These are exciting times for mountain bike racing. While they are tumultuous times for cycling as a whole, there are some great things happening within the sport of mountain biking. The new shorter course World Cup cross country format has leant itself to tighter racing, better spectating, and excellent live coverage. This same live streaming lets us watch the World Cup downhills from the couch. On the endurance side, one-day races and stage races have been evolving to provide a better experience for the rider. And then there is the enduro format, which has really exploded in the past couple years.
I have been lucky enough to mix it up in a good variety of off-road racing this year. I've done short tracks, cross countries, 50-milers, 100-milers, 100ks, two World Cups, cyclo-cross and even fit in an enduro at the end of September.
Enduros have always interested me, as they get right to the roots of mountain biking. If I wasn't racing, I'd be out with some friends having a blast on the trails - riding a reasonable pace on the climbs, chatting, hanging out at the top, and then ripping the downhills as fast as we can. That's how long trail rides with friends usually play out, likewise with ski/snowboard tours in the winter. When I saw some of these types of races popping up, I knew I had to check one out. Then when I saw the Enchilada Enduro in Moab pop up on the Big Mountain Enduro Series schedule, I really knew. At the end of September, the timing was perfect and although I live in Utah, I had never done the Whole Enchilada proper before.
Normally when I go to a race, I don't change my bike setup or apparel much, I just bring the Flash or Scalpel and throw some kits and my helmet in my bag. This one was different. Two weeks before I was trying to sort out what tires to run, what size chain ring, the best chain guide, helmet, pads, baggies, etc. It was a fun project and at the end of it I had my Jekyll perfectly dialed in for Moab riding.
Since I hadn't done the entire course, I headed down with Sammi two nights early so I could hop on the pre-ride shuttle on Friday morning. The Whole Enchilada is a Moab institution, and rightly so. It's one of the coolest, most fun, beautiful, and demanding rides anywhere. After riding it Friday I was worn out, but we went for a hike up a canyon near our campsite. Saturday I was feeling a little sore from the physical riding and hiking but I wanted to see the course again so I did another lap. And when I say "lap" I mean one-hour shuttle and 2.5-3 hour ride at a moderate pace. So much for resting up.
Race morning was an early one and the shuttles were rolling out of Moab at 6:30 am sharp. Luckily it wasn't too cold at 11,000 feet as we had a mass rollout down a one-mile descent to start the untimed section. Once the climbing started, I just tried to ride it, which was a challenge with the gearing I had. Just staying on the bike and grinding up it was enough to get me to the top first, which also meant that I got to go first for the timed section. Oops - fortunately there were only a few dogs, unsuspecting hikers, and cows to startle.
The race itself was awesome. It's not hard to have fun on the Whole Enchilada, especially when get to do it non-stop and relatively clear. I kept it upright with the exception of one small crash, tried to ride smooth over the bumps, and pinned it on the pedaling sections. I was lucky enough to avoid any mechanicals or flats and all that was enough to put me in third!
After a sun shower at the campsite we headed in town for a race lunch and awards ceremony. The vibe surrounding the race was super laid back and fun, and while yes I did race it felt like I had just gone on a weekend mountain bike trip. It was a blast and there is no doubt in my mind that the enduro scene will continue to grow here in the US and worldwide.
Up next I'll shift gears once again get my climb on down at the 20th Anniversary La Ruta de los Conquistadores. I am excited to go back for this milestone year. It will only be my fourth year but it has already become a part of me. Check back as I'll be writing a detailed daily account of my suffering after each stage.
Thanks for reading.
Alex Grant, 31, is one of America's top endurance mountain bike racers. Sponsored by Cannondale Factory Racing in 2012, Grant juggles racing as a pro with managing an outdoor gear consignment business called Gear Rush, which he co-owns with fellow Utah cyclist and racer Bart Gillepsie. This season, look out for Grant on the podiums at major endurance and stage races. For variety, you may also see him on on the start line of some super Ds, cross countries and short tracks.
In 2011, Grant finished third at the Leadville 100 and eighth at the US cross country national championships while also logging top 10s at the super D and marathon nationals. He finished fifth in the Downieville Classic All Mountain Overall and seventh at La Ruta de los Conquistadores. For the third year in a row, he won the Park City Point 2 Point.
In 2010, Grant made headlines with his second place finish at La Ruta de los Conquistadores, the Breck Epic and the Trans-Sylvania Epic.
When not on his mountain bike, Grant enjoys backcountry skiing, snowboarding and hiking.
Grant is from Richmond, Vermont, and he presently lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Follow his 2012 season in this blog on Cyclingnews.
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