Ready for the Leadville 100

It seems that for the past few seasons I have made a mid-season schedule shift from a mix of endurance and cross country to an exclusively endurance focus. It's just how the calendar shakes out for me, and after US Cross Country Nationals, I have only big endurance races left on tap for the mountain bike. I kind of like the shift. I love to race the early/mid-season cross countries and short tracks, but I really enjoy the longer stuff. Now keep in mind that when I say long I am talking six to seven hours max. I am not tough enough for the 12- and 24-hour solo stuff - I'll leave that for Tinker!

The weekend after nationals I had the fortune of checking out a new event called "The Crusher in the Tushar". The brainchild of Utah's Burke Swindlehurst, the Crusher includes a 69-mile blend of paved and dirt roads with over 10,000 feet of elevation gain. One of the biggest questions of the race is what bike to ride, and there is plenty of debate on what the perfect setup actually is. I chose the Flash 29 mountain bike with 700c cyclo-cross tires. It was perfect for the bumpy washboard sections but left a little to be desired on the paved and smooth dirt climbing. I also wanted to put some time on it over the longer distance to get ready for the Leadville 100, as this was the perfect prep. One month out, high altitude and lots of climbing.

As for the race, no excuses, but I was flat on the first climb and got dropped from the main group. I went over the top alone and then road all of the flats in the middle of the course by myself in no man's land. Lets just say morale was a bit low as I was riding my mountain bike solo on windy paved roads chasing a lead group of six. Eventually I got caught from behind by two guys and got to enjoy some short turns in a draft. On the second main climb, I kept at my steady pace and amazingly started catching guys who had blown out of the lead group. I guess there is something to be said for pacing yourself after all, even if it is forced on you by your own dragging ass. Anyway, I caught up with third place with 10 miles to go (first and second were far gone) and then flatted. That was the end of my run and after a slow change, I cruised in for fourth. I was impressed by the event and can't wait to get back next year. Maybe I'll give the Super X a shot at it.

Here in Utah, we are fortunate enough to have an abundance of high quality racing and the next weekend, I only had to travel an hour to Midway for the Wasatch Back 50. I was a bit tired and news of the late entry of a couple of South Africans, including Trans-Sylvania Epic stage winner Matty Beukes had me a little worried. Indeed Matty had me on the ropes a bit early and opened a gap after I missed a key shift. I was able to keep the gap manageable and then close it down on the downhill. On the second lap, I was able to ride the main climb at the same pace as the first, and that was enough to pull away for the win.

I was encouraged to feel good at the latter stages of both races, hopefully that bodes well for the Leadville 100, which is coming up this weekend. Check back as Jeremiah Bishop, Tinker Juarez and I [all Cannondale Factory Racing teammates - Ed.] attempt to give the current aand past marathon world champions a run for their money on Saturday. Ha ha, easier said than done, but hey that's why I am saying it!

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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.