Todd Wells might be on to something.
When the professional mountain biker returned to Durango from London last summer after competing in his third Olympic Games, Wells said he planned to move on to longer, endurance mountain-bike events at this stage of his long career.
The 36-year-old, who has raced all over the world, already had won the Leadville 100 mountain-bike race, so when he was talking “endurance,” he was talking big-time endurance.
He was talking about the 54-mile test of will and power at the U.S. Marathon National Championships in Bend, Ore.
And in his first taste of ultra mountain biking, Wells won.
A national champion in cross country, short track and cyclocross (multiple times), Wells now is a national champion in marathon mountain biking.
“I’m really happy to win the national title at my first attempt at the marathon distance,” Wells said, adding that he learned a great deal in his first super-long-distance race.
“ ... Like I need to eat and drink more during the race because I was running on fumes at the finish,” he said. “It’s amazing how much more tired a 3½-hour race makes me than a normal cross country race.”
Wells said the course in Bend featured three laps on a sprawling 54-mile course around the city.
“There’s no busting out a few laps before the race, so I had to ride the course in sections,” Wells said. “Luckily, some of the locals showed me parts of the course.”
He also uploaded the course specifics on his Garmin GPS system.
“By the time race day rolled around, I had the course dialed in,” said Wells, who rode his new 2013 Specialized Epic.
Rain the night before the race also boosted everyone’s spirits, he said.
“We even got some much-needed rain the previous night – just enough to clean the smoke out of the air from the nearby forest fire and to keep down the dust for the start,” Wells said.
The former collegiate national mountain-bike champion broke from the start quickly in an early lead group of 20 cyclists.
“That group blew apart on the first climb,” said Wells, who pedaled on with a smaller group of five.
Adam Craig and Carl Decker, both from Bend, pulled into the lead and created a 20-second gap 25 miles into the race, Wells said.
But Wells bridged the gap with Barry Wicks, a pro mountain biker from Corvallis, Ore.
Wells rode on with Craig, and the two dropped Wicks.
“We (Wells and Craig) stayed locked together until about four miles to go,” Wells said.
“I could see Craig was starting to struggle, so I put in a surge and was able to get a gap pretty quickly,” said Wells, who held the gap to the finish. He won in 3 hours, 36 minutes, 52 seconds.
Decker passed Craig for second place and finished in 3:37:28.
Craig was third with Wicks fourth. Alexander Grant of Salt Lake City finished fifth.
“Both Craig and Decker live in Bend, are great descenders and know those trails like the back of their hands,” said Wells, who credited his support crew, including his wife, Meghan.
“Needless to say, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but things couldn’t have gone better,” said Wells, who pedaled into his long-distance future with a U.S. national championship.