Chris Pipkin works for the BLM, and the dude can shred.
While riding the course I bumped into Chris Pipkin, an Outdoor Recreation Planner for the Bureau of Land Management, Grand Junction Field Office. Chris has been building, maintaining and protecting trails around Grand Junction for 20 years. Without his efforts and dedication to the trails, The Grand wouldn’t have happened. And by the way, Chris can shred, even in his work clothes.
Make no mistake, The Grand is no Leadville Dirt Fondo; it’s a course designed to reward gritty, tough mountain bikers who have a deep toolbox of technical prowess. Think Gunnison Growler – only more technical.
The 40 Grand course includes popular trails like Twist ‘n Shout, Gunny Loop, Butterknife, Magellan, Rough Canyon and the mind-blowing beauty of Andy’s Loop. If you’ve ridden any of these trails, then you know…this course ain’t for the weak.
Andy’s Loop offers otherworldly landscapes. Photo Credit: Devon Balet (www.devonbaletphoto.com).
For me, Butterknife and Andy’s Loop were the highlights, offering up some of the most fun yet demanding trails I’ve ever ridden in an organized race. Both trails keep you honest and on your toes constantly while rewarding you with spectacular views of the Grand Valley and red rock cliffs lined with precariously placed juniper and pine trees.
Another highlight, although definitely the most painful, was a mile-long slickrock climb out of Rough Canyon. Virtually the entire distance was one giant rock face, and as I was barely turning 25 rpms on my singlespeed up that wall of sandstone, I could hear the insane grip of my tires on the sandpaper-like surface. I’ve never experienced a sensation like that in 20 years of mountain bike racing.
Dropping into the steep canyon of Andy’s Loop.
After bombing downhill and being swallowed by the steep, red rock canyon cliff walls of Andy’s Loop, a short climb out rewards you with a final couple miles of flowing singletrack on Eagle’s Tail, that although not as technical as Butterknife, still keeps you on your toes.
I arrived back in town completely exhausted yet entirely elated. My back was tweaked, my neck was sore and my arms were Jell-O, but my smile was ear-to-ear. The views, the trails, the volunteers and the community; they all came together making it one of the top five courses I’ve ever competed on.
Left: Pua Mata of Team Sho-Air Cannondale on the slickrock en route to a commanding victory. Right: Eventual winner Ben Sonntag cresting the top of a mile-long slickrock climb.
The next morning I watched the Pro riders take to the course. Pua Mata (Team Sho-Air Cannondale) and Ben Sonntag (Interbanc/Cannondale) claimed victory in convincing fashion, with Sonntag crushing the 40-mile course in just over three hours. Both Pua and Ben receiving a gigantic check for $4,000 – equal payout between Pro Men and Women is an Epic Rides staple.
19 year-old Durango phenom Sepp Kuss pulled out an impressive 2nd place finish behind Sonntag.
The big surprise of the race was Sepp Kuss, a 19 year-old kid from Durango who finished only two minutes behind Sonntag in second place. Not to be confused with an ornery cuss, Sepp Kuss is a name to remember in 2014, as The Grand was definitely a breakthrough performance for him.
So what’s harder, the Whiskey or The Grand? They’re both difficult, but in completely different ways. The Whiskey has bigger, longer climbs while The Grand has much more technically demanding singletrack – and more of it. So if you like techy tech riding, you like singletrack and you like slickrock, The Grand is a must do in 2014.
Get the full results and more photos at Epic Rides.