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The Wasatch All-Road gravel race returned to the Uinta Mountains of Utah last weekend, with Utah-based riders Griffin Easter and Chelsea Bolton winning the 100-mile Full Yeti course.
The second-year race boasted big money and big vert — $10,000 split evenly and 11,000 feet — while also debuting a new start/finish at the Soldier Hollow Nordic Center.
The cyclocross-style four-mile finishing circuit used some of the same XC ski terrain featured in the 2002 Olympics — and proved decisive in the men’s race, while also deciding second-fifth positions for the women.
However, Chelsea Bolton made her race-winning move long before the finishing laps. The Park City mountain biker went clear of the other women on the infamous Wasatch Wall climb.
Staring down riders at around mile 10, the Wall ascends nearly 5,000 feet before the 100-mile course’s first aid station.
Bolton knew she wanted to attack on the Wall, and beyond that she didn’t have much of a plan.
“I am a super fan of that Wasatch Wall,” she said. “So my goal was to go up that as hard as I could and see what happened from there. I think I was so focused on the wall that I wasn’t really aware of where I was in relation to anyone else ’cause my goal was to hit the wall hard. I couldn’t even say where that separation happened.
“I wanted to have a faster time up the Wall than last year, and I’m a pretty slow descender so I figured if I had any chance of getting top three this year I had to go hard up it.”
Behind Bolton, a quartet consisting of Emma Grant, Lindsey Stevenson, Crystal Anthony, and Caroline Tory all traded places throughout the remaining 75 miles with Bolton clear off the front.
Grant, who finished second, also made a decisive move on the Wall — she crashed.
“I was pushing on on the Wall and I turned around to see where the other women were and I took myself out,” she said. “I was lying on my back with my bike in the air trying to unclip out of my road pedals so I think this is the last gravel race I do in road pedals. But it was a long day, so I was like, ‘right, screwed up but we can probably make up for it.'”
Grant eventually did come back to catch Stevenson, Anthony, and Tory. Stevenson, who finished third, said that the women spent a lot of time together although she would often lose them on one of the race’s myriad of climbs.
“In kind-of a change of events for me, I was the weakest climber in the group but the best descender, so as long as I could keep the women within my sights on the climbs, just a minute or less in front of me, I’d catch them on the descents and get a little gap so I could start the climb ahead of them. Every climb I got caught by Crystal Anthony, Caroline Tory, and Emma once she recovered.”
Ultimately, the remaining positions in the women’s race were decided during the final circuit at Soldier Hollow. In an amazing rebound from her early crash, Grant was the rider who had the legs to kick to a solid second place.
“I followed Crystal who I know had a pretty good ‘cross pedigree and she was really attacking it,” Grant said. “I was like, ‘I don’t know if I can follow this,’ so I kinda ate off her plate, saw what she had, and then pushed on, got a gap and hoped that they’d kinda give up and let me go, and I managed to hold on to the finish.”
30 seconds later, Stevenson outsprinted Anthony for third, and Tory crossed in fifth one minute later.
In the men’s race, former pro roadie Griffin Easter outlasted two mountain bikers to win on the finishing circuit. It was the 30-year-old’s second showing at the race; last year he placed third.
Easter said he appreciated the new course this year, which included a few more miles on the road near the start and finish, buffering the meat of the technical gravel in the middle.
“I really liked it,” Easter said. “I thought it was really cool to be where the Olympics started, it has that aura, so having a race start there is super sweet. I enjoyed the longer road section out to the Wasatch Wall. On the way home, it was nice to have a break from the difficult terrain on the gravel.”
Zach Calton, who finished second, said that a group of about ten riders tested the waters going clear of the main bunch up the Wasatch Wall.
“People were twisting the throttle bit by bit to see who could go,” he said. “Eventually it whittled down to six going over the top, very slowly. The climb was about and hour and a half long.”
In the end, Easter, Calton, and Kyle Trudeau rode the final paved miles together back to Soldier Hollow before the 6k finishing circuit on dirt.
“It was a big long road drag, we worked well together, called a truce,” Calton said. “I think we all knew as soon as it was back on the dirt it was game on.”
The finishing circuit on the ski trails included some misleadingly steep kickers which put a natural end to the trio’s truce. Eventually, the race became one of attrition and whose legs could keep the pedals turning fastest after 11,000 feet of climbing.
“Kyle went first, I went second, and Griffin went third, and his move actually went,” Calton said. “He slowly grew his gap over me and I slowly grew my gap over Kyle. It was as much of a gap as we could do at that point in the race.”