Tour of Canyonlands still alive; Wiens, Matthes dominate
By David Grover

It's not just any mountain bike race, it's the longest-running mountain bike race in the mountain-bike capital of the world. It's a three-day, three-race event with prizes paid three deep in every category. It's good food, local music, and high energy. It's Moab's eighth annual Tour of Canyonlands.

"This race has a real strong history," Race Director Eric Jean said. "Because it's in the mountain bike capital of Earth, it just draws them (racers) here."

It was an easy draw to leave rain-soaked Salt Lake City and head for the red rocks and technical trails that inspire passion in the hearts of bikers like few places.

Paul Smith, above, makes a splash at the Tour of Canyonlands on his way to fourth place in the combined Jr./Sr. Beginning Men's class. Below, sunny skies brought a smile to Darcy Day's face while racing in the cross country race.

Photos by David Grover

The festivities kicked off Thursday afternoon with a fiesta at one of the local bike shops, but officially started that evening at Eddie McStiff's restaurant and microbrewery. The sounds of local music, the smell of good food, and anticipation of the races permeated the air. The extra ambitious even embarked on an 8 p.m. night ride.

The next day held the quarter-mile dirt criterium from Kane Creek to Hurrah Pass.

"We have a great course," Jean said. "It's fast, and it's a great spectator event because nearly the whole course is visible."

Gregory Randolph won the Crit for the Pro/Expert men, and Brooke Blackwelder lead the pro/Expert women's field.

The main event, however, was Saturday's cross country race on Amasa Back Loop just south of town.

Over 240 riders congregated a few miles down Kane Creek road for a 9 a.m. start. Had it not been for a NORBA scheduling error, the turnout could have been even larger. "I believe we lost one-third of our riders this year to another event in Grand Junction, CO," he said. "A lot of the front range riders from Colorado just didn't make it here." Also noticeably absent was the huge corporate sponsorship and tons of fanfare so prevalent in many of today's races.

Pro racer David Wiens was nostalgic. "This is the way mountain bike racing was when I started (twelve years ago)," he said. "You're in a parking lot; that's where your awards are, you set up the port-a-potties and you go race."

The course is also a classic;a 25-mile loop with a brutal hike-a-bike (known as Jacob's Ladder) in the middle, and a speedy descent to finish it off. "It's epic," Wiens said.

Easy for him to say. He took first place overall with a time of 1:30:49. In the men's Pro category, Peter Swenson finished second behind Wiens at 1:31:46, and Peter Webber in third with a time of 1:33:16.

The Pro women were Led by Ruth Matthes at 1:55:44, Rene Marshman in second at 1:58:42, and Gretchen Reeves third with a time of 2:00:12. Also a plus for this course: Racers in all categories excepting the beginners rode the same 25-miles.

"There are a lot of sport class riders who probably had their hands full," Wiens said. "which is great because it really makes them feel like they've accomplished something today."

The racing ended Sunday with a downhill course along the Porcupine Rim trail a few miles east of the cross-country site.

Because of its gradual slope, the 1.8 mile route is actually considered a fitness course.

What? A downhill fitness course?

Think of it as the difference between the level of energy a track and field athlete exerts versus the amount a marathon runner spends.

Jurgen Beneke capped the Downhill for the Pro men in 4 minutes, 34:69 seconds. The Pro Women were led by Christina Nicholas in 5:24:68.

Most riders weren't even aware the Tour of Canyonlands almost didn't happen this year. According to a supplement to the Times Independent, former Tour of Canyonlands race promoter Ron Lindley decided to pull out of the event for 1998.

"It's a lot of work," Lindley said. "Also, anything you do in Moab takes a lot of permits. I decided to focus on the Fat Tire Festival."

Jean and his Cycle Cyndicate promotions group were the new guys on the red rock block this year. They managed to pull the event off without a hitch.

" I myself am a racer," Jean said, "and I just want to continue to do everything as a promoter with the racer in mind."

With a barbeque feast on the line, the racing was serious at Zion

Saturday, May 9, the Wild Rockies Intermountain Cup Zion BBQ Bike Fest attracted over 200 racers to the beautiful Zion Ponderosa Ranch and Resort, for a Mountain Bike Festival to rival all others.

The serenity and majestic beauty of the landscape helped inspire competitors to push through the grueling seven-mile, figure-eight course on the east rim of Zion National Park.

According to race promoter, Ed Chauner, the fairly new trails provided some unexpected challenges. The figure-eight pattern centered in the middle of the Zion Ponderosa Ranch, ascended 500 feet up a steep jeep road to a tight, technical descent complete with blind corners, berms and whoop-de-dos. Average descending speed was likely about 2 miles per hour.

Team Active Sport's Clydes-dale member, Veldon Moser led the over 200 pounders, while Mad Dog Cycle's Kyle Gillespie beat out Cameron Smart in the Junior Expert category.

Bryan Gillespie, another Mad Dog Cycle team member, and brother of the Junior Expert winner, took the Senior Expert field by storm beating out Carter Davis and Joe Purnhagen, both of Salt Lake City.

Pro rider Cris Fox had his work cut out for him as he battled Gene Hilton and Tim Brown through the four laps of the figure 8 course. Fox narrowly won with a time of 1.55:19, just ahead of Hilton (1.55:33) and Brown (1.55:53).

Sandy's, John Olden of team K2 took the Vet Expert race ahead of Park City riders Todd Henneman of team Nacho Mama's, Bart Adams and Bruce Allen.

As the competition waned and as racers received their well deserved prizes while enjoying a pasta feast, everyone marveled at the perfect location for a weekend of camping, hiking and most importantly, mountain biking!