Off-road race signs contract for 2020

A rider climbs a technical portion of the Lunch Loop trail below Widow Maker Hill during the Grand Junction Off-Road in May 2015.

After months of negotiations, the organizers of the Grand Junction Off-Road mountain bike race and the Grand Junction Sports Commission finally have a signed contract to keep the event going for at least the next two years.

That contract, signed on Thursday, calls for changing the date of the event next year to the fifth weekend in May, but back to the third weekend in May 2021.

The date of the event was an initial bone of contention between the commission and Epic Rides, the Tucson, Arizona-based company that operates similar annual events in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and Arkansas.

That's because the commission didn't want the race to conflict with other events that couldn't be scheduled at other times, including the spring graduation ceremony for Colorado Mesa University and the Grand Junction Invitational soccer tournament.

The three-day mountain bike event, however, will start at about the same time that the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series is winding down, so it isn't expected to compete for hotel space because fewer teams are competing by then.

The final weekend of JUCO will be down to the final two teams.

The 2020 event also will have more hotel rooms available to participants and out-of-town spectators than this year. Since the May 2019 event took place, one new 92-bed hotel opened downtown and the new 60-bed Maverick Hotel is to open before next year's event.

Currently, Grand Junction has 3,125 available hotel and motel rooms, but that figure doesn't include rental space outside of the city.

It took so long to get a signed contract because of many "minor" details, said commission director Renee Wheelock and Todd Sadow, president and chief executive officer of Epic Rides.

"We had to make sure we were moving forward with something that was a good fit for everyone," Wheelock said.

"We're very excited to work with the Grand Junction Sports Commission and we appreciate the city of Grand Junction's continued support of this event," Sadow added. "We look forward to throwing one heck of a party in downtown Grand Junction on, very notably, the last weekend of May."

Last year, the event attracted more than 800 professional and amateur participants. But next year Wheelock and Sadow said "it's reasonable to expect the 2020 event to attract more than 1,000."

The Whiskey Off-Road, which started in 2011 in Prescott, Arizona, drew more than 1,800 amateur and profession mountain bikers last year.

The Grand Junction Off-Road has had three different dates since it started in 2013 during the Labor Day weekend. In the third year, it was moved to the Memorial Day weekend, then the last four years it's been in mid-May.

The event is credited with helping put Grand Junction on the map in the mountain biking world. In the seven years it has been held here, it has grown tremendously. Sadow said most such events don't attract more than a few hundred, but the Grand Valley's topography and scenic vistas have helped sell the region as must-do for any serious mountain bike rider.

Sadow said the course — amateur participants can choose to ride three distances, 15, 30 or 40 miles — is known as one of the most technical. (Translation: Very difficult).

It starts and ends in downtown Grand Junction, but runs on numerous trails through the Lunch Loop Trail System, particularly the challenging Gunny Loop, a 12.1-mile single track trail that has a maximum grade of 19%.

"This course is a great one. It's a very authentic, very gritty mountain-bike course," Sadow said. "It's oftentimes singletrack, or one tread, and it's rocky. It requires a considerable amount of continual thought and engagement of your mind. Mountain biking requires you to pay attention to what's immediately in front of you."

For the average biker, the 30-mile ride, the most popular, takes more than three hours to complete. Last year's winner, however, 22-year-old Grand Junction resident Eric Pipkin, did it in 2 hours and 35 minutes.

The event starts on Friday, May 29, and includes a free downtown concert, a bike and gear expo, beer garden and kids rides.

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