2020 GRO Extreme Grit Stage Race

Written by: Jen Toops and Anthony Toops

Stage race sponsors include: Lauf, Enve, TrustCache, and Giordana

New for 2020, the Extreme Grit Stage Race, was an event most won’t forget any time soon.  The three day event put on by GRO races took place March 12th-14th near St. George, Utah and provided some tough conditions for racers.  Stage 1’s sunshine quickly turned into heavy overnight rain showers for stage 2’s gravel race that lasted until the morning of stage 3.  

Stage 1- Self supported untimed MTB or gravel ride

Jeff Rupnow (Evolution training cycles) excited to get the stage race started

Stage 1 was a self supported 45 mi gravel/mtb route which left from Red Rock Bicycle shop in St George.  Riders were required to check in before and after the stage to get a 10 point credit towards the overall general classification. The route climbed north-east of town on gravel roads with breathtaking views and some fun single track at the end if you chose.  The weather was perfect… but not for long

To watch stage 1 video CLICK HERE

Marlee Dixon and Jen Toops (Pearl Izumi/Pivot MTB race team) enjoying the desert views and non-competitive stage 1

Stage 2- True Grit Gravel 84 mi course (shortened to 44mi due to weather)

With the lots of rain overnight and into the start, stage 2’s gravel race was slated to be a brutal day on the bike.  Temps in the 40’s and not a dry track anywhere to be found; racers had to harness their grit and determination to get this one done. Due to the weather, Fortunately (or unfortunately) the stage was shortened to 44mi for rider safety.  The portion cut out would’ve had racers heading into some remote areas near Motaqua and with the conditions, the race director decided to shorten the stage. The diversoin had racers head down HWY 91 back to Santa Clara.  After seeing frozen finishers come in, I don’t think anyone was complaining about the mileage cut.

A cold wet start on stage 2. Photo credit: Janet Hansen

A close race in the women’s pro/open gravel epic with stage racers taking the top three spots and only 3 points separating them going into the final stage. Allyson Sepp took the win with a time of 3:59:08 and earning 600 points for the overall. Sparky Moir finished only 26 seconds back taking the second step with a time of 3:59:34. Rounding out the gravel podium was Suzie Livingston coming in at 4:12:10.

A break in the rain as races turn onto pavement and head for the finish in Santa Clara, Utah.

Stage racers in the open/pro men’s division, dominated stage two taking the top seven positions. A close finish between the top three but taking the win was, Mathieu Bélanger-Barrette, finishing in 3:16:02. Second place went to Spencer Johnson, 3:16:05. Timothy Rugg 3:16:08. This will be a very close race heading into the final stage with only 3 points separating the top three.

Men’s open/pro stage 2 podium.

Singlespeed stage racer Josh Kunz took the gravel win with a time of 3:52 and putting him in the lead going into the final day of the stage race. Aaron Label, who wasn’t in the stage race, took second with a time of 4:29:15. Stage racer Dominic Cilento took third with a time of 5:02:39.

Josh Kunz wins singlespeed. Photo credit: Janet Hansen

A large field of masters men started the gravel epic. Two races not in the stage race took the top two steps on the podium. Taking the win was Preston Edwards finishing in 3:22:22 and Daniel Hoopes taking 2nd with a time of 3:32:01. The only stage racer to make the podium was Todd Tanner crossing the line in 3:37:00 and earning 598 points. Mark Llinares was the next stage racer to finish placing 5th and Jeff Sumsion took the 6th place spot. Only a few points separate the racers heading into the final stage.

Master women’s-Kathy Judson (yellow jacket) wins the gravel stage

Kathy Judson from Colorado finished with a time of 5:31 taking the lead for the women’s masters division.

A shortened course had racers heading to the finish on pavement.

Stage 3- True Grit Epic 50 mile MTB

Saturday was stage 3 and the original True Grit MTB course was on tap.  There was plenty of debate about trail conditions before the start but the race director reassured everyone that the single track was in great shape, but there was mud on some road sections in the first 10 miles.  Some mud was right!  Those that decided to try and ride though the quagmire they soon found themselves grinding to a halt.  Their wheels and bikes were completely packed with a concrete-like mud that snapped off a few derailleurs and cause some dnf’s before the race really even started.  The best option was to pick your bike up before getting into the mud and just walk (and find a puddle soon after to wash your shoes). 

