Four men will represent the United States at the UCI Mountain Bike Marathon World Championship this month. Half are from Durango.
USA Cycling announced its roster for the event scheduled for June 25-26 in Laissac, France. Howard Grotts, 23, and Todd Wells, 40, will represent the Americans along with Jeremiah Bishop of Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Tristan Cowie of Brevard, North Carolina.
“I wanted to give marathon worlds another go this year, and we made it happen,” Grotts said in a phone interview with The Durango Herald.
Grotts finished 14th in the event last year at Selva Val Gardena, Italy. Austria’s Alban Lakata claimed victory on the mountainous course through the Dolomites. The 36-year-old Lakata finished last year in 4 hours, 24 minutes, 46 seconds. Grotts, who was one of the youngest riders in the field last year at 22, finished in 4:37:20. He was the top American, with Michael Broderick the next closest in 92nd.
Grotts excelled in the grueling climbs, as the race featured 15,420 feet of ascent over 54 miles.
This year’s course is slightly longer at nearly 56 miles. Though it still has some big climbs, Grotts said it’s not quite as sustained as last year.
“Marathon racing courses tend to vary dramatically,” Grotts said. “Anything where it is going uphill is where I tend to excel, and of course on more technical downhills.”
Wells, who rides for SRAM/Troy Lee Designs/Scott, will look to defend his streak of four-consecutive titles Saturday in Columbia County, Georgia, at the USA Cycling Marathon Mountain Bike National Championship. The course will cross 60 miles and climb only 2,600 feet. The event is a month later this year than in 2015, and much higher temperatures are expected. Wells said it will be hot and muggy with temperatures in the 90-degree range.
Grotts won’t compete at nationals. The Specialized Racing team member is back in Durango after a couple weeks on the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup circuit in Europe and is coming off his best World Cup finish of the year with an 18th-place result in France last weekend. He will compete at the Firebird Cross Country - 2016 Colorado State Championships in Eagle this weekend before trying to defend his title at the GoPro Games in Vail the next weekend.
Grotts is also in a fierce competition for the one-and-only spot on the U.S. mountain bike team for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He is locked in a competition with Stephen Ettinger of Washington for that nomination. The rider will be named June 24.
“The Olympics is a big deal because it only comes around every four years,” Grotts said. “If we had two spots, I think the team would be a little easier to name.”
Wells currently leads the Epic Rides season series by 47 seconds ahead of Durango’s Benjamin Sonntag. The winner of the three-race series earns an extra $5,000, and the final is scheduled June 17-19 in Carson, City, Nevada. It is not immediately certain how Wells’ selection to the marathon worlds team will change his previous commitment to the Epic Rides circuit.