Durango’s Howard Grotts and Todd Wells were in a race of their own through four of six laps. That’s when Wells, 39, broke and Grotts, 22, hit his stride.
“It’s a national championship, and everyone takes their game to another level to earn the right and honor to win the stars-and-stripes jersey for the next year,” Grotts said.
He crossed the finish line for the USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships at Mammoth Mountain in California in 1 hour, 42 minutes, 13.8 seconds after completing six laps and 24 miles of tough racing at an elevation over 8,000 feet. It was a special moment for Grotts and his parents, Don Grotts and Debbie Williams, after the family lost Howard’s older brother, Donald, to a drug overdose earlier this summer.
“All of these races in the wake of my brother’s death have been both hard and cathartic in a way,” Grotts said. “I’ve been pouring myself into bike racing, and it’s worked out. We’re happy as a family, and it means a lot.”
Grotts’ win didn’t come easy. He needed to make a wheel change on lap three, but that didn’t slow him down much. He fell 21 seconds behind Wells at the time but immediately closed the gap to nine seconds with two laps to go.
His strong climbing ability proved to be the difference. Each lap had more than 800 feet of climbing.
“Howard and I were together on a steep section of a climb. He punched it a bit, and I punched back to stay on his wheel, but it was pretty much over for me,” Wells said.
“Howard came by me, and then everyone came by me. I exploded out there.
“I knew Howie would be the guy to beat. He’s been riding well and excels in climbing altitude courses. It’s awesome to see him get the win and keep the stars-and-stripes jersey with the team, especially with all the tragedy that’s happened for him this year. It’s nice to see him and his family have something to celebrate.”