A diverse international field will be heading to the 3rd Annual Grand Junction Off-Road p/b U.S. Bank race on May 29-31. At stake will be $30,000 in prize money with an equal pay-out for the women’s racing. Closely patterned after the highly successful Whiskey Off-Road, the Grand Junction event has grown dramatically. Pro racers from Columbia, the Czech Repubic, New Zealand, Canada, and Germany are expected to toe the line next weekend along with hundreds of amateur racers.
Riders will compete in a Fat Tire Criterium on Friday evening, then will race 40 miles on Sunday morning. The race course has become known as one of the most difficult in the USA. Held largely on Bureau of Land Management trails outside of Grand Junction, riders will face 5,344 feet of climbing with virtually no flat section of the course over the 40-mile distance. It starts at an elevation of 4,600 feet and reaches over 6,500 feet at its highest point. Nearly the entire final 12 miles is downhill, a feature that has become quite popular with the racers.
Columbian National Champion Fernando Paez (Raleigh Clement) will be back to defend his 2015 title. He finished fourth at the recent Whiskey Off-Road, ahead of anyone currently registered for Grand Junction. He resides in Colorado Springs and has become quite comfortable on Colorado terrain. As former World Champion Christoph Sauser discovered at the 2014 Whiskey Off-Road, Paez excels on long climbs. At the 17.5 mile-mark of the Grand Junction race, riders will begin a tough five-mile climb where the race is likely to be won.
Unlike last season when Paez was a privateer, he is now fully supported by the powerful Raleigh/Clement team. “I'm so excited to go back to Grand Junction Off-Road and have the opportunity to defend the title because is important to me and my Raleigh Clement team. I can't wait to line up for one of the most technical courses in the U.S. It has lots of singletrack, enough climbing to hurt you, and fun descents,“
Providing significant competition for Paez will be 39-year-old USA Marathon and XC Champion Todd Wells. Wells. The former Olympian races well at altitude, and is a better descender than Paez. If Paez gets away on the penultimate climb, Wells will have a full twelve miles to reel him in.
Wells has re-focused his racing schedule over the past couple years. No longer participating in the full World Cup Circuit, he now specializes in domestic racing, especially epic events like the Whiskey Off-Road and the Leadville 100.
“I'm looking forward to my first crack at the Grand Junction Off-Road”, commented Wells. “Epic Rides doesn't just put on a bike race, they put on a great event. The courses are always fun and challenging, the competition is top notch, there is great prize money, and it seems like one big party.”
The Pro Women will start on Sunday ten minutes behind the men. Last year’s winner, Chloe Woodruff (NoTubes-Niner), will be away competing in the World Cup at Nove Mesto, Czech Republic. In an odd turn of events, the Czech Republic’s most famous off-road cyclist of all time, Katerina Nash (Luna Pro Team), will compete instead at Grand Junction. Nash can win at almost any distance but her specialty is shorter events than the Grand Junction race. She won the Fontana Pro-XCT this season, which carried a UCI-HC rating, in convincing fashion.
Nash is looking forward to next weekend. She told Cyclingnews, “I like and fully support where XC racing is going these days, but deep down I really like the epic kind of racing with one big loop with little or no support. That is the kind of cycling adventure that I like to do during my training rides. I don’t know much about the trails around Grand Junction but I’m very excited to explore them during the Grand Junction Off-Road event.”
For two years in a row Nash has finished the Whisky Off-Road in fourth place. Last year she was one place ahead of Rose Grant (NoTubes), and this year one place behind her. Grant recently won the USA Marathon Championship for the second year in a row. She has raced this year alongside the World Champion and former Olympians and seems undaunted by their longer resumes.
Speaking to Cyclingnews, she said, “I am super excited to be racing the Grand Junction Off-Road for the first time! The folks at Epic Rides work so hard and make their events organized, well attended, have super amazing courses, and offer large and equal pay outs! I knew that I had to be a part of the Grand Junction this year!”