It's only mid-March and the season is well underway. Gone are the days when I would hang up my bike for the winter, pick it up in the spring and try to race in to decent shape by the summer. Things heat up pretty quickly now. Well I guess they always have, but I just didn't get going until later. This year I have already done three races, all major events, and very distinct from one another.
First up was the 24 Hours of Old Pueblo down in Tucson, Arizona, in February. I was happy to take a break from the 20-minute winter gear suit up process and ride some dry trails in more normal apparel. I flew down on Friday, and made it to the venue with exactly an hour to pre-ride. Turns out the course is about that long, so I finished up right about dark. The course is a blast, and I knew it was going to be a fun weekend.
Our team was made up of myself, Eric Bostrom, Doug Barnett from Mountain Bike Action, and Chris Moore, former Cannondale tech/demo driver. Eric seemed pretty fired up to run, so we let him do the Le Mans start, and it looked like quite a sprint. Some guys even had running shoes and then transitioned in to cycling shoes at their bikes. I have a hard time believing that was worth it, but hey whatever works.
Eric led it out nicely and we were somewhere in the top five teams after the first lap. I went second, and had a little bit of chasing to do, but managed to catch all but one team by the halfway point, despite laying it over in an off-camber corner. Luckily just a few scrapes was the only damage and I was back up pretty quick. It took me the rest of the lap to catch triathlete Ben Hoffman, but I got around him at the top of the climb and we were the first team through, and I snagged the hot-lap in the process.
We just kept chipping away one lap at a time for the rest of the day, night, and into the next morning. When dawn broke on 24-Hour Town, we were neck in neck with an eight-person corporate team, fighting for the overall win. Clutch laps from Doug and Chris set up Eric and I nicely to bring home the win. Overall it was an awesome experience, and a really cool event. If you are thinking of going beware of cacti! The whole course is lines with them, and those suckers definitely sting.
Two weeks later, I left the frozen tundra on Utah once again and headed to Texas to race on some more dry dirt. This time it was the Pro XCT opener, Mellow Johnny's Classic. I had never been to this one before but had heard only good things about the course, and the rumors were true. It's a great race, rolling technical terrain and a really fun race lap. This was my first time in Texas as well, and it was about what I expected: big, wide open spaces, lots of big pickup trucks, ranches, and wind.
The racing itself was bittersweet. Jeremiah and I had solid rides in the men's race. He sprinted for the win and came up just shy in second, and I fought up from about 20th to ninth by the finish. The bummer of the weekend came when [teammate] Pua Mata crashed in the women's race while riding in third on the first lap. She had to abandon the race, and it turns out her ankle was broken, requiring surgery. It's a bummer, but I'm sure she will come back stronger than ever.
I was pretty happy with my ninth place, especially on a relatively short and flat race, this early in the season. I have been working hard this winter and it seems to be paying off, which in turn keeps me motivated to continue working hard.
True Grit Epic
After Mellow Johnny's, I took a short break and then started building towards the first long one of the year: the NUE 100 series opener, True Grit Epic in St. George. I haven't done any rides over 4-4.5 hours this winter, and I knew that True Grit was going to be in the seven-hour range. I knew that my short race fitness was there, and was pretty confident that I could stretch it out to a longer effort as long as I kept hydrated and well fueled.
I usually don't prepare for a long race much different than a short race, and it just comes down to pacing and nutrition during the race. We are lucky enough to work with Osmo Nutrition at Sho-Air/Cannondale this season, and that keeps us covered on hydration. I drank some of their Preload Hydration before the race, and then six or seven bottles of the Active Hydration during, along with maybe 60-70 oz of water. The theory is hydration in your bottle, and food in your pocket, and that's how I like to race anyway. I ate two Cliff Bars, one regular size Snickers, two bags of Stinger Chews, a Stinger waffle, two Gu Roctane's and a bottle of Coke. That kept me pretty well fueled and hydrated, and I was able to keep motoring along all day.
A race that long is never without its low points, and I had one or two around the five-hour mark, but was able to stay focused and finish it out in about six hours 41 minutes. Ouch, that's a long one for March 16...
Carey Smith finished second, and Josh Tostado was third. The thought of those guys chasing pushed me all the way to the line, and they rode great races. Josh set the pace over the first hour, and caused a separation that had just him and I away from the group. I took over the lead heading in to the more technical Zen Trail, which I know pretty well, and put some pressure on on the ledgy climbing. Before long I had a gap and just decided to keep pushing while I felt good, as you never know what can happen in a long MTB race.
That same weekend Jeremiah took the win at the Bonelli Pro XCT, making it a double national series win for Sho-Air/Cannondale that weekend, a great start to the season!
Next up I'll hit the Fontana Pro XCT, then Sea Otter and the Whiskey Off Road, before taking a break to get ready for the summer.
Thanks for reading.
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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.