What did we learn from the first race in the Life Time Grand Prix series? ‘It will be difficult’

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MONTEREY COUNTY, Calif. (VN) – Joke that the mountain bike races that are part of the Life Time Grand Prix racing series are just gravel races on steroids, and then watch the mountain bikers dominate.

That’s what happened at Saturday’s Fuego 80k at the Sea Otter Classic. The XC mountain bike event was the season opener for the highly anticipated Life Time Grand Prix presented by Mazda, a six-race series consisting of three MTB events and three gravel events.

Only two athletes in the top ten for both men and women (Tobin Ortenblad, Kyle Trudeau, Katerina Nash and Savilia Blunk) were not part of the race series. All athletes participating in the series were awarded with points for their results. Mo Wilson leads the women’s and Keegan Swenson tops the men’s leaderboard.

VeloNews was at the finish on Saturday and asked some of the riders how the first race informed the rest of the series.

The most obvious question was whether mountain bikers would dominate the series. While there were some crossover athletes in the men’s top ten — Los Angeles superstar L39ION in seventh, ex-road pro Alexey Vermuelen in ninth and Canadian time trialist Rob Britton in tenth — pro mountain bikers dominated.

In the women’s race, mountain bike pros made up the entire top ten – the only standout winner was Mo Wilson, who won’t be able to claim non-professional MTBer status for much longer.

“Saturday’s race showed us that mountain bikers take this series seriously,” said Russell Finsterwald after his second place finish. “Obviously on Saturday we were in our wheelhouse, but on a course as sporty as Sea Otter, I think we showed that we have the engine in addition to a bit of an advantage in the skills department.”

Adam Roberge, who finished 16th, raced mountain bikes as a kid, but this was his first MTB race in six years. While he sees a bias against mountain bikers on Saturday, he doesn’t think that will hold true throughout the series.

“V“Perhaps a mountain biker can be seen to have a clear advantage in mountain bike racing.” “A lot of people don’t realize there’s a big difference between the two sports, and I think you see that more clearly here. So it will be very important for a gravel racer [gravel] very tough races. If he stays in the peloton, the mountain biker can sit up, but if it’s a tough course, they’re always there to fight, so I think it’s going to be our responsibility to make it very difficult.”

Maude Farrell, whose 20th-place finish at the Grand Prix moved her up to 15th, also predicts a flurry throughout the series.

“I don’t think it’s biased against mountain bikers,” he said. “Happenstance put this style of racing first, but I think there are still some interesting shakeups with the next Unbound Gravel. The dynamics, strategy, racing principles and fitness requirements are completely different.”

Farrell said that while the first race of the Grand Prix was informative in some ways, it should not be taken as a prologue to the entire series.

“There was such intense energy in the first race, everyone was interested in each other’s fit and strategy, which I think added an interesting spice to this inaugural race,” he said. “But the season is long – seven months. We need to be sharp and focused for seven months. This is a very long time in terms of fitness, skill and attitude in any racer. Of course, now that we’ve got our first official “ranking”, we’ve all done our best in the game of poker, but even if some contestants have a better position than others, the next deal will essentially start from scratch. But I wouldn’t count anyone out yet. The great thing about this series is that it’s not just one and done.”

Alex Howes (15th in Sea Otter, 11th LTGP) offered a similar perspective.

“Honestly, I don’t think we have any big surprises here,” he said. “Overall, the guys that we thought would do well here did well. There were a few types of road guys who probably did better than we thought, and then there were a few guys like me who weren’t top ten, like, “yeah, he’s going to be top ten.” We’ll see. It’s been a super long year. “I still have half a meter of snow at my house, so I’m looking forward to October.”

Evelyn Dong, fifth on the day and fifth in the Grand Prix standings, quietly applauded her series rivals.

“I have a lot of respect for everybody,” he said. “I know everyone is training hard for this and everyone has changed their training specifically for the series. It will be difficult.”

Dong, like almost every rider in the series we’ve spoken to, sees Unbound Gravel as a big, looming ball of fire on the horizon. For him – and basically every athlete who has never done Unbound Gravel – the next race at the Grand Prix will be his longest ever.

“Sea Otter was not a priority, but Unbound,” said Sofia Gomez Villafañe (2nd in Sea Otter, 2nd LTGP). “I’m excited to put in a lot of miles and a lot of effort in the Arizona heat in May. From the bike to the aerobar, I’ll make all my equipment choices, or not. I’m looking forward to it.”

Finsterwald also escapes a cool Colorado spring for a warm Arizona pre-Unbound simulation. Even as a lifelong professional mountain biker, he’s convinced that the podium in Kansas might look more like a California one.

“I expect Unbound’s top 10 to look different,” he said. “I think we’re going to see guys like Pete [Stetina]Howes, Lachlan [Morton]Lawrence [ten Dam] and Colin [Strickland] in the mix, but I’m hoping for our chances as mountain bikers. This is the race I want to win the most this year. I spend time learning as much as possible about the race, understanding the type of effort/power needed to win, spending time in Specialized’s win tunnel, testing different gear, riding and building the bike. strong mind. The level of mountain biking in the US is high right now. I think Unbound has a lot of talented men and women with the stamina, skill, and toughness to excel. It will be fun to see how it shakes out.”

For Kiel Reijnen (39th, 20th LTGP at Sea Otter), who crashed with Pete Stetina early in the race – only his second MTB race so far – getting out of his comfort zone is just part of the package.

“It’s great to mix it up,” he said. “When I spoke to Kimo at Life Time, their idea was to make sure that no one was comfortable in every race and I think they will achieve that.”

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