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Photo: Dave McElwaine

Nash defends Grand Junction Off-Road title

Katerina Nash dominates the desert, escaping early to win the second round of the Epic Rides Off-Road series by a healthy margin.

GRAND JUNCTION, Colorado (VN) — It was a happy episode of deja-vu for Katerina Nash (Clif Pro Team) as she rode alone to victory Sunday in the Grand Junction Off-Road, repeating her 2018 victory with remarkably similar tactics.

“I love the first half of the course, it’s just hard technical riding,” she said “I kind of had the same strategy all these years. I don’t attack into the hike-a-bike but I hike it fast and it puts people on the edge.”

Sure enough, she made her escape after just a few miles of singletrack in the Lunch Loops trail network, just south of Grand Junction, Colorado. Local rider Alexis Skarda (Sprintertainment) was second. Sofia Gomez-Villafane (Pivot-Stan’s) rounded out the podium in third.

Skarda had hoped to stay with the Czech Olympian, but Nash was soon up the trail and alone.

“She just crushed it on the very first part,” said Skarda.

Gomez-Villafane wasn’t surprised to see Nash go clear so early in the 43-mile race, on a short, steep hike-a-bike section.

“I knew it was going to happen,” Gomez-Villafane said. “I actually messaged her last night: ‘If you want a buddy out there, don’t attack me on the Widowmaker climb.’ She was like, ‘You have a dog, your feet should be good.’ I was like, ‘My dog is too lazy!’”

Nash attributes her fast hiking skills to her two Vizsla dogs, which she often takes hiking from her house in Truckee.

Having seen Nash ride away, Gomez-Villafane tried to secure second place. She put Skarda under pressure on the Butterknife singletrack, but to no avail.

“It’s pretty impressive, I think [Skarda] has been doing a lot of skills work and it’s paying off,” said Gomez-Villafane. “I’m pumped for her.”

Skarda said she had been spending lots of time on these tough hometown trails to prep for the race.

“I ride these trails every day, and I know it so well; especially on a course like this that’s technical, it’s really helpful,” she said.

However, Skarda’s ultimate plan was to use her climbing talents to ride away, and that’s what she did on the course’s longest and toughest climb up Windmill Road.

“Climbing right now seems to be my strength, and I wanted to use that so I had a little time for the descents,” Skarda said.

Villafane wasn’t going to risk redlining at the course’s halfway point to follow Skarda.

“Her climbing style and mine are very different,” said Gomez-Villafane. “I hate climbing that long. Two-, three-, five-minute climbs, I like that. Any longer, I struggle. I knew I had to do my own race and let her go and put my head down.”

Meanwhile, in the lead, Nash had some doubts of her own, admitting the seven-mile Windmill Climb was the toughest part of her race.

“I paced myself up the Windmill Climb and kept looking back — ‘Oh my god, they’re going to come, they’re going to catch me!’ But I never really saw anybody.”

Once she made it through the worst of the course’s climbs, Gomez-Villafane realized she faced a threat from behind. Last year’s Epic Rides Off-Road Series champion Evelyn Dong (Spry-Stan’s) was closing in.

“I was really struggling,” said Gomez-Villafane. “When I got on Little Park Road, I saw Evelyn coming up and I was a little worried about her. She kept me pretty honest out there.”

But Gomez-Villafane was able to hang onto her third-place standing, carefully taking split times on Dong when she could and keeping the pressure on through the final singletrack sections and on the road back to town.

Skarda stayed away to finish second with her fiancée watching: “It’s good, I was hoping for something like this — I’m happy,” she said.

For Nash, who also won the Friday night fat tire crit, it was another perfect weekend in Grand Junction, aided in part by the unseasonably cool weather.

“I was a little concerned about the rain, but I love these colder temperatures,” Nash added. “I’d take that over the heat any day.”

Top-10 results

1. Katerina Nash (Clif Pro Team), 03:46:00
2. Alexis Skarda (Sprintertainment), 03:51:17
3. Sofia Gomez Villafane (Pivot-Stan’s), 03:55:11
4. Evelyn Dong (Spry-Stan’s), 03:55:50
5. Rose Grant (Pivot-Stan’s), 03:58:09
6. Kaysee Armstrong (Liv Cycling), 04:00:38
7. Crystal Anthony (Liv Cycling), 04:03:48
8. Hannah Finchamp (Clif Pro Team), 04:09:48
9. Amy Beisel (Kenda), 04:11:13
10. Kaitlin Keough (Cannondale), 04:13:25

Full results >>