Year five of the Grand Junction Off-Road is in the rearview. As those who joined us last weekend on Colorado's West Slope may attest, the event has once again upped the ante in pulling together the mountain bike community to enjoy three days of world-class trails, free live music and a serious party on the streets of Downtown Grand Junction. As is standard with all Epic Rides Off-Road Series events, the three-day festival opened its doors at high noon Friday on Main Street, giving attendees access to over thirty industry vendors including full support rigs from SRAM and Shimano, Maxxis Tires, KMC, ProGold, Stan's NoTubes, Skratch Labs, Giant Bicycles, and others.
Because of rainstorms throughout the prior week, crews postponed the 15 Grand Fun Ride to let trails dry out. Nobody complained, however, as the forecast showed nothing but weekend sun. The resulting hero dirt would be a treat for riders enduring their respective backcountry course (15, 30, or 40 miles).
Professional Men's Fat Tire Crit
Friday evening's Professional Fat Tire Crit brought the noise to Downtown Grand Junction as streets lined with thousands of cheering fans enjoyed a competition not typically seen at a mountain bike event. Over 100 pros toed the line in their skinnies to determine pecking order for Sunday's main race, and also to carry bragging rights to the barstool Friday evening.
Professional Women's Fat Tire Crit
Amateur Backcountry Ride
The Grand Junction Off-Road has been called "America's most technically challenging "XC" course." While it has its moments, the past five years show a 93% finish rate, which speaks to the gritty nature of the participants and the rider support thanks to Clif, Skratch Labs, EMS Unlimited, and the countless volunteers who make the event hum.
It can't go without mentioning COPMOBA for their thousands of hours put towards building and maintaining Grand Junction's thriving trail system. As a show of thanks, Epic Rides is hosting a fundraiser dubbed Hail the Trail
—a campaign where the public can purchase tickets for a chance to win one of three mountain bikes from Ibis, Salsa, and Norco, each valued at more than $6,000. All the proceeds benefit three primary trail groups in each Off-Road Series community, including COPMOBA, and go directly toward maintaining existing and building new trail in each network.
The Grand Junction Off-Road, as well as each course in the Epic Rides Off-Road Series, intends to provide an authentic representation of mountain biking. They aren't repetitive, contrived loops in a park. They are bonafide backcountry rides with a healthy blend of ups, downs, tech, and flow. A well-rounded mountain biker will thrive, while a downhiller may suffer the climbs and an "XC" racer may suffer the downhills.
Mountain biking, like many pursuits in life, is what you make of it. The Off-Road Series lets riders decide how to experience the ride. If you want to race, the systems are there to race. If you want to ride casually and savor a long day in the saddle, pedal on. The events strive to be inclusive and preserve the sport's essence by unplugging and enjoying nature while celebrating camaraderie of a tight-knit community. It's a good day on the bike.
Pro Backcountry Race
Sunday is dedicated to the professionals with some of the world's best vying for their share of a $30,000 cash purse (equally split between males and females): Pros included 2016 Off-Road Series Champion Todd Wells, Howard Grotts, Geoff Kabush, Payson Mcelveen, and Jeremiah Bishop on the men's side, and Clif teammates Katerina Nash and Maghalie Rochette, Evelyn Dong, Amy Beisel, Crystal Anthony and Sofia Gomez Villafane on the women's side. The stage was set for some world-class racing.
Former Olympian and Grand Junction Off-Road Champion Katerina Nash rode with Amy Beisel and Sofia Gomez Villafane in the beginning of the race, but would later pull away during the climbs. Beisel and Villafane rode synchronously until Beisel rode away towards the end, earning her second place. 23-year-old Villafane would finish third.
The rocky course had racers on the rivet, pushing both their bodies and machines passed comfort. The course, known for ravaging tires, had many riders reaching for treads like the Maxxis Ikon with EXO Protection to minimize the chance of sidewall cuts. Sadly, it just wasn't in the cards for Todd Wells who would succumb to multiple punctures and DNF the race. That would not be the case for Russell Finsterwald and Geoff Kabush, who spent their day trying to reel in the young speedster in Howard Grotts.
On a bluebird day, the USA XC champion Howard Grotts gave'r gas each time the course skewed up, and despite the course being three miles longer this year with the addition of Gunny Loop (East)
, he cruised to a record of 2:57:14 to take the win and his $5,000 humongous check.
Pro Women Top 10
Pro Men Top 10
That's a wrap from Grand Junction, Colorado. See everyone June 16–18 in Carson City for the Off-Road Series finale and Second Annual Carson City Off-Road.