-16 age group.

Last year he started riding with his friends and now he’s hooked on the sport.

But for both these adventuresome Fruita teens, all mountain biking and nothing else would make for dull boys.

David has a unique way of relaxing and winding down from the intense sport. He plays the piano.

He smiles and says his favorite piece is the difficult Liebesträume No. 3 by Franz Liszt, the 19th century Hungarian composer.

“I’m really into sports and being active, but I’m really into music, too. I can go out for a ride and come home and play the piano,” he said with a smile.

For Clark, he sets his sights higher for his hobby. Higher as in higher in the sky.

“I’m taking flying lessons,” he said.

Like any rider, and the sport itself, Clark says he absorbs the ups and downs that come with mountain biking.

“Some days I have good days and other days I’m off my game,” he said.

On Saturday, he was on his game and left everyone in his age group in the sandy dust of the North Fruita Desert.

Grand Junction’s LTR Sports organized the race. Mike Driver of LTR, said the young riders bring him the most satisfaction.

“What’s really special is when a (young) rider crosses the finish line with a big grin on their face,” he said.


In the open profession division, Germany’s Benjamin Sonntag staged an epic comeback on the final lap to narrowly snag the victory nine second ahead of Payson McElveen.

Sonntag, who races out of Durango, crashed shortly after the start of the three-loop, 30-mile race.

After the crash, which he almost embarrassingly says was “totally my fault,” Sonntag trailed the leaders by four minutes at the start of the final lap.

“I suffered a lot after the crash,” he said. “But after a certain point my legs opened back up again.”

With the pros averaging about 35 minutes per lap, Sonntag’s deficit appeared insurmountable. But it wasn’t.

Sonntag won the race with a time of 1 hour, 55 minutes, 48 seconds, with McElveen taking second in 1:55.58 and Sepp Kuss third in 1:56.03.

In the women’s professional race, Teal Stetson-Lee used a powerful second lap to pull away and win with a time of 2:18.31. Gunnison’s Amy Beisel was second at 2:22.43 and Rebecca Gross was third at 2:22.51.

Stetson-Lee made her move on the second lap when she hit the singletrack section first. The 26-year-old Durango rider popped her chain into the big ring and started mashing the pedals.

“I felt like I was opening it up a little,” Teal said about the second lap. From that point on, she focused on what was ahead of her not what lurked behind.

The race drew riders from all over the state and region as well as a couple of other countries.

Driver said most of the participants are from outside the area. He added the rider numbers were up from last year. The Rumble at 18 Road continues today with a short track mountain bike race.


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