Written by Paul Wojciak Monday, 15 April 2019 00:00
My experience racing in Moab, Utah last year was so good, I resolved to return this year. The three stage event March 30 – April 1 is a great way to start out your cycling year. Hosted by the Trans-Rockies crew, Moab Rocks is a laid-back event, bringing out some top pro MTB talent. The trails in Moab are a unique blend of high alpine escarpments and high desert sandstone slickrock. A true change of pace for this eastern rider.
2019’s installment of Moab Rocks did not disappoint. The race was two weeks earlier this year. The weather was noticeably cooler and knickers with long sleeve tops were the order of the day. Each stage launches at 830am so the sun has barely had a chance to work some magic by the time the gun sounds. The wet winter they’ve had in Moab gave us a surprise on stage two with a 20 minute snow squall blitzing us in the middle of our ride. Many riders were caught unprepared. Conditions like that reminded me of cyclocross season in the east.
I was the lone Bikeman.com rep and raced against other 50+ riders. About 95% of the 200 person field were from the western US and Canada. The remainder were foreign nationals with me from NY state and one other person from Vermont in the field.
After a training hiatus for much of 2018, I spent the last four months trying to build enough base for this event. I tempered my expectations knowing that my form was not what it had been. However, I was looking forward to putting my new Kona Process 153 CR/DL to good use. My Trek Superfly is light and nimble but big rocky hits are not its forte. On the other hand, with over six inches of suspension travel in the front and rear, the Process is all about big hits. It had better be since I’m lugging an extra five pounds up the hill underneath me!
First stage: Porcupine Rim.
A 12 mile fire road ascent followed by a 10 mile hammering, hellacious descent to the finish. After the official finish is done, the real technical descent begins. You drop another 1500 feet in four miles to the shore of the Colorado river with multiple sections right on the precipice’s edge.
When the gun sounded, we had a couple miles of climbing before the “rolling enclosure” vehicles pulled off. I was feeling pretty good, but so was everyone else it being the first day of racing and all. I found a group of riders to pace and by the half way point, it was myself and one other rider whose cadence was virtually synchronized. By the time we hit the top, I was ready for a rest. The descent began and I started to navigate my way through the rock strewn, ledge filled, hair raising course. I pre-rode Porcupine Rim the prior day and learned several things, e.g. more air in the tires, less hand on the brakes. I was holding my position, picking off riders on their XC race rigs. I rolled this one ledge and used up all but 1/8” of the front six inches of travel. Whew! That was a turbo pump. I would have gone flying if not for the RockShox Lyrik RC2 fork. I was having a ball the whole way down. By the time I rolled into the finish line, for the first time ever, no one passed me on a descent. I took 12th on the day, putting me in the top third of the 50+ field a satisfying placement all things considered.
Stage two: Klondike Bluffs.
This Morrison Formation rock strata has dinosaur fossils and footprints along with some exceptionally fun, technical riding. The trails in this area are a mix of bare rock and gravelly soil with a bit of sand mixed in. There are sections of exposed mudstone that you ride over for miles. A light rain in Moab was not falling north in Klondike bluffs. The sky did look threatening though. After the field was cut loose on the fire road prior to the singletrack, I could really feel my day one legs. I settled in among a cluster of riders and a conga line was snaking its way up the rocky trail. I was loving the Process again. It's able to support a much more aggressive style of riding. During one two mile twisty, technical descent I was gobbling up the ground, pedaling for the next natural feature the whole way. What a blast!
The main event of the day came about half way through the stage. I thought, “hey, I think I just saw a snowflake.” Well, that was the tip of the spear. A full-on snow squall commenced. Yep, snowing in the desert. What a hoot. For the next 20 minutes, snow collected on me, my glasses, and anything that wasn’t rock. The rocks, they got wet, real wet. But, the sun came out and voila! Warmer and dry in 20 more minutes. I was grinding along, managing my nutrition, pacing a couple of riders. Feeling good, but also ready for the finish line. Sure enough, we turned off the final section of single track, jetted over a sandy flat, and I rolled through the finish line 13th in men 50+. Day two in the books and Moab Rocks!
Stage three: Gemini Bridges and Mag 7
This is in many ways the queen stage of the event. With over half the distance on Morrison formation mud stone and sandstone and the remainder split between fast flowy open high desert soil and the fire road, riders get a generous helping of what makes Moab worth the trip. My legs were feeling the prior two days as I lined up in the starting chute. AC/DC’s Highway to Hell unleashed the field as it had on each stage. We surged up and over Gemini Bridges road and by the time I was on the other side, I’d found a group of racers to pace. The sun was shining, temps were cool, and I was feeling determined to give ‘em hell!
We entered the single track with a conga line of racers. This soon thinned out to small packs of three to five riders. The pack I was in cruised along up, over, sideways, down for miles and miles of Mag 7 sandstone. I was taking gel and water, keeping the nutrition going in order to keep the pace. The course rises consistently until the halfway point. I was hard pressed to keep up and admit feeling like a little rest would have been nice. My determination prevailed, and I kept the pedals turning. We crossed the mid station and the most technically demanding part of the course was ahead. The beauty at this point is that it all tends downwards.
I was leading Bob from Hurricane, Utah. He and I had been together since mile three of the race. We were cranking the gnar and my Kona Process was totally eating up the trail. My legs on the other hand felt about ready to give out. We passed a couple riders and soon I was leading my own train. The scenery is simply incredible with 360 degrees of sandstone rock formations. There are no trees, just simple brush, sage, and low slung desert plants. This time of year things are getting green, but spring is still some weeks away. The point is that there’s jaw dropping scenery, but you cannot afford to take your eyes off the paint blazes marking the trail on the rocks. You risk going down blind ends or worse, hurling off a cliff edge.
We finally existed the single track at Gemini Bridges road and I was ready for the finish line. The legs said my pace needed to ease. I rolled over and back down the final climb. The Kona Process didn’t disappoint on the steep fire road descent. I rolled the finish line 13th on the day in mens 50+, a great sense of satisfaction and no small amount of relief.
I knew this event would push me hard given my training and current race form. The result of 13th overall in Men’s 50+ is right in line with my expectations. What’s more, my new Kona Process endur bike with six inches of front and rear travel, while not as nimble as my XC rig, makes riding gnar and technical descents a pleasure. It was worth the effort of pulling it up the hills and down the fire roads.
Moab Rocks 2019 is in the books. Besides racing, I managed to get in some great sightseeing. I got a little something for members of my family. I had delicious meals every day. I got to ride in a snowstorm in the desert. There’s a bounty here in Utah. It’s no wonder there’s a slogan that goes, “Moab, again and again”.
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