Concrete-like mud on fire roads at the beginning of the race left some racers carrying their bikes and scooping mud out to get moving again. This section of trail is soon to be a housing development in the near future (No damage done to the trails).

The singletrack on the other hand was in primo shape!  There were a few puddles here and there but nothing like what was expected in the pre-race debates.  Race director Cimarron is a local and knows the trails well so her info about the singletrack conditions was accurate.  Everything was fast and hard back and if you could get past the mud roads, you were rewarded with one of the best days out there.

Marlee Dixon leading the women’s pro/open race through the Zen aid station.

Stage racer, Marlee Dixon (Pearl Izumi/Pivot Cycles), pulled out of stage 2 due to weather conditions to focus on Saturday’s 50mile MTB race. Unfortunately this took her out of the running for the overall stage race, but paid off as she took first place in the women’s pro/open division, with a time of 4:42:09. Taking second place, was non-stage racer, KC Holley, finishing 2nd at 5:03:20. Stage racer, Sparky Moir (Pivot Cycles/MRP/Ergon) started second place in the overall stage race standings and finished stage 3 with a time of 5:08:29. Allyson Sepp (Black Diamond Apline Lodge) was the next stage racer to finish crossing the line in 8th place with a time of 5:24:48.

Women’s 50 mile Pro/Open podium

In the men’s pro/open division it was non-stage racer Brennon Peterson who took the 50 mile MTB win an impressive time of 3:33:20. After a win in the gravel race yesterday, stage racer Mathieu Bélanger-Barrette took 2nd place finishing in 3:56:01. Taking the third place spot, was non-stage racer Spencer Glasgow crossing the line in 3:59: 02. Stage racers Anthony Toops finished 4th and Spencer Johnson finished in 6th place.

Men’s 50 mile Pro/Open Podium

Taking the singlespeed win was stage racer, Josh Kunz (KSD), finishing in a time of 4:38:25. Non stage racers Driz Cook and Stve Ipsen finished 2nd and 3rd place. Stage racer Dominic Cilento finished stage 3 in 5th place.

The masters men’s race was close with non stage racers taking 1st and 2nd. Mike Gaertner took the win, 4:14:30 and Andy Compas finished 2nd, 4:18:06. Stage racer Dave Harris took the 3rd position finishing in 4:20:06. Other top stage race finishes include: Todd Tanner taking 5th place and Ted Peddy finishing in 7th.

Taking the top three steps in the masters women’s division were non-stage racers. 1st place Donna Winters 6:03:06, 2nd Christine Graham 6:20:03 and Third Theresa Morningstar 7:44:46. Stage racer,Kathy Judson, from Arvada, CO finished in 4th place with a time of 8:08:15.

Overall True Grit Epic stage race results

Out of the 9 registered to start the women’s open/pro division only two ladies finished all 3 stages. Taking the overall win was Sparky Moir with a 2nd place on stage two and a third place on stage 3 totalling 1207 points. Finishing a close second was Allyson Sepp with 1203 points.

Sparky Moir (Pivot Cycles) shows her true grit and wins the extreme grit stage race. Photo Credit: Janet Hansen

In the men’s open/pro division, it was Mathieu Bélanger-Barrette taking the overall win, with a 1st place on stage 2 and a 2nd place on stage 3 totaling 1209 overall points. Timothy Rugg took second with combined points of 1196. Stewart Goodwin was a close third totaling 1192 combined points.

Josh Kunz pulled away with the singlespeed win, taking a 1st place finish in both the gravel and MTB stages earring a perfect score of 1210 points. Dominic Cilento took 2nd place with 1204 points.

In a stacked master men’s field, Todd Tanner finished 1st, totalling 1204 points with a 3rd place on stage 2 and a 5th on stage 3. Dave Harris finished 2nd overall with 1199 points, and Jeff Sumsion 3rd with 1196 points.

Kathy Judson was able to finish all three stages earning the win in the masters women’s division.

For full stage race results CLICK HERE

2020 True Grit Epic Preview

Written by Jen Toops

The 2020 True Grit Epic put on by GRO races takes place March 12th-14th near St. George, Utah. Southern Utah offers up some world class desert mountain biking and for many, a chance to get away from the winter blues. This destination has no shortage of magnificent desert views, rock gardens, sand, technical climbs, and challenging descents. As always, True Grit serves as the NUE Series opener with the 50 mile (marathon) an 100 mile (epic) options along with some new categories for 2020.

New for 2020 is the Extreme Grit Stage Race.  It’s for those looking for the ultimate challenge and includes 3 days of back to back riding.

Day 1: A self supported 40 mile ride (MTB or gravel)
Day 2: True Grit Gravel course
Day 3: True Grit Epic 50 mile MTB

If gravel is more your style, the True Grit Gravel Epic doesn’t fall short of grit either! The course is 84 miles, 80% off road, with 9000 ft of climbing.

Not up to the challenge of racing 3 days or skinny tires? There are plenty of other options to choose from: NUE Epic 100 , NUE Epic 50, Relay (25), or the Challenge 15 mountain bike events. There are lots of vendors set up at the finish and fun for the whole family!

Want to join in on the fun? Get registered HERE 

2020 Pisgah Stage Race Preview

Written by: Jen & Anthony Toops, Photos by: IconMediaAsheville

Blue Ridge Adventures presents the 12thannual Pisgah Stage Race. It takes place April 13th– April 18th  2020 in Brevard, North Carolina.  This 5-stage race takes riders on a tour of Pisgah, through the temperate rain forest sampling some of the best singletrack Pisgah has to offer. The race traverses over 140 miles and climbs 20000+ feet with scenic views, waterfalls, creek crossings, and is mix of 76% singletrack, 19% gravel, and 5% asphalt. As always, racers can also test themselves in the timed enduro section on each stage which has its own unique awards and overall crown.

The Pisgah trail system has always been know for its natural ruggedness but sometimes even the best trails require much needed TLC. Crews have been hard at work making some of the most popular trails in the area even better for 2020. Maintenance has been completed on upper/lower Black Mountain, Avery Creek and Bennett Gap, which ironically are all in stage 3. 2020 is gearing up to be one of the best yet!

More ways to race in 2020

2020 will debut some exciting new categories; women’s grand master 50+ and a duo 80+ or 100+ team category which require the teams combined age to equal 80-99 or 100+. There are some fast racers in all of these age groups so the competition should be fun to watch!

Standard PSR categories for 2020 include: Open Men, Open Women, Singlespeed, Vet Men 30-39, Vet Women 30-39, Master Men 40-49, Master Women 40-49, Grand Master Men 50-59, Grand Master Women 50-59 (New), Senior Men 60+, Duo Men, Duo Women, Duo Co-Ed, Duo men 80+ (New), Duo Men 100+ (New)

2020 Pisgah Stage Race Amenities:

  • 5 well marked courses with enduro segment each day
  • Instant chip timed results
  • Daily leader’s jersey for all categories
  • Fully stocked rest stops including mechanical and medical assistance
  • Drop system
  • Recovery zone after each stage
  • Bike wash
  • Breakfast each morning: Scones, coffee, granola, yogurt and fruit
  • 6 locally sourced dinners: Click here for 2020 dinner menu
  • Finishers T-Shirt
  • PSR jersey for all participants registered by March 15th
  • Custom Crafted Prizes –  Awarded to top three in each category. $750, $500, $250 to top three overall men and women for the cross country. $150, $130, $120 to the top 3 overall enduro men and women.

Stage 1: Clif’s Looking Glass Route- Tuesday, April 14th, 2020

Stage 2: Sunset Motels Promised Land Route- Wednesday, April 15th, 2020

Stage 3: Sycamore Cycles White Squirrel Route- Thursday, April 16, 2020

Stage 4: Fox Factory Carl Schenck Route- Friday, April 17, 2020

Stage 5: Industry Nine’s Land of Waterfalls Route- Saturday, April 18, 2020

Still debating? Don’t wait too long, there are limited spots left for a week full of roots, rocks and repeat! CLICK HERE to get registered.

Trans-Sylvania Mountain Bike EPIC- Stage Five & overall results

May 27th, 2019

Written by: Jen & Anthony Toops

The final stage of the 2019 Trans-Sylvania Epic, Bald Eagle, was the fastest and shortest of the event with 2,376ft of climbing in 22.5 miles.  Today was the last chance for racers to make moves to secure their GC positions. 

Jeff Rupnow fighting to make moves in GC position

The day started from camp and was routed mostly through trails around the scout camp.  Previous rain left some very swampy areas for riders to navigate.  This stage would also have one of the most technical and fast enduro sections of the entire race, and would claim a few riders before the day was over.

Men’s Open

Bishop trying to hold Lewis from gaining any time on stage 5

The men’s race was full gas from the gun.  Bryan Lewis threw attack after attack to try and dislodge Jeremiah Bishop and take the GC.  Gaps would form and Bishop would crawl back, never letting Lewis out of his sight. 

Lewis trying to pull away from Bishop

Bishop, who only had a 30 second advantage going in to the day, had to cover every move with that small of a lead.  The two would come to the line neck and neck with Lewis edging out Bishop by 1 second with a time of 1:23:40, to Bishop’s 1:23:41.  Kerry Werner rounded out the podium with a time of 1:28:59.

Werner staying upright on a slippery downhill

Women’s Open

Dixon fighting to hold on to her GC position

The length of todays stage would not be helpful for Marlee Dixon’s assualt on the GC lead of Britt Mason.  The two were never more than a minute apart all day.  Dixon kept the pressure on Mason from start to finish.  In the end Britt Mason finished in 1:46:36, less than 30 seconds ahead of Marlee Dixon at 1:47:01, and Emily Werner was third with a time of 1:52:20.

Emily Werner gets 3rd on stage 5 and her first podium finish of TSE
Stage 5 highlights from Dirtwire TV

For stage five results CLICK HERE

Overall 5 day Men’s Open results:

1st Jeremiah Bishop 10:43:09, 2nd Bryan Lewis 10:43:48, 3rd Kerry Werner 11:06:43, 4th John Petrylak 11:43:00, 5th Luke Hlavenka 12:15:10

Overall 5 day Women’s Open results:

1st Britt Mason 13:37:07, 2nd Marlee Dixon 13:42:22, 3rd Julia Thumel 13:57:54, 4th Bryna Blanchard 14:32:59, 5th Emily Werner 14:33:49.

Overall results CLICK HERE


TSE will return in 2020 for it’s 10th Edition! The five day race will be May 21-25, 2020 with the three day option being held May 23-25, 2020.

Registration will open August 1, 2019!

Photo credit: @iconmediaasheville & @bruceBuckley

Trans-Sylvania Mountain Bike EPIC- Stage Four

May 26th, 2019

Written by: Jen & Anthony Toops

Stage 4 of the 2019 TSE Epic once again started from the scout camp, after yesterdays remote location.  The Tussey mountain stage is notorious for its near non-stop technical rock gardens.  This is a stage where mechanical problems can make or break your race.  Line choice is crucial to keeping your tires healthy and drive train in one piece.  The 3,274ft of climbing in 32.9 rough miles was going to be a test.

Single-speeder Joe Worboy working his way through the rocks

Men’s Open

The lead pack up the tough climb on Tussey

Some drama just after the start would see Bryan Lewis playing catch up from a flat front tire after the first double track descent.  He was able to plug it quickly, but would enter the climb up the Tussey single track in around 8th position.  Lewis would end up catching the lead duo of Bishop and Werner about half way through the Tussey ridge line. 

Bishop leading stage 4 through one of many technical rock gardens

The lead pack focused on riding smooth through the rock gardens, avoiding any problems.  Lewis and Bishop would end up getting a gap on the chasing Werner going back up another Tussey climb.  These two would ride together until a tough single track climb where Bryan Lewis would attack and cross the line just 15 seconds ahead with a time of 2:08:36, Bishop was 2nd at 2:08:51, and Kerry Werner 3rd at 2:13:00

Stage 4 results: 1st Bryan Lewis, 2nd Jeremiah Bishop, 3rd Kerry Werner

Women’s Open

The general classification was tested on today’s stage with a new winner and a new face on the podium.  The top three would start the day riding together but soon Britt Mason would open a gap on the chasing pack. 

Britt Mason powering up a rocky climb

Near the 3 bridges trail section, Marlee Dixon would pass Mason for first place.  Mason was suffering from a slow tire leak which she would have to deal with before finishing the day.  Dixon would hold that lead to the finish and gain back 3:30 on GC with a time of 2:40:31.  Britt Mason managed to hang on with the mechanical issues for 2nd at 2:44:01. 

Marlee Dixon looking smooth through the rocks.

Amelia Capuano had a solid ride in the difficult trails of Tussey to grab her first podium spot in 3rd at 2:44:53.  Julia Thumel would finish just a few minutes back in 4th at 2:47:43.

Amelia Capuano gets her first podium spot taking third for stage 4
Stage 4 results: 1st Marlee Dixon, 2nd Britt Mason, 3rd Amelia Capuano

For stage four results CLICK HERE

Photo credit: @iconmediaasheville & @bruceBuckley

Trans-Sylvania Mountain Bike EPIC- Stage Three

May 25th, 2019

Written by Jen & Anthony Toops

Race director Ryan Fulton leads out the race in R.B. Winter State Park.

Stage 3 had racers traveling to nearby R.B Winter state park for a fast 30.4 mile day with 2,727 ft of climbing.  This would be the only stage not starting from the scout camp.  Perfect weather and trail conditions made for a fast day.  After yesterdays queen stage, this would be an easier day for racers, but a harder day to make up precious GC seconds. This was also the start of the three day race option.

Miki Razo navigating the mossy east coast rocks

Open Men

With the fast conditions today, the leaders would end up staying together for almost the entire stage.  Brian Lewis was determined to get some time back on Bishop and would make a few attacks throughout the stage, but nothing would stick. 

Jeremiah Bishop (Team Topeak) with Bryan Lewis (Cutaway) holding his wheel.

A few miles out from the finish is a 2 mile climb where the elastic would finally snap and Lewis was able to make the gap stick, crossing the line to gain back 40sec on GC with a time of 2:06:40.  Bishop would finish 2nd at 2:07:20.  Werner was 3rd with a time of 2:09:38.  This was the GC order as well after 3 stages of racing.

Kerry Werner (Kona/Maxxis)
Stage 3 Results: 1st Bryan Lewis, 2nd Jeremiah Bishop, 3rd Kerry Werner

Open Women

The news of the day would be that overall leader, Carla Williams, would not take the start line due to the injuries she sustained on stage 2.  This would mean a shift in the overall with Britt Mason taking the leaders jersey going in to the day. 

Britt Mason (Joe’s Bike Shop)

The racing would be close all day with only a few minutes separating the top three.  Mason lead at the start with Marlee Dixon and Julia Thumel hot on her heels.  All three were within site of each other for most of the stage.

Julia Thumel (Race Pace Bicycles)

  Mason would end up holding her lead to the line with a time of 2:35:37.  Dixon and Thumel would trade places about 10 miles from the finish with Thumel taking 2nd in 2:36:33, and Dixon 3rd at 2:38:04.  With Williams out, the GC standings are Britt Mason 1st, Marlee Dixon 2nd, and Julia Thumel 3rd. 

Marlee Dixon (Pearl Izumi/Pivot Cycles)
Stage 3 results: 1st Britt Mason, 2nd Julia Thumel, 3rd Marlee Dixon

For stage three results CLICK HERE

Stage 3 Highlights from Dirtwire TV

Photo credit: @iconmediaasheville & @bruceBuckley

Trans-Sylvania Mountain Bike EPIC- Stage Two

Written by: Marlee Dixon & Jen Toops

May 24, 2019

Coopers Gap was Stage two of the Trans-Sylvania Mountain Bike Epic and was the biggest day of the week with thirty-five miles and about five thousand feet of elevation gain. The day started on the road as racers left camp and headed into Rothrock state forest. The course included some road/gravel sections and the dreaded still house climb but was mostly all single track with trails including: linger valley, peep and deer tick. Some exhilarating descends on the course included: long mountain, sassafras and no name. It was a beautiful warm sunny day for a long day on the bike.

Emily Hairfield and Gordon Wadsworth in the Duo Category

Men’s Open

Jeremiah Bishop (Team Topeak) isn’t afraid of getting muddy on the sloppy decent.

Bryan Lewis (Cutaway) charged hard at the start of stage two and Jeremiah Bishop (Team Topeak) was able to hold his wheel while Kerry Werner (Kona/Maxxis) fell off the lead group. After Bishop had to stop for a stick in his spokes he thought he had been dropped by Lewis on a downhill. Unfortunately Lewis took a wrong turn and bishop was able to make a break away before going into Deer Tick trail.

Bishop took the stage 2 win in a time of 2:54:21. Bishop goes into Stage 3 with around a 90 second lead in the GC. Lewis finished the stage in 2:55:57 and Kerry Werner third 3:05:43 and both holding their positions in the GC.

Women’s Open

All smiles from Britt Mason (Joes Bike Shop)

In the womens race, Carla Williams (CarboRocket) had a lead of over ten minutes starting stage two. After an unfortunate wrong turn and a crash, she finished the stage in second with a time of 3:54:08; still holding on to the GC lead.

After an unfortunate wrong turn, Williams finishes stage two in second but still holds onto lead in the GC.

Britt Mason (Joes Bike Shop) rallied back after her rough start on day one and made up some time on the technical downhills. She took the stage win finishing in 3:49:33 and moving into 2nd in the GC. Marlee Dixon (Pearl izumi/ Pivot Cycles) finished the day in 3rd in 3:57:01. Dixon moves into 3rd in the GC.

Stage two highlights from Dirtwire TV

For Stage two results CLICK HERE

Photo credit: @iconmediaasheville & @bruceBuckley

Trans-Sylvania Mountain Bike EPIC- Stage One

After the TSEpic was canceled in 2018, the race has been brought back thanks to the new race director Ryan Fulton of Trans-Sylvania Productions. The TSE is held in Spring Mills, PA at a local scout camp aka “Single track Summer Camp”, where the trails are know for their rugged east coast rocks. Racers can choose between a 5 or 3 day race and are allowed to camp for free.

Stage one of the TSE was Poe Valley and started from camp. Racers climbed 3208 feet in 30 miles. The weather was a perfect cool sunny day until the skies opened up on some of the racers. It was a mix of rocky old school singletrack and gravel roads with beautiful vistas.

Men’s Open

Brian Lewis made several strong attacks on stage one.

In the open men category a leading group formed of Kerry Werner (Kona/Maxxis), Bryan Lewis (Cutaway), Jeremiah Bishop (Team Topeak) and John Petrylak (Endeavor Cycles/ESI). Bryan Lewis made several attacks throughout the stage. Jeremiah Bishop was able to bridge the gap on the last attack near the finish. Lewis and Bishop rode the last several miles together until it came to a sprint at the finish. Bishop took the stage win with a time of 2:08:54:26, Lewis came in second at 2:08:54:38, and Werner took the third spot in 2:09:21.

Jeremiah Bishop (Team Topeak) on the hunt for the stage win.

Women’s Open

Carla Williams (CarboRocket) taking the win for stage one of TSE

In the open Womens category, Carla Williams (CarboRocket) took the lead from the start and continued to gap the other women on the first climbs and gravel sections . She held the lead until the finish crossing the line in an impressive 2:28:36. Behind her, Marlee Dixon (Pearl Izumi/Pivot Cycles) pushed hard but had some mechanical issues on the technical singletrack finishing 2nd in 2:39:43. Just a minute back and taking third place, was Julia Thumel at 2:40:36. Britt Mason (Joes Bike Shop) started strong but after a flat she finished 4th in 2:41:18. This is a very competitive field with 4th-6th place all within minutes of the podium and should be an exciting race to follow this week.

Marlee Dixon (Pearl Izumi/Pivot Cycles) on her way to 2nd place.
A rainy end to stage one.

For full stage 1 results click HERE

Written by: @jentoops

Photos: Bruce Buckley

Titan Tropic Stage 1

December 4, 2016

Titan Tropic by GAES Stage 1 – Havana to Soroa

The first serious day of riding finished after riding 97 kilometers from the urban and historic city of Havana to the relaxed mountain resort of Soroa. In observance of the final day of mourning for former Cuban leader Fidel Castro today’s stage was a transfer stage only, meaning no official time was kept.

Riders are given 2 liters of bottled water at the beginning of each stage. Tap water in Cuba cannot be trusted.

Riders are given 2 liters of bottled water at the beginning of each stage. Tap water in Cuba cannot be trusted.

Tucked into the mountains we chased for about half the day, Soroa is known as the “Rainbow of Cuba” for it’s natural beauty and the Orquideario Soroa park, which is home to 700 orchid species from around the world.

Bike racks are full prior to stage 1.

Bike racks are full prior to stage 1.

Today’s stage started with several miles of road transitioning to a jumbled mix of pavement and dirt cane field roads. The pavement sections could barely be called roads as the mammoth potholes littering every stretch made life difficult for the riders and prevented pack riding in groups larger than 4 or 5.

Jen working with our group through 10-foot-tall sugarcane fields.

The second half of the race featured primarily dirt roads only with some primitive trails that would pass for singletrack throwing in some small river crossings and rocky climbs leading to the finish.

We started off slow as burning matches on an untimed stage seemed stupid. As the day went on temperatures started to rise and with the wind blowing hard at 20-30 mph. Our gameplan changed as limiting our time in the heat and holding on to our drafting partners suddenly rose in importance.

We chased the mountains in the distance for most of the day before finally catching them at the very end.

After just over 4 hours we finished without any major issues although we spent most of the day worrying about stray dogs, goats, or cows wandering onto the roads and weaving around atomic potholes.

Once across the finish line, the stress immediately stopped and the chilling began with a distinct Carribean feel. Palm trees, great food, and lounging near the pool was the order of the afternoon.

Farms and children greeted us around every corner

Farms and children greeted us around every corner

Tomorrow’s stage starts and ends in Soroa. Stage 2 will be the first real racing of Titan Tropic. We don’t know what to expect from our competition but today gave us a nice introduction to riding as a team again and the course markings and feed zones of Titan Tropic.

Tomorrow’s stage will be a 106 km loop bringing riders back to Soroa after completing a tour of several hydro-electric dams, fertile crop fields, and some technical riding including a 300-foot rocky climb to the finish line.

 

 

 

 

Titan Tropic Pre-Race Report

Titan Tropic by GAES – Pre-race Report

The moment we learned about Titan Tropic we knew it would be an unforgettable experience. Now add in the death of Fidel Castro and the experience just ramped up to eleven. It’s hard to imagine a more historic time to be in Cuba.

The flight to Cuba was itself an experience. After more than 50 years of travel ban from the US to the largest island in the Caribbean boarding a commercial flight in Miami and landing in Havana just 45 minutes later is something few Americans have experienced since JFK was president.

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Leaving the high rises, glitz, and glamour of Miami and in less than an hour you’re transported to a different time, flying over unmaintained dirt roads winding between fields full of ox and cattle before touching down at Jose Marti International airport, disembarking on the runway, and catching a cab that’s most likely a late 50s Chevy makes you feel like you’ve been transported back in time. While just 90 miles south of the United States, Cuba feels light years away.

Titan Tropic has already been a unique experience and we haven’t even started racing yet.

All of Cuba is currently observing a period of mourning following the death of their former leader and this will continue until December 5th. For Havana that means the rollicking nightlife it’s become known for is on hold but promises to resurface when riders return to the capital city on December 9th.

We have still been able to visit the city and take in the incredible culture and architecture of Havana, which dates back to the 16th century.

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Havana is also known for it’s many artists and art instillations including the home of Jose Fuso. Fuso is a Cuban treasure who opens his private home for visitation and you can tour the neighborhood he has rebuilt with glittering mosaics.

And of course we have been awestruck by the American cars from Dodge, Plymouth, Oldsmobile, Ford, and Chevy dating back to the 1940s and 50s when owning a car was more than just a mode of transportation but a statement about the driver. The cars alone are worth a trip to Havana.

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The Titan Tropic organizers have had to make some changes in observance of the mourning period and that includes canceling the prologue day and stage one will be neutralized as well but the racers will be riding the entirety of the stage without logging an official time.

The real racing starts with stage 2 with riders making a loop around the mountain resort town of Soroa, known locally as the “rainbow of Cuba” for it’s unsurpassed natural beauty.

My wife Jennifer Hanks and I will be competing as a mixed duo team. According to race rules we must ride within 2 minutes of each other throughout the race and can help each other along the way. For us that usually means me carrying all the food and tools, keeping Jen light and fast on the climbs. This will be our fourth team event and we seem to work pretty well together with each knowing their partner is trying their hardest at all times.

We will do our best to keep everyone updated on the race throughout the week as our internet availability allows.

In the days to come there are many incredible experiences in store for all the riders as the race takes in torrential river crossings, Unesco World Heritage sites, tobacco fields, tree rats the size of a house cat, majestic white sand beaches and much more.

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Descriptions of the 5 stages of Titan Tropic are below:

The race starts in Havana. Usually with a 30km untimed prologue around the city taking in all the sights including the Malecon, Revolution Square, and the Plaza de Armas. Unfortunately, the prologue had to be canceled in observance of the official mourning period following the death of Fidel Castro.

Titan Tropic’s first stage, 89 kilometers from Havana to Soroa, will also be neutralized as the final day of mourning. However, racers will ride the full distance without logging an official race time.