Flavia Oliveira Parks and Pete Stetina win Six Sigma Hopper
Maude Farrell and Brennan Wertz take overall Grasshopper Adventure Series victories.
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The Grasshopper Adventure Series, northern California’s beloved mixed-terrain early season race series, wrapped up on Saturday with the Six Sigma Hopper.
Flavia Oliveira Parks and Pete Stetina won the 77-mile race, with Parks coming in nearly four minutes ahead of Laura King and ten minutes ahead of Maude Farrell in third.
The men’s race had a more dramatic finale, with Stetina making a move at the end to overtake 20-year-old Ian Lopez de San Roman right before the line, and Ted King following in third about 35 seconds later.
All six podium finishers were one week post-Fuego XL, the 60-mile cross-country mountain bike race at Sea Otter.
Farrell and Brennan Wertz, who was fourth on the day, took tops steps in the overall Grasshopper Adventure Series podium. Farrell had the series buttoned up after Lake Sonoma in early April, while Wertz only barely nudged out Skyler Taylor after he DNF’ed Six Sigma due to a mechanical.
In true Hopper fashion, Six Sigma presented riders with tricky equipment choices. The course (77 miles, 5,329 feet of elevation gain) was mostly paved but had 12 creek crossings and a few sections of very technical off-road riding.
“The first 20 minutes you wish you had a full suspension mountain bike, but everyone’s on modified road bikes because the other 90 percent is on pavement,” Stetina said.
Riders who could move through the opening technical miles efficiently had an advantage, although there were plenty of opportunities to make up time on the rolling roads beyond. This was definitely the case for Oliveira Parks, who has been working on her off-road riding skills.
“At the start of the day I really was contemplating my life’s choices, but once we got on the road my perspective changed,” she said.
In the men’s race, Stetina, Lopez de San Roman, and Wertz formed a steady trio and rode Knoxville Road together. Stetina said he knew a group would likely catch them, and one did, which included King, who said his “wheels nearly came off early in the day.”
On Butts Canyon Road, where both the pitch and temperature climbed steadily, “everyone started to melt,” Stetina said. Riders started to fall off the back, and soon it was just the original three leaders, plus King, on the final climb.
Spruce Grove, the final cruxy section of the course, was a “slugfest up two steep pitches,” Stetina said. Everyone was struck by cramps at some point, and the race became a bit slower and more tactical. Going into the final creek crossing before the finish it was just Stetina and Lopez de San Roman, and the younger rider, who was on slick tires, bobbled slightly.
It was enough for Stetina to create a tiny gap.
“I didn’t have to sprint, the old vet kinda made his tactical save,” he said.
Grasshopper Adventure Series overall
A bold claim but likely true, the Grasshopper Adventure Series is the “world’s first and longest running gravel/mixed terrain adventure series.” 2023 was its 26th anniversary.
To compete for the overall series win, riders must have completed four of the five races. For those who raced all five events, only their best four results counted toward the overall.
The series kicked off in January with Low Gap, a “quintessential Hopper” that is equal parts pavé and dirt. In February, it was a very cold and muddy Huffmaster Hopper, followed by the Sherwood Hopper MTB adventure (also cold, wet, and muddy).
The sun came out for Lake Sonoma, a true XC course, and stayed out for Six Sigma.
Although series winners Farrell and Wertz will now turn their attention to the Life Time Grand Prix, both have credited the Grasshopper Adventure Series with both igniting and nurturing a love of racing by creating a lasting community.
“The Hoppers are so much more than just a race series,” Farrell said. “It’s just a full on experience. Because it’s local it carries so much connection, community pride, love, simplicity. For me personally it’s also the very seed of my gravel world. Super Sweetwater was the first gravel race I ever entered in 2019.
“Mig and the entire Grasshopper community feel like family — there are more hugs, conversations, hours spent dallying around with people than in any other context in bike racing. When I come to Hoppers I feel like I’m coming home, so to win the overall series it just feels … it feels like such an honor to represent something so close to my heart.
“I’m really proud, and I’m deeply happy I was able to make this series a priority this year. And even though none of the races went perfectly, I kept showing up and that dedication paid off. It’s the reminder I need that no success is ever one particular performance, but instead a collection of decisions to keep coming and keep trying. I have to say though, the Hopper vibes make it easy to keep it up.”