Todd Wells (Specialized), along with other well-known North American pros, headed down to Fort Hauchucha in Arizona yesterday to race in "The Foray at the Fort". As expected, Wells put on quite a show for the crowd by racing with the intensity he normally reserves for World Cups.
"I have to get used to suffering again and that was a great race and venue to do it at," he said after winning.
The race at Fort Hauchuca took place where the tall grassy plains met the snow-capped mountains at an elevation of 5,000 ft. Riders were challenged with steep climbs and descents along with changing course conditions. Early in the day, the ground was wet due to snow earlier in the week, but later the sun dried the course making some of the climbs more difficult on the small pea stones. The pro men raced five five-mile laps while the women raced four laps.
TJ Woodruff (Momentum Endurance) finished second, 9:21 behind Wells. He had raced in the 24 Hours of Old Pueblo last weekend and was obviously still recovering. First-time pro Ryan Petry finished in second place.
Petry said after the race, "I had the unique opportunity to race Todd Wells, a mountain bike national champion and 2012 Olympian. Not whom I was expecting to face in my first pro race, but it really pushed me to work hard to get on the podium!"
Krista Park (Cannondale-NoTubes) opted to race with the singlespeed men to get a better workout. "It's great to be a girl," said Park, "lots of categories to choose from for MBAA's race. Think I'll sleep in then race the open men's singlespeed class at noon. More laps than the girls' race, and it'll be warmer."
She finished fourth but found that her gearing was not ideal. "Five laps of ups and downs, I geared right for the steep rocky bits, but was way spun out in other sections. Singlespeed open raced at the same time as Cat. 1, I would get blown away by geared riders, then take half a lap to catch them back and pass just to do it again the next lap. Gears are faster (on this course) but singlespeed is more fun!"
Beth Utley (Oro Valey Bicycles) won the elite women's race in a time of 1:54:56. She was locked in a battle with Jaime Brede (Honey Stinger/Bontrager) for much of the race. Brede had to settle for second place. Kata Skaggs (Adventure Bike Company) finished third.
Many of the top mountain bikers in the country choose Tucson, Arizon for their winter training. Tucson enjoys 350 days of sunshine a year, has a vibrant racing community, and the MBAA (Mountain Biking Association of Arizona) offers early season racing in the Arizona State Championship Series. Trek Factory teammates Sam Schultz and Russell Finsterwald, Chloe Woodruff (Crank Brothers), and TJ Woodruff (Momentum Endurance) are among those who make Tucson their winter base.
Wells said, "I can drive to Tucson from Durango [where he lives] in eight hours. I went to college here, and it only usually rains one or two days in the two months I am here to train. The temperatures are usually in the 70s or 80s (degrees Fahrenheit), and there are a lot of places to ride." A couple years ago, Wells invested in a Tucson home to use for his off-season training.
Arizona racers will get to race another round, number four, of the MBAA series in Estrella on March 9.