Pepper Harlton Makes it Two in a Row While Brent Pontius Takes His First Stage Win; Chris and KC Holley Crowned Moab Rocks Champions
Written by: Shannon Boffeli
The final stage of the Moab Rocks mountain bike stage race is usually the favorite for most of the racers. Not just because it’s the last stage of a grueling three days of riding but it also features some of the best riding Moab has to offer.
Located in the Magnificent 7 trail area, stage 3 features an abundance of singletrack – including the only long stretches of buffed-out dirt trail in Moab sprinkled throughout techy slickrock and long, high-speed descents.
But before the fun starts, riders have to conquer a 5-mile section of road that features the two toughest climbs of the day.
With that in mind the racers got off to a mellow start slowly ramping up the pace before the first of two road climbs.
Overall race leader Chris Holley (Kuhl) settled into the lead group, seeming content to follow some wheels and be ready if he needed to defend against attacks.
His closest competitors, Brent Pontius (Rooster’s/Bikers Edge), Jason Sager (Competitive Cyclist), and Jeff Kerkove (Topeak/Ergon), also occupied the lead group but no one felt the urge to take an early flyer and attempt to unseat Holley from the top spot.
Sager, who was riding a long-travel bike for the first time looked as though he might give Holley a run later in the stage when the descending started but his plans were foiled early on when mechanical troubles prevented him from finishing the stage.
This left Pontius and Holley alone for much of the race with each rider feeling the effects of three days in the saddle and not pushing the pace too hard.
When the descending finally started, the leaders settled into a reasonable pace on the 9-mile descent back to Gemini Bridges road. On the descent Jeff Kerkove and Alaskan Jeff Ellis regained contact with the lead group.
Ellis, who finished 6th in stages 1 and 2, was in the midst of making a move on Bobby Brown (Bicycle Outfitters) and it was paying off as he stayed with the leaders until the final climb to the finish where Brent Pontius started driving the pace at the front.
Pontius moved clear of the group but Holley kept the Rooster’s/Biker’s Edge rider close as they crested the final climb, and Holley regained his wheel as they descended to the finish.
Pontius would ultimately take the stage win but Holley claimed the title of 2015 Moab Rocks champion.
Jeff Ellis finished off his impressive ride in 3rd place with enough time in hand to leapfrog Bobby Brown in the GC and claim 4th.
Yesterday’s stage winner, Jeff Kerkove rolled in 4th on the day and moved into 3rd overall claiming what was previously Jason Sager’s spot.
Bobby Brown finished 5th on the day and would occupy the same spot in the GC.
The women’s race started off with even more excitement as stage 1 winner Karen Jarchow, who crashed in stage 2, was unable to start the final day of the race.
Originally Jarchow thought her crash the previous day left her with nothing more than bruising and some road rash but a dented helmet and some lingering dizziness made her concerned about a more serious concussion. With that in mind she decided to not take the start.
That meant overnight race leader KC Holley (Kuhl) would have to keep Kaysee Armstrong (Kona/TVBRace) and stage 2 winner Pepper Harlton (Devon Bicycle Association) close enough to hold onto her GC lead.
At the start of the day Holley had roughly 10 minutes on Harlton who sat in second overall.
Holley was nervous at the start, worried about the upcoming 5 miles of road that separated her from the singletrack.
As the race got rolling her fears appeared sadly justified as she faded back into 4th losing sight of Armstrong and Harlton.
Finally on trail, Holley started picking off riders beginning with Kata Skaggs (Adventure Bicycle Association), then Armstrong toward the end of the lap.
“I was pretty worried because we were back on the road [just 4 miles from the finish] and I hadn’t caught Pepper and had no idea how far ahead she was,” Holley said after the race.
Concerned that she might have given up too much time the race leader was happily surprised to be told on the final climb that Harlton was just a minute or two in front of her.
Pepper Harlton had given her all trying to claw back the time she lost on stage 1 ultimately coming up just short.
Harlton crossed the line for her second stage win in as many days but only getting back 2 of the 10 minutes she needed to unseat Holley from the race lead.
A relieved KC Holley crossed the line for second on the day but fastest combined time after 3 days of racing. She would join her husband Chris as 2015 Moab Rocks champion.
Kaysee Armstrong rolled in third on the stage followed by Kata Skaggs and Sandra Hardy.
At the finish riders congregated sharing their stories of the past three days of racing and enjoying the camaraderie that seems to make all mountain bike racers immediate friends.
All riders on hand would agree that after three days of magnificent weather, outstanding trail riding, friendly and helpful event staff, and plenty of free beer the 2015 Moab Rocks will forever be a highlight of their racing careers.