The dust has settled in the desert and the inaugural Grand Enduro is in the history books! The new two-day, four-stage enduro race features the best of the rugged and unique trails in and around Grand Junction, Colorado’s Tabeguache Trail System, better known as the Lunch Loops. The area has been on the radar of technical trail aficionados for decades but has gained exposure over the last five years since the creation of Epic Rides’ Grand Junction Off-Road big-loop style, backcountry-XC race—held this year just two weeks ago. The introduction of the Grand Enduro, however, marks the first time the rapidly growing, gravity-focused discipline has come to Western Colorado.
The race was the brainchild of three area riders: MRP’s Brand Manager and longtime enduro rider/fan Noah Sears, local race promoter John Klish, and Grand Junction Off-Road O.G. and chairman of the Grand Valley Trails Alliance Dave Grossman. The three partners all brought particular strengths to the table.While the tracks were serious, the atmosphere was anything but.
“Since I joined the race organizing scene only a few years ago, producing events through my company, Mountain And Desert (MAD) Racing, A cross country mountain bike racer at heart, I asked Noah to consult on the Enduro format and help me dial down the line choices. I’m still fairly new at organizing and knowing how successful the Grand Junction Off-Road event was under Dave Grossman’s lead, I asked him to help consult with BLM and some of the planning logistics. And because of my hearing loss, I requested Dave to also be the Chief of Communications for the day.If the clock is running, you'd better be focused! The natural beauty of the area was distracting, but the features were high consequence.
I ran the timing operations and organized the schedule, shuttles, volunteers, and the venue. It was so much fun seeing it all come together and the three of us working together cohesively to produce a fantastic event! I also type this today with heartfelt humbleness and gratitude having everyone come out in the community to make a high-quality caliber event happen in the Grand Valley” - John Klish
The event kicked off on Saturday with a seeding run down Pucker-Up and Moto that would set the start order for the first stage Sunday. Racers sprinted from “Wafer Rock”—the heart of the Loops—down to Pucker-Up, which wastes no time getting into daunting terrain, rocky kickers, gaps, and drops. Following a sketchy roller-to-drop combo known as “The Cathedral,” riders grabbed a hard left onto Moto. An old doubletrack that has been slowly transformed over the years into the de facto downhill practice track of the area, Moto is replete with high-speed straights, rutted chutes, and optional sidelines. A bonus jump—the Colorado Backcountry Biker Big Boost Bonus—was created just before the finish line that netted any racer who could clear it a healthy five-second deduction off their seeding time. Those who succeeded heard the clash of a cymbal and the roar of the local mountain bike community that turned up in force to dole out equal parts adulation and heckling!
Racing got underway on Sunday. Amateurs were shuttled up the majority of the way and pros slowly climbed the whole way up to Stage 1: the infamous Ribbon Trail. The Ribbon is truly an otherworldly trail that begins on an enormous rock expanse marked with very little in the way of signs or visual cues to indicate where to go! Organizers used cones and course tape to make a lane in order to keep racers from accidentally flying off any of the numerous cliffs. Following some eye-watering rock-slab descending, riders met their first significant challenge of the race, the “Toilet Bowl.”
The “Bowl” is a multi-line natural feature that offers riders the choice of a slower, but nonetheless challenging, Sedona-esque, off-camber traverse across sandstone, or a near vertical and fairly long roller straight off the top — a line that saves time, but not skin if your brake-control skills aren’t on-point! Shortly thereafter, riders began the eye-watering descent down “The Wineglass,” a wide-open, all-rock canyon. A radar-equipped speed trap was set up at the end of this section and, despite a headwind on race day, three riders hit 49mph / 79kph! Awards were given after the race for the fastest in each category. The remainder of the stage featured more technical challenges, punchy climbs, and two short hike-a-bikes.
In the Pro/Open Men’s class, Nate Hills (Yeti / SRAM) took the stage win in 7:14, besting second-place finisher Myles Trainer (Wilson Backcountry Sports/Knolly) by nearly 30 seconds! Liz Cunningham (Yeti/Smith) grabbed the win by just three seconds over Cooper Ott (Trek/Honey Stinger) in the women’s class.
Stage 2 offered racers the chance to explore a Grand Junction favorite: Gunny Loop. Kicking-off with a fast and loose doubletrack rip, followed by nearly four minutes of flowing, technical descending bliss, Gunny is widely considered by many locals as the best descent in the Lunch Loops system. Littered with buck-inducing water bars and pedal-grabbing sniper rocks, the Gunny descent keeps you on your toes or puts you on your butt! A few minutes of tight, tricky pedaling capped off what was the most fitness-favoring stage of the weekend. Steep, rock-strewn doubletrack—back to Wafer Rock. From there they picked up familiar trail; the rest of the stage was a repeat of the seeding track (Pucker-Up and Moto).Young talent Birgit Morris clawed back time on her competition, while Nate Hills extended his lead.
Again, Hills nabbed the win again over Trainer, but this time by a closer margin of only six seconds on the nearly eight-minute stage. Local Pro, Eric Landis (Bicycle Outfitters) was another eight seconds back, and Noah Sears (Pivot/MRP)—pulling double duty as racer and organizer—was a second off of him. Cooper Ott jumped into the lead and took the stage win for the women, closely followed by professional XC racer Sparky Moir-Sears (Pivot / MRP) and the incredibly talented 17-year-old Birgit Morris (Bicycle Outfitters) in third.
