Now in its 22nd year, the Super Sweetwater race is the original Grasshopper Adventure Series event, which is put on by race promoter Miguel Crawford out of Healdsburg, California.
Mixed-surface bike racing is on trend these days, but it’s old hat to Crawford, who mixes in a blend of road, gravel and mountain bike throughout his Grasshopper events.
The first event, Low Gap, saw two-time Olympian Geoff Kabush overtake Stetina and former U-23 mountain bike national champion Sandy Floren in the final meters of a muddy mixed-surface event. At Low Gap, WorldTour star Katie Hall won the women’s event ahead of Lauren Cantwell and Moriah Wilson.
Super Sweetwater normally takes in a fair amount of gravel, but landslides and road damage ruled that out this year, so most of the 500 riders showed up on road bikes, albeit with wide tires for the rough pavement on much of the 90-mile, 8,000ft-elevation-gain course.
In gran fondo or sportive style, Grasshopper events are mass start, with pros and amateurs mixed in together and raced on roads that are open to traffic.
Traffic lights figured into the racing a bit, as a construction zone at the bottom of a screaming descent forced the front group of about 10 riders to stop for more than five minutes, allowing a few dozens dropped riders to rejoin.
“We went pretty hard over [the first climb] Sweetwater and it broke apart,” Floran said. “Pete was going hard up the climbs, shocking no one. And then on the final the climb it ended up being me, Pete and [fourth place] Colin Joyce. I was hoping it would come down to a sprint, but Pete broke us. Great race though. Awesome people. Such a fantastic series.”
The men-and-women-together format made keeping tabs on the women’s race a bit challenging. Second and third place finishers Wilson and Alison Tetrick weren’t entirely sure if it was just Faulkner or other women in the lead group in front of them.
“I thought I was in the front at the top of [the second climb] Fort Ross, but someone on the side of the road told me there I was in second,” Wilson said.
The race finished atop a long climb at mile 65, where riders regrouped and enjoyed a food stop, before pedaling back to a meal catered by Michelin chef and cyclist Matthew Accarrino. Atop the final climb and at the finish, the podium finishers had nothing but positive things to say about the format.
Road pro turned gravel star Tetrick lives nearby and has done multiple Grasshopper events.
“This is my third time doing Super Sweetwater, and it’s always an adventure; the course changes every year,” Tetrick said. “The first year had singletrack and it finished up Willow Creek on dirt. This year, we had traffic lights and epic views. These are my home roads, I just did this loop with Katie Hall and Kate Courtney last week.”
Another elite gravel racer in the mix this year was John Borstelmann, winner of the 2019 Gravel Worlds. Borstelmann said the 2020 edition of the event felt somewhat like a road race.
“The event feels a lot like a gravel in terms of how it is organized and the vibe, but the event itself this year was definitely a little more roadie,” he said. “There were a couple decent-sized teams that showed up and did some attacks and stuff. But it is such a good event and such a cool group of people.”
While Stetina winning the race for the second consecutive year wasn’t a shocker, the women’s winner isn’t yet a household name. Faulkner just started racing pro this year for Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank. With many of her teammates in Europe, Faulkner came out to Super Sweetwater for some hard racing, and got what she came for.
“It was really hard,” she said at the finish. “On the first climbs I was just hanging on, sometimes dangling off the back. I definitely felt like I was yo-yoing with the men’s peloton. My coach told me last night, ‘you are used to racing hard, tomorrow you need to race smart.’ I think I got here by racing hard, but that’s not going to get me where I need to be.”
The next race of the Grasshopper Adventure Series is Lake Sonoma MTB on March 28.