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A total of 485 riders lined up for Low Gap, the series season opener, under sunny skies in Ukiah, California. The race attracted a healthy ratio of professionals to amateurs; 50 men and women raced in the pro category. Maude Farrell and Lauren Cantwell rounded out the ladies podium with Courtney, while Brennan Wertz and Alex Wild sprinted to a close second and third behind Lamperti.
What the 43-mile Low Gap course lacks in distance it makes up for in terrain. The course is equally split between pavement and dirt and gains just over 5,600 feet of climbing. A highlight is Low Gap Road, 21 miles of dirt that include an 11-mile 1,100-foot climb (with a few small descents) and a ripping nine-mile dirt, gravel, rutted descent to the finish.
Lamperti said that a group of five rode hard together until Low Gap Road.
“From there, Alex [Wild] kinda took charge and was on the front most of the dirt,” he said. “I just followed a bit and figured it out on the road tires. The last descent it was two of us, then Brennan came back, and then we had a nice little sprint to the line.”
Race director Miguel Crawford said he cautioned Lamperti against using slick tires but the U.S. national crit champion didn’t suffer for it.
Pete Stetina, a Grasshopper stalwart, finished fifth on the day. He was stoked for Lamperti.
“It was so great to see Luke win,” Stetina told VeloNews. “He is my training partner and we always give him crap that despite him being scouted by WorldTour teams he isn’t actually legit yet as he hadn’t won a Hopper, which as a local boy is a right of passage. So I guess he is finally all grown up!”
Former XC world champ Kate Courtney won the women’s race aboard her Scott Contessa Addict gravel bike with Maxxis Rambler tires.
“I had so much fun,” she said at the finish. “It was awesome racing with a bunch of my friends. We had great groups all day. I ended up alone a lot of it which was kinda fun, kinda lonely.”
For many of the pros, Low Gap was an opportunity to explore fitness and weaknesses heading into the 2022 season. Second place finisher Maude Farrell rode her own ride to finish eight minutes behind Courtney.
“I wanted to race Low Gap just to find out what hard feels like right now,” Farrell told VeloNews. “Sometimes hard is fast, sometimes hard is very, very slow. Sometimes hard is enough for a miracle, and sometimes it’s enough just to keep you ‘alive’ in the race, so to speak. Keeping my focus not on who I was racing but on how I wanted to race was my goal and I’m proud I executed on that. I didn’t see Kate after the start line, but it didn’t bother me because my race was really to explore my mental space heading into the 2022 season. Nothing like kicking off the season on home turf surrounded by hundreds of my friends.”
Although Courtney was indeed the sharpest tip at the pointy end of the women’s race, she told VeloNews that what makes ‘Hoppers so special is how they combine great racing with a fun, friendly vibe.
“The women’s field was incredible to be a part of not just because of the depth of strong racers, but because of the inclusivity and community this event breeds,” she said. “I camped and spent the weekend with one of my best friends Libby who I met through the NorCal league in high school. My cousin Claire, who is relatively new to cycling, raced in the age group category. My friend from Stanford Eileen completed the event after having a baby less than four months ago.”
“The front of the race is of course always fun — c’mon, wine is on the line alongside a nice check — but it’s sharing adventure stories with friends like these and eating burritos with your competitors post-race that makes these events special.”
A full list of results can be found here.
- Kate Courtney, 2:33
- Maude Farrell, 2:41
- Lauren Cantwell, 2:48
- Amity Rockwell, 2:49
- Kathy Pruitt, 2:56
- Luke Lamperti, 2:14:53
- Brennan Wertz,2:14:54
- Alex Wild, 2:14:54
- Ryan Gorman, 2:17
- Pete Stetina, 2:18