TransRockies Moab Rocks 3-day Stage Race was the perfect way for me to kick off my mountain bike season this past weekend. Moab, Utah was, a pretty mythical mountain bike destination when I started riding so I’m always excited to find an excuse to go visit and ride. After reading about it in old magazines and hearing about friend’s spring road trips I only finally got a chance to visit Moab for the first time about 5 years ago. After that visit, Moab Rocks Stage Race came up on my radar three years ago and I’ve really enjoyed attending the event ever since. I’m still blown away by the scenery every time I drive into the town.
Moab is quite the popular spring destination and it was fun to randomly bump into so many other friends and acquaintances there just for a visit or on spring break with their families. I arrived a couple day’s early to do some fun rides and shoot some photos on the stunning terrain with my old friend John Gibson, aka Gibby. I did my first ride on my new SB100 on Captain Ahab which was a fun one to break in a new bike and make sure all my bolts were tight. It was nice to see Colin Meagher looking good and heading out for a hike with his family as we exited the trail. I also bumped into former XC Olympian, now long hair van life freerider, cruising down main street at the end of what looked like a fun filled three weeks hanging out with the Moab locals. It was also fun to see some friends with a forty strong Spring Break group down from Bend with the next generation of tiny kids out on the trail.
I started racing back in the 90’s, driving to every event in my friend Aaron’s old split window ‘66 VW bus. One of the guys that regularly loaded up with me in the van to go to the races was Robin Dutton. Robin now runs Coal City Cycles over on Vancouver Island and it was cool to see him so many years later at another bike race with a whole crew down from the island. This year I also road tripped down from Canada; full pull down to California first, then out to Utah for Moab Rocks, and now I’m back out in California on my way to Sea Otter. Luckily cars go faster than the old ’66 bus as I’ve already logged over 4500km since I left Squamish a couple weeks ago. Luckily on the drive out and back from California, I was able to split the driving with my drinking buddy which helped avoid serious trucker butt.
The racing started with the first stage on Porcupine Rim which is arguably one of the most spectacular trails in Moab with beautiful cliff views and canyon vistas. It is also one of the most diabolical stages to pick a bike set-up for. Typically, I’d pick a solid trail bike like my Yeti SB130 to bomb down the rough and rowdy descent. Problem is we don’t have a shuttle and have to climb for about an hour up the access road. It is really a balancing act to figure out what is going to get you to the finish line quickest and in one piece. Similar to the Downieville Classic I make a few modifications to my Yeti SB100 to handle Moab Rocks which has really challenging terrain but still needs a machine that can move swiftly up and down. You certainly don’t want to show up on a full XC machine and it is painful thinking about how people used to ride these trails fully rigid.
To start I upgrade from full XC on the front end with the 120mm Fox SC34 fork and a larger 180mm brake rotor. For wheels, I add the fractionally heavier Stan’s Crest wheelset for a little more durability. In Moab you don’t need a lot of knobs on the rocks, just good rubber and volume, so I used the fat and fast rolling 2.35 Maxxis Rekon Race EXO TR tires. Other than that, I used the obvious dropper post and slightly wider 740mm bars for more control. It is all a bit of compromise, but this is a set-up that I felt really comfortable on and could push hard when needed.
My goal for the Porcupine Rim Stage is always to try to make it close to the summit and then see if I can shake and bake and get a gap on the way back down. With a little headwind on the climb, the group stayed together and I was able to save some energy, attach, and sneak away just before the rougher terrain started.
Even for me, there tends to always be a few awkward moments on the Moab rocks and ledges and I had one nice OTB moment on Porcupine Rim. On the wide-open trail, I always seem to end up somewhere I don’t want to go and trying to execute consecutive 3ft drops didn’t work out so well. Luckily the fall wasn’t serious, and I was able to quickly regroup. After that I kept it together on the descent and was able to stretch my gap to around 45 seconds by the finish.
I kind of chuckled to myself as one of the guys mixing it up at the front this year was young Cooper Wiens. Some people may recognize that last name; Cooper’s dad Dave was one of the “dudes” back when I started and someone I did, and still do, respect a lot. I certainly don’t feel that old but I was teammates on Kona with Dave all the way back in 1997; I don’t think Cooper was even born yet. It is fun to see the next MTB generation coming up and having fun at these races too.
As usual, there was a big Canadian contingent at Moab Rocks trying to escape the cold and get in some spring riding. Unfortunately, on Stage 2 at Klondike Bluffs, the Canadians couldn’t completely escape the snow but it made for some really beautiful memories and photos. In the desert, the mornings are usually brisk, near freezing, but snow wasn’t really in the predictions. Luckily, I had some hot balm for my legs and thank goodness made the unusual decision to just keep my thermal vest on after warming up. The unexpected snowstorm created some memories and incredible images. Photos: John Gibson
The pace started off brisk as everyone wanted to stay warm and I tested the lead group’s legs as we neared the halfway point. I managed to just get a small gap of around 10 seconds and as I turned the corner for home, I saw the wall of snow coming. At this point, I just put my head down in an attempt to get back to the warm car as quick as I could. With glasses getting covered in massive snowflakes, as well as intermittent bits of dodgy red clay, I was happy to finally see the finish line and hold off the chase pack by 20sec or so and extend my lead a bit.
I think everyone survived Stage 2 all right, but it was really nice to see perfect weather for the finale on the Stage 3 Mag 7 trails. This is one of my favourite stages as after a gradual climb in the first half it feels like one long enduro stage all the way back. If you are feeling good you can really link up the trail and find some fun flow over the bumpy terrain. Last year I was in panic mode as I had to chase absolutely flat out all the way back to hold on to the overall by only 3-4 seconds.
This year I was really happy as I felt more comfortable but my times were actually faster out on the trails. I kept the pressure on the lead group and was able to sneak away on the way out and start the descent back solo. I only had about a minute gap in the overall so with the rough terrain I couldn’t completely relax until the finish line was in sight.
I ended sweeping the stages and taking the overall win at Moab Rocks for the third year, but it was great to have a solid group of guys racing, pushing the pace, and keeping me honest again. I certainly had a great off-season with some amazing skiing and I’m now coming into the MTB season feeling fresh and motivated. So many fun events and locations to visit this year and I’m excited for the racing ahead. Thanks for reading and keep riding until the fun stops! Cheers.