By Shannon Boffeli — March 18, 2023 (SANTA CLARA, UTAH) — Even the reliably dry desert terrain of southern Utah has not been immune to the relentless weather systems that have pummeled the western US this winter. The night before the 2023 True Grit Epic rains fell for most of the night and riders awoke to some last-minute changes to the course. The most critical of which being that the race start through Cove Wash was too muddy for riders to pass leading to a “neutral start” through town and onto the trails in Green Valley.
The course changes were a last-minute decision by race director Cimarron Chacon and an overwhelming success. The changes did not affect the distance for the 50-mile riders but would impact the 100-mile racers making it impossible to complete their second lap and forcing them to simply repeat three full laps around the 6-mile Barrel Roll trail.
All categories and distances started at 8AM and the pack started hot with a mad dash through the streets of Santa Clara to the singletrack in Green Valley. After missing the trail turn off most the riders jumped off their bikes to run and tumble down a muddy bank to the trail. After the race 100 miler Gordon Wadsworth had this to say about the start, “That start was so manky. Our whole group was like a herd of buffalo diving off a cliff.”
But once on course things settled down and trail conditions proved to be tacky despite patches of rainfall that continued to fall throughout the day.
Defending 50-mile champion Danny Van Wagoner (Johnson Elite Orthodontics) had gotten off to a good start and took an early lead into the infamously steep technical descent of the Waterfall. Van Wagoner saying later that, “Surprisingly, that didn’t seem all that sketchy despite the wet rock.”
Van Wagoner continued his solo lead until teammate Roger Arnell and Truman Glasgow (Imaginary Collective) caught him on the climb to Zen trail. The trio navigated the maze of slickrock that is the Zen trail together.
Meanwhile the women’s 50-mile leader Caroline Dezendorf (Easton/Cervelo), who was riding the demanding course of the True Grit Epic blind and on a hardtail, had told herself to, ‘expect the unexpected.’
A strong effort on the road start was paying dividends as she held the lead into the singletrack with seconds in hand over her hard-charging competitors. “The trails were so fun,” Dezendorf would say after the finish, “I was kind of amazed how much of the slick rock I could ride blind.”
The Reno, Nevada, racer was indeed having an impressive day taking a lead through the unforgiving Zen trail. A couple of small mistakes including a crash opened the door for Mya Graham (Waite Endurance) to close up on the leader making contact at the second feed zone just before climbing toward the Bearpaw Poppy trail.
Not far behind the lead duo, a group of women rode wheel-to-wheel at the halfway point including KC Holley (Kuhl), Lauren Zimmer (Carborocket Pro MTB), and Holly Haguewood.
At this time, the lead men were still riding in formation with Van Wagoner, Arnell, and Glasgow out front. As the leaders began the climb up the Rim Reaper trail Van Wagoner could see the threatening figure of Zach Calton (Calton Coaching) and Carter Anderson (Kuhl) charging behind.
Van Wagoner pushed the pace up front splitting Roger Arnell before his final acceleration on the Barrell Roll climb unseated Truman Glasgow from his wheel opening a gap he would hold until the finish successfully defending his title as True Grit Epic champion.
Truman Glasgow dropped another spot to third by the finish losing in a sprint finish to Roger Arnell. Carter Anderson would cross the line two minutes later in fourth just one second in front of Zach Calton.
On the women’s side Caroline Dezendorf was doing her best to hold off a challenge from Graham. As the course dried up so did the mud that had collected in Dezendorf’s shoes and pedals at time making it impossible to clip in. “My cleats and pedals became cement,” She shared after the finish, “It made it so a lot of features that I should have been able to ride I had to run because I wasn’t clipped in.”
But Dezendorf kept her cool and focused on staying calm and pedaling forward. She again opened the gap to second place and kept stretching her lead until the finish. Undeterred by a less than perfect day she indeed stayed calm and took the True Grit win by a margin of over 10 minutes.
18-year-old Mya Graham came home in second.
The final steps of the podium came down to a back-and-forth battle with Lauren Zimmer eventually taking third just seconds in front of Holly Haguewood in fourth and KC Holley in fifth.
Riders in the rain-shortened 100-mile event completed one full lap and two additional 6-mile laps of the Barrel Roll trail for a full distance of 62 miles.
It was hometown teenager Gwendolyn Sepp (Artemesia Cycling) taking top honors. She was followed by Suzanne Jensen (Roaring Mouse) and Bigfoot Endurance racer Julia Thumel in third.
The men’s race went to Samuel Brehm (Cyclery Bike Shop) in a time of 4:15:41. Gordon Wadsworth (Blue Ridge Cyclery p/b Revel Bikes) took runner up honors almost 10 minutes in front of Ryan Bennett (No Ride Around) in third.
True Grit Gravel
In past years, the True Grit Epic has featured a multi-day stage race competition that includes the Epic mountain bike race followed by an 84-mile gravel race the following day. For the first time in 2023 the gravel race would happen one week after the mountain bike stage.
Weather conditions proved to be much drier for the gravel event, but a winter of heavy precipitation left the gravel roads in rough condition with ruts and washboard bumps challenging riders and their equipment.
St. George’s own Allyson Sepp (Artemisia Cycling) won the race of attrition in this year’s True Grit Gravel taking first place and taking the stage race title after her 6th place finish in the Epic mountain bike race.
The men’s gravel event win went to Zach Calton who separated from Bjorn Larson (TNE & Associates LLP) and Carter Anderson (Kuhl) to take the top step of the podium and the stage race title. Calton will also be participating in this year’s Life Time Grand Prix.
Complete 2023 MTB results here.
Complete 2023 Stage Race results here.