The inaugural Life Time Grand Prix presented by Mazda adventure race series continues Saturday, July 9, in Beaver, Utah. On the docket is a relatively short but brutal 70-mile (112km) mixed terrain race with 40 percent pavement and 60 percent gravel.
The race is touted as one of the hardest 70-mile races one will ever do, largely due to the relentless climbing at high altitude.
Started back at the Sea Otter Classic in April, the Life Time Grand Prix is a mixed-surface race series in which a cast of 60 hand-selected international competitors travel across the U.S. to compete at some of the country's premier endurance events in pursuit of a $250,000 prize purse.
The series’ goal is to increase cycling fandom in the United States, and showcase some of the best and unique off-road events throughout the country.
With the extreme distances, challenging terrain, high altitudes, and a variety of racing disciplines to master, those who’ll emerge as the winners come October will have to be very well-rounded cyclists indeed.
The series opened with a hot and dusty 80-kilometer XC mountain bike race in Monterey, California.
While serving as a confidence-builder for the fat-tire racers in the peloton, some roadies struggled to stay upright in the fats and loose conditions. The race was won by mountain biker Keegan Swenson in the men's field and Moriah Wilson among the women. Tragically, Wilson was murdered a month later while visiting Texas for another race.
Round 2 of the Life Time Grand Prix series took place at the world's biggest gravel race: the Unbound 200 in Kansas. This 200-mile (321km) gravel race is a true test of endurance, self-sufficiency and equipment. In addition to needing to fuel oneself for 11+ hours of riding, the sharp flint rocks are notorious for slicing tires and dashing podium aspirations. Along the way, riders also need to content with the undulating terrain, exposed sun-baked roads, headwinds and, if at all wet, tire-sucking mud.
While the men's race was won —in a nail-biting sprint finish— by Dutchman Ivar Slik, Swenson was the first Life Time Grand Prix contestant to cross the finish, in second place, thereby winning the second round of the series and continuing to top the series standings. Tailing Swenson close behind are mountain biker Russell Finsterwald and former WorldTour roadie Alexey Vermeulen.
In the women's race, it was mountain bike Olympian and series contestant, Sofia Gomez Villafañe who won the muddy epic in dominant fashion, setting a new course record along the way by finishing under 11 hours. After her second place finish in Monterrey and a big victory in Kansas, Villafañe tops the series standings ahead of Canadian Olympian Haley Smith and xc skier turned bike racer Evelyn Dong.
Crusher in the Tushar
Don't let the relatively short distance fool you. This race is a challenge even for the fittest of contestants. Racing at altitude that tops out at nearly 10,500 feet (3200 meters) above sea level, riders will be gasping for oxygen as they tackle seriously steep grades, white-knuckle washboard gravel descents and some 10,100 feet (3078 meters) of climbing.
The Tushars are among Utah's tallest mountain ranges, housing several peaks over 12,000 feet in elevation. In addition to offering challenging (g)roads to race on, those looking up from their stems will be treated to stunning valley vistas, snow-covered peaks and glistening alpine lakes.
The race finishes atop the now-infamous Col d' Crush with a final pitch of 12% to get riders to the finish at 10,344' above sea level.
With a course that traverses over 28 miles of pavement and 48 miles of rough off-road terrain, bike choice becomes an interesting one. Some will opt for a cyclocross race bike for speed on the paved roads and lightweight climbing while others will prioritize traction and safe handling and choose an XC mountain bike instead. The majority of riders, however, will likely ride a gravel bike with wide, but fast-rolling, tires.
As mentioned, 60 elite riders were handpicked to contest the series — 30 in the men’s category and 30 in the women’s category. This cast of 60 riders are some of the best elite cyclists in the U.S. and beyond.
Notable names include retired and current WorldTour roadies Lachlan Morton, Laurens ten Dam, Ted King, Logan Owen, Kiel Reijnen, Alexey Vermeulen, Peter Stetina, Ruth Winder, Emily Joy Newsom and Amber Neben. There are also mountain bike pros like Keegan Swenson, Payson McElveen, Erin Huck, Sofia Gomez Villafañe and Lea Davison, as well as a host of gravel experts.
At Crusher, the pointy end of the race will again be stacked with talent. Pete Stetina will be keen to defend his crown while Zach Calton will want a rematch. The former winner finished second to Stetina in 2021 and he'll do his best to reclaim the bragging rights. Of course, a lot of the Life Time Grand Prix riders will be making their Crusher debut so it's tough to call just who might be stepping onto the top step of the podium. But based on the first two rounds of the series, we'd be looking to riders like Laurens ten Dam, Vermeulen and, of course, the yet-to-be-beaten Swenson.
In the women's race, it will be hard to bet against returning champion Villafañe. After her wins in Unbound and the five-day Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder, she's showing incredible form and she'll be the woman to beat. Other riders to watch will be former Tushar champ Evelyn Dong, soloist Lauren De Crescenzo fresh off winning a silver medal at US Pro Nationals and Unbound podium finisher Emily Newsom.
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