Famous for it's Wild West heritage, Carson City will host the final showdown for a large contingent of N. American mountain biking pros and amateurs this coming weekend. The inaugural event caps off a three event series that began with the Whiskey Off-Road, and was followed by the Grand Junction Off-Road.
Pro riders compete for $30,000 in prize money at each of the three events, while the top three men and women at the end of this coming weekend will also split an additional $10,000.
Not only has Carson City backed this new three-day event, but the state of Nevada has also given it's blessing. Governor Brian Sandoval remarked, "Thank you to Epic Rides for selecting Carson City for this exciting event. Best of luck to all of the participants and I hope you enjoy the music, the community, the world-class experience and, of course, the epic ride."
USA Marathon Champions Todd Wells (SRAM-TLD-Scott) and Rose Grant (Stans NoTubes-Pivot) lead the Men's and Women's divisions of the race. Both competed last weekend in Augusta, Georgia where they secured their championship jerseys for another year.
Grant has what seems like an insurmountable lead of 16:12 over young Maghalie Rochette (Luna Pro Team), and 20:48 over Amy Beisel (Ridebiker Alliance).
However, three-time Olympian Katerina Nash (Luna Pro Team) has returned from her podium finish at the World Cup in Le Bresse, France to compete in the event. The Czech Republic native lived just down the road in Truckee, California for many years and the trails around Lake Tahoe have been her main training grounds. She has to be considered the pre-race favorite.
Carson City, named after frontiersman Kit Carson, is rolling out the red carpet for the riders and spectators by closing some streets to host three days of free live music, an industry expo, and the spectator-friendly Fat Tire Criterium on Friday evening that passes by the steps of both the Governor's Mansion and the historic Nevada State Capitol building.
Rose Grant commented on the weekend ahead, "The most appealing factors of the Epic Rides events is the relaxed friendly camaraderie between the athletes and all involved in the event, as well as the amazing backcountry courses, and of course the equal pay."
She added, "The prize money has been an incredible blessing as I plan my trip to Worlds and funding the remainder of my season. I'm not very familiar specifically with Carson City, but I trust just like the other races, there's an incredible weekend in store for all attendees."
The Men's race is likely to be one of the best battles of the year with Todd Wells leading the series by a scant 43 seconds. Sonntag bested Wells at The Whiskey Off-Road, while Wells won at Grand Junction. The series champion could literally be decided something as simple as a dropped chain.
Sonntag described what lies ahead, "It looks like the majority of the course is over 7,000 feet so altitude will play a role as well as the amount of climbing, which is the biggest amount out of the three Off-Road Series events. I think it is smart to expect that it is a course for a complete mountain biker."
In fact, the total climbing will be 7,225 feet and riders will see altitudes from 4,500 feet to close to 9,000 feet during the 50-mile course. Unlike the Whisky Off-Road where the race is often decided by a 12-mile climb towards the end of the course, the racers at Carson City will climb 12 miles to Spooner Summit at the start of the race, and after passing an aid station there, will climb an additional 4 miles to an aid station overlooking Marlette Lake.
It is fair to say that this may be where the race is decided. Everyone will be on the rivet trying to stay in the lead pack, and pure climbers will certainly be trying to get away.
Epic Rides founder and Race Director Todd Sadow told Cyclingnews, "The Carson City off-road course stays true to the Epic Rides off-road series trail selection, starting with a very scenic and very long climb up Kings Canyon that ultimately tops out on the Tahoe Rim trail where riders will be rewarded with double lake views of Marlette Lake & Lake Tahoe. Then they'll connect high quality descending singletrack and Flume Trail segments back toward Carson City."
Sadow predicted, "Between the arduous backcountry setting and top-notch quality trails all participants will enjoy equal parts suffering and reward."
Three-time Olympian Todd Wells weighed in on the race, "Epic Rides never disappoints, so I'm sure it's going to be a great course. I have good battle going with Ben Sontag for the overall, and I'm sure we'll fight it out again next weekend. Epic rides has showed us that backcountry racing is alive and well in the US."
There seem to be several potential spoilers in the men's race. Jeremiah Bishop (Topeak Ergon-Canyon) battled to just eighty seconds behind Wells at the Marathon National Championships last weekend after 62-mile miles in brutally hot conditions. He is also one of those rare athletes who excels at altitude despite living close to sea level.
Three-time Olympian, 13-time Canadian National Champion is a late entry in the field. Known for his technical riding ability and descending, he will be dangerous if he is with the leaders at the top of the big climb.
Spencer Paxson (Kona) has been on a full World Cup schedule this season. While he may be not be fully happy with his results, competition at that level tends to raise the riding level of those who compete.
The Inaugural Carson City Off-Road is dedicated to mountain bike innovator and Hall-of-Famer, Gary Fisher. If there's one name that's synonymous with the birth of mountain biking, it's Gary Fisher. It would not surprise to see Fisher attaching a number plate to his bike this weekend.
In addition to the professional racing on Friday and Sunday, over 600 amateurs will be racing three distances up to 50-miles on Saturday. The event has been sold out for months.
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for results, race reports, and photos from Carson City this weekend.