The Grand Junction Offroad is the second installment of the three-race Epic Rides offroad series. I’ve had some good success at the race in previous years (before it really heated up in terms of competition) with a 4th in 2014 and a 3rd in 2015. I skipped last year to race the May rounds of the world cups. This year I was back to face up against a much stronger field. I was happy with my race at Whiskey though, which had left me in 7th place out of the riders contesting the series overall. The goal was a top 10 finish.
To hit the goal of a top 10 I had to do two things: not puncture, and not get stuck in traffic which would prevent me latching onto the lead group. My worry about flats actually ended up being my downfall for the entire race. Although I’ve run 21-22 psi all season, I made the stupid pre-race decision to pump my tires up to 25 psi. I thought this would help avoid the risk of pinch flatting. It was a silly thing to do, and it made the technical riding a challenge all day.
I had a great start and lead the race into the singletrack at the lunch loops trailhead. It was a wise choice, because I avoided all the bunching, bumping and barging that happens in the first sections of trail. It also put me into a great position to latch onto the lead group. I made the opening selection out the top of the lunch loops, and choked down as much food as I could on little park road before dropping into the trails. Here I made another mistake: I sprinted Rob Squire for the singletrack into Twist and Shout. I ended up putting out a 10 second effort of 950 watts. Really silly. I knew Squire wasn’t good on the technical stuff, but it wasn’t worth that effort. Sonntag, who didn’t do that sprint, quickly got around Squire when he made a mistake anyway. Lesson learned.
It was here the race really went downhill for me. I felt like my suspension was stuck in locked out mode, but it wasn’t. I couldn’t get around the corners to save my life, and after feeling very smooth on the bike for all of the early season, I was disappointed to be the guy holding people up on the trail. I was the cause of the split in the field, with Kabush, Riveros and Finsterwald just easily cruising away from me. Everyone behind me must have been really annoyed. By the time we found our way to the Gunnison River at the end of the Butterknife trail, the leaders were about a minute up, and we had a group of four: Kyle Trudeau, Ben Sonntag, Alex Grant, and I. We launched onto the long (7 miles, 3000 feet of climbing) windmill road climb, and I was quickly distanced from the group. It’s here that I really suffered a lot, with the other three riders taking turns up ahead. I couldn’t quite bridge and as soon as we hit the first pitch on the climb, I was gone.
It’s here that stupid mistakes creep in. In my delirium, I tried for about 3 minutes to eat a gel. Just holding it against the bars as I rode through a couple of rock gardens. There was no reason I couldn’t wait for a smooth section of road to do the eating, but my hypoglycaemic haste prevented rational thought.
The last half of the race for me was all about survival – no mistakes allowed. Eat as much as I can. Take the time to grab a neutral bottle as well as my pre-planned feed (Thanks Tim Gerchar for the excellent support). Although I could see Alex Grant (also shrapnel from the leaders) about 20 seconds ahead of me and a group of three riders behind (who would turn out to be Payson McElveen, Jeremiah Bishop and Nic Beechan), I couldn’t do anything but just ride solo to the finish. That’s what I did.
Compared to the first half of the race (Too much enthusiasm, too much tire pressure), the second half was much better (stayed focused, rode smooth, no cramping). I pulled off an 8th place finish. Why is it that sometimes you can achieve your goal, but still be unhappy? That’s how I felt after the race. I knew I’d sabotaged myself with too high tire pressure, and perhaps the race would have played out a little bit differently. But in the end, I think the legs I had at the start were the biggest determining factor in my results. I’m looking forward to Carson City for a new venue, and another chance to test my marathon racing against the best in the country.