A host of well-known names will bring vastly varying ambitions to the start lines of the men’s and women’s pro fields at the fourth annual Carson City Off-Road mountain bike race this weekend in Nevada. But no matter one’s objective, the ability to go uphill fast will be paramount to success — or simply to minimize suffering. The 48-mile clockwise looped course includes a leg searing 6,236 feet of climbing, most of it above 6,000 feet with a high point just a shade over 8,000 feet.
“This is the opposite of [the last Epic Rides series race in] Grand Junction, which had a high emphasis on technical skills. This race is all about climbing,” explained 2018 Carson City winner Ben Sonntag (Clif Pro Team), who’s currently second in the Epic Rides overall series standings. “I won here last year in a three-up sprint and the goal is to be at the front again. But we’ll see what happens Sunday morning. The climbing starts early, so 30 minutes in you’ll know what kind of day you’re going to have.”
For that reason, most of the riders VeloNews spoke with plan on racing hardtails versus the full-suspension steeds that were all but mandatory in Colorado. That includes 2018 Carson City women’s pro winner and 2016 Olympian Chloe Woodruff (Stan’s-Pivot), who currently sits third overall in the World Cup standings.
“I tend to gravitate more to the faster [cross-country] style of racing that’s more tactical and high intensity,” admitted Woodruff. “These longer races are more challenging. But I really love getting out into the backcountry, which is ultimately why I’m a mountain bike racer.”
Woodruff will also have to face down the formidable challenge of a stacked women’s field that includes reigning world champion and current World Cup series leader Kate Courtney (Scott-SRAM), 2016 Olympic bronze medal winner Catharine Pendrel (Clif Pro Team), and wildcards Ellen Noble and Kaitlin Keough, who are both best known for the cyclocross achievements.
“I wanted to try something new this summer that would help me improve my skills,” explained Keough (Cannondale), who was 10th at the Grand Junction Off-Road race in May. “After this I’m doing BC Bike Race as a duo with [fellow Cannondale ’cross star] Stephen Hyde.”
Noble is not quite the newbie, but like Keough her objectives are more focused on fun than finishing first. “After doing such a long ’cross season, I needed a break and it always looks like people are having a blast at these events,” said Noble (Trek Factory Racing). “I love doing longer races and rides, so I’m excited to see how things turn out.”
Men’s series leader Russell Finsterwald (Clif Pro Team) enters with decidedly different goals. “I want to win the series,” he said, adding that top challengers this weekend will include the likes of Stephan Davoust (Giant Factory Off-Road), Keegan Swenson (Stan’s-Pivot), and his Clif teammate Sonntag. “At the same time, these are such killer events. At the World Cups it’s all business. Here you have all the amateurs racing, too, and everyone is just super pumped on bikes. It’s such a great scene that’s really helped revive mountain bike racing in the U.S.”
That’s exactly what Epic Rides president Todd Sadow is going for. “We’ve always made an effort to stay true to the roots of the sport and ride terrain we want to ride, and not go to some park and do lap after lap,” he said, noting that approximately 950 entrants will contest the three days of racing that include 15, 30, and a (nearly) 50-mile course, all of them single loop circuits with tons of superb Sierra Nevada scenery. “This makes it a fun experience for everybody. The giant party at the start/finish doesn’t hurt either.”