The second annual Grand Junction Off-Road will take place this coming weekend in Colorado. The three-day racing festival is patterned after the highly successful Whiskey Off-Road, which is held in Prescott, Arizona. Pro men and women will race in a Fat Tire Crit on Friday night, then race in a 40-mile cross country event on Sunday. Hundreds of amateurs will race various distances on Saturday.
Ben Sonntag (Stan’s NoTubes) will be returning to defend his title from last year when he won by nearly two minutes over Sepp Kuss (BMC Project). Kuss is currently not on the starting list, but Kris Sneddon (Kona) and Chris Baddick (Red Ace Organics) will all be attending. Both were on the podium last year. Carl Decker, who finished fourth, will be attending a cyclo-cross race in China.
Columbian champion and World Cup racer Fernando Riveros Paez (Rotor) had expected to represent his country at the world championships but did not make the trip. Instead, he had made a late entry into the race in Grand Junction. Paez pushed Christoph Sauser to the limit in the Whiskey 50 earlier this year. He fell to fourth place on the final descent simply because his rivals were better technical descenders. On the climbs, however, he was strongest rider in the race.
Paez told Cyclingnews, "I was waiting for Colombia to send me to Worlds, but at the end they didn't let me know in time so I decided to race GJ. and was a late entry fee....I'm disappointed but it is what it is. I'm looking forward to becoming a citizen."
Sonntag recently raced in the Breck Epic where he finished third after six days. Kris Sneddon won the BC Bike race early in July. It seems reasonable to predict that the men’s race in Grand Junction is going to be a major battle.
Sonntag told Cyclingnews, "I'm excited to go to Grand Junction to try to defend my title from last year. It's a great race and I hope it will grow into something similar as the Whiskey 50. With that said, this also means more top contenders for the top spot and I look forward to that challenge this weekend!"
The women’s field will be highlighted by the presence of two-time X-Terra World Champion Lesley Patterson (Scott-Enve). She won the 2013 Whiskey Off-Road over some of the top World Cup racers in the world, including Luna’s Katerina Nash and Georgia Gould.
Patterson’s strength is climbing. The five-foot tall rider explained her strategy on that day; "My tactic was to take it steady across 15-20 miles and then hit it hard on the climb from Skull Valley - I’m a light person so my power-to-weight ratio is really good."
Arizona resident Chloe Woodruff (Backcountry.com) would seem to have the best chance of knocking off Patterson. She won the Whiskey Off-Road this year in a nail-biter against Erin Huck (Tokyo Joe’s), but was well behind Patterson in the 2013 edition of the race.
Woodruff commented on her upcoming race, "I'm expecting a second year of tough racing at the Grand Junction Off-Road but I'm looking forward to the challenge and the remarkable views from the Colorado National Monument. I battled Amy D up the final slickrock climb last year, and I'll be racing with that memory close to my heart."
Amy Dombroski, who finished fourth at last year’s Grand Junction race, perished in a training accident in Belgium last October.
Pua Mata (Sho-Air/ Cannodale), who won the inaugural Grand Junction event, is not expected to race. Jenny Smith (Stan’s NoTubes) will be attending. She has returned to good form after taking a break last year to have a child.
Racers will be treated to some of the most demanding and rugged trails in the country. Technical ability will be as important as fitness as the riders traverse the Tabeguache trail system. Riders will do two major climbs. The first takes them up to 5,800 feet by the 7.5-mile mark. The second takes them to 6,600 feet at the 24-mile mark. All races start in finish on Main Street in Grand Junction.
Because the world mountain biking championships are being held in Norway next week, some of North America’s best talent will be absent from Grand Junction. The Luna Pro Team, Scott 3Rox Racing Team, Trek Factory Racing Team, and the Specialized Mountain Bike Team will all be abroad.
On Friday night, spectators will be treated to a Fat Boy Criterium in the streets of Grand Junction. Chloe Woodruff ,who is heavily favored, will be on hand to defend her title. Troy Wells (Cliff Bar) will be hoping to repeat his 2013 victory as well.
In addition to bike racing, numerous other events will be taking place including a Klunker Crit Bike Decorating Party, the Backcountry.com Bike and Gear Expo, several concerts, kids rides, and a Sierra Nevada beer garden.
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews.com for all the action from Grand Junction this weekend.