The final stage, a combo of trails aptly known together as “Maximum Gnar,” was, in a word, burly. After a toasty transfer (temps reached into the 90s), riders were able to pick up their full-face helmets (and popsicles!) at the second aid station of the race before making the final ascent to the most consistently gnarly stage of the weekend. Part one of Stage 3 was Free Lunch, the first multi-line freeride trail ever created (legally) on BLM land, back in 2008. Free Lunch serves up healthy portions of wheel-hating chunk, and more than one racer’s hopes and dreams were dashed here on the day. The trail features four “play areas,” each with at least two marked lines. Some of the play areas feature as many as four lines, with the time difference between the fastest and slowest being very significant—but so were the consequences of a botched “A-line.” Following Free Lunch, riders barreled down the Widowmaker—a precariously steep, rock-strewn doubletrack—back to Wafer Rock. From there they picked up familiar trail; the rest of the stage was a repeat of the seeding track (Pucker-Up and Moto).Local pro Eric Landis squeezed every extraneous second from the final stage. Steven Sadler pumps the final feature of Pucker-Up.
With a “checkers or wreckers” mindset, Eric Landis put his local knowledge and downhill racing skills to work and scored the stage win in 7:49, a full eight seconds ahead of Hills. Trainer came in at 7:59, Trevor Martin (Bicycle Outfitters / Guide Pro) at 8:04, and Sears at 8:13, rounding out the top five. The blazing fast time by Landis moved him into third overall ahead of Sears, but the two stage wins and one second-place finish of Hills earned him the overall win.The big lines saved valuable time, but as Liz Cunningham (right) found out, they were risky.
Stage 1 winner and self-admitted huck-lover Liz Cunningham suffered an unfortunate puncture and had to limp down what was otherwise surely her favorite stage. The young Birgit Morris amazed the crowd that had amassed at the bottom of the stage with her skills and impressed all by taking the stage win for the women! The consistent Ott was closely behind, however, and secured the overall win. Moir-Sears rolled in for third, locking up the same position in the overall in the process.
Following the race, riders met back up at The Camp, an event campground near the Lunch Loops and, with its ample tree cover, a lovely oasis in the scorching desert. Spontaneous 15-30 person camp-chair circles formed as riders recounted their unforgettable days in the saddle, swapped stories, and exchanged high-fives before the awards got underway. Support provided by MRP, DT Swiss, Switchback Tailgate Pads, Stem Captain, Mountain Khakis, Orange Seal, Maxima Racing Oils, and Dos Hombres Restaurant meant that podium finishers in all categories went home with serious swag! Highlights of the amateur prizing included MRP Ribbon forks for the fastest amateur man and woman and DT Swiss EX1501 wheelsets for the fastest masters racers! Prizes were also given for the fastest riders in each category for the Stage 1 speed trap and the Journeyman award, which rewarded the rider in each category with the fastest total time from the beginning of Stage 1 to the end of Stage 3, transfers included.
A $5,000 purse was split evenly between the top five Pro/Open men and women. That meant that Nate Hills and Cooper Ott each took home a cool $1,000 for their efforts for the day. Trainer and Morris collected $700, Landis and Moir-Sears $500, Sears and Tamara Donelson (Liv) $200, and Dan Soller (Colorado Backcountry Biker) and Sarah Sturm (Ska Zia / Trek) each pocketed $100.“I would say my favorite part of the race was hanging out with all of the amazing pro women and challenging myself on gnarly stage 3! The race as a whole was challenging both physically and mentally. For me battling the heat was just as tough as the physically demanding stages.”
Cooper Ott (Trek/Honey Stinger/Bontrager), Pro/Open Women’s Category Victor “Getting to race the ribbon was the highlight for sure. There is nothing quite like that one, that I know of. My goal for the weekend was to win the speed trap. Great success. I really enjoyed the laid-back vibe of the event. It was great to kick back and have a beer with everyone and tell stories after the race.”
-Nate Hills (Yeti/SRAM/Roval/MRP), Pro/Open Men’s Category Victor
Pro/Open Men Final Results
1. Nate Hills $1,000 (Yeti/SRAM/Roval/MRP)
2. Myles Trainer $700 (Wilson Backcountry Sports/Knolly)
3. Eric Landis $500 (Bicycle Outfitters/Spintertainment/Towee / All Sound Designs)
4. Noah Sears $200 (Pivot/MRP/Ergon/Enve/Stages Cycling/Orange Seal)
5. Dan Soller $100 (Colorado Backcountry Biker/MRP)
Pro/Open Women Final Results
1. Cooper Ott $1,000 (Trek/Honey Stinger/Bontrager)
2. Birgit Morris $700 (Bicycle Outfitters)
3. Sparky Moir-Sears $500 (Pivot/MRP/Ergon/Giro)
4. Tamara Donelson $200 (Liv)
5. Sarah Sturm $100 (Ska Zia/Trek)
The Grand Enduro will return in 2018, but dates are yet to be determined. Stay up to date on the web at GrandEnduro.com, on Facebook
, and on Instagram at @GrandEnduro