By Stefano Barberi
On a recent Saturday, March 9, I took the start on my 2nd True Grit Epic, which also happens to be the start of my 2019 endurance season. The True Grit Epic earned its reputation for well, requiring true grit, and for being epic. Yeah I see what they did there, and with reason. It’s your typical Utah landscape with lots of big rocks and boulders that make up the course, fairly open with minimal trees, and the race is made up of 2 laps of about 43 miles each for the “100 mile” category or 1 lap for the “50 mile”. This race is technical and be prepared to be sore all over or a couple days afterwards, my knuckles are still sore as I type. Apparently there were another 849 people who like pain, as the race was completely sold out once again. Last year I went on to finish 2nd overall in the open men 100 mile category.
The days leading into the race were rainy and there were even snow days in the weeks leading up to the event. I drove out Wednesday with my wife Katie and son Micheli who turned 2 the day after the race. GRO Racing sent out an email a couple days prior saying that there was potential for a small course change depending on the conditions the morning off but luckily that plan was not required. Either way i was ready with a couple sets of Dryve wheels and multiple tire options from Kenda Tires.
The race starts fairly early at 7am, just after sunrise. I woke up a couple hours before, breakfast, load the car, wake up the wife and transport the baby into the car for the drive over. Once there my plan was to just unload the bike, I made the decision to run the new Booster Pro Kenda tires, threw on the Fizik shoes and lined up. From the start it was apparent we were there to race and there wasn’t going to be any games played. After a few of us got in a little tangle up Sam Brehm decided to put in the first dig, with Taylor Lideen and Pete Karinen chasing behind and eventually moving around into the lead, with myself somewhere behind chasing back. With the sun still rising there was a horrible glare depending on which direction we were heading and I think all of us were just trying to do our best to follow each other trusting the person ahead knew the way.
Soon I see Taylor and Pete coming up from behind me, they made a little detour but were quick to get back to the rest of us and back into the lead. Coming into the 1st tough single track section there were 3 up ahead and 3 or 4 of us in a chase group which started to splinter a bit. As I lead the chase group down the waterfall I noticed that Sam disappeared (found out later due to a flat), then some gaps, apparently someone else had a couple broken chains around this time too and we were barely 1.5 hours into the race.
Personally, I was feeling horrible physically from the start, would be easy to blame the low 30’s temperature or this or that but at that point it didn’t really matter why, I was just going to keep my head down and hope to come around a bit. At this point I was sitting 5th with one rider somewhere around 1-2 minutes ahead after the Zen Trail, and that is how it would stay pretty much till Zen Trail on the second lap. The 4th place rider made a stop at the feed station, I moved into 4th, and the legs started to come around a little bit about hour 5 and I didn’t see anyone again until I crossed the finish line (well beside the hundreds of other riders in the other categories).
4th place is not really what I had hoped for but to be honest, that is an honest expectation for where I am this season. At the end of last year I had to have surgery to fix a UPJ obstruction (Google that) and I planned to have surgery at the end of the season but with the recovery everything was pushed back about 6 weeks from my usual off season routine. Instead of trying to rush things, I’m trying to take my time a bit and see if I can come good a little later in the year as I typically have a small peak late march, then a drop followed by another bigger peak in June, which worked for the road season calendar but maybe not work as well with the MTB calendar these days as everything is a bit later. Only time will tell how that goes, but regardless of that I have no doubt True Grit is a great way to start my season, I’ll for sure be back again 2020 and you should join me too.
With that I end by saying thank you to GRO Racing, and all of the volunteers for putting on a great event, and to St. George for being such an amazing host city, tons of great restaurants and things to do so bring the family along like I did.
Stefano Barberi is a Pro mountain biker going into his 16th season as a professional rider, 14 as a road cyclist and the last 2 as a mountain biker.
Sponsors: Serious Cycling, Kenda Tires, Starlight Apparel, TheBlackBibs, Dryve Wheels, Fizik, Tasco MTB, ESI Grips