By Adam Lisonbee
The 2nd annual True Grit Epic Bike Race was held March 17th in Saint George, Utah. This year’s event featured 23, 50, and 100-mile options, and was touted by its promoters as “long, technical, and tough!” Truer words were never spoken. The race is exactly those things, and a lot more. The True Grit is also relentless, expansive, and beautiful. Shortly after finishing the 50 miler, Ryan Miller (Cutthroat Racing) said that he had “never known hell had such a beautiful view.” Indeed. The difficult nature of the course was offset by the red rock desert, tabled mesas, and scrubby tamarisk of Utah’s Dixie.
In 2011 torrential rain and extreme cold shut the race down midway through the day. Racers were muddy, hypothermic, and ornery. This year a rainy forecast once again threatened the race. But mountain bikers, optimistic as they are, enthusiastically lined up to race the iconic course. At the start line were men and women who clearly had, if nothing else, true grit. But this year the rain never fell. The dark grey clouds lingered ominously, and occasionally the wind blustered arrogantly, but nothing came of it. The weather turned out to be nearly ideal for a long day of springtime desert mountain bike racing.
Nevertheless, the race hurt. Amanda Carey (Kenda/Felt), the only woman to complete the 100-mile race, remarked that “events as hard as this one make you feel more alive! I’ll remember that feeling through the rest of the season, probably forever.” Jeff Higham (Epic Endurance), a veteran of several hundred-mile mountain bike races, said that “this was the most technical 100-miler I’ve raced.”
The men’s 100-mile field was small, but super competitive. Some of the regions most accomplished endurance racers lined up to take on the demanding route. Cary Smith (Team CF) rode to victory, with Casey Zaugg (CocoNutz Fuel/UMB) 2nd, and Jonathan Davis (Trek Store Boulder) third.
The men’s 50-mile race was tight and competitive. Drew Edsall (Kenda/Felt) edged out Hector Fernando Riveros (Acli-Mate/Bandwagon Racing) and Bart Gillespie (Revolution/Peak Fasteners), to take the early season win. Duff Johnson (Kuhl) and Roger Arnell (M) rounded out the top 5. “My legs were completely shot at the end of the race,” recounted Edsall. “But I loved the technical terrain and the amazing views.”
Kathy Sherwin (No Tubes) won the women’s 50-mile race, with Erin Swenson (Swensonator) second, and Kimberly Ridgeway (LV) third. Priscilla Baltz and Mary Foss (Kuhl) finished out the long podium, finishing fourth and fifth. “I’m happy with the result.” Sherwin said afterward, “it was a last minute decision to come to St. George to race, so I think I’m lucky to have finished feeling so strong.”
The True Grit course was one 50-mile lap. The 100-mile racers had to ride the grueling course twice. “What’s more difficult than one lap of the True Grit course?” asked 100-mile runner-up Casey Zaugg, “Two laps.”
Race promoter Cimarron Chacon designed the course, worked with local land managers, and organized nearly 40 volunteers who marked the route, manned aid stations, and stood by as emergency personnel. The collective effort resulted in a memorable, challenging, and gritty day in the desert. Chacon said that as she stood at the finish line “I was struck with the looks on people’s faces as they came through. It was a combination of pain and pure joy.” Pain and joy. Is there a better way to describe mountain bike racing?
For complete results, visit www.gropromotions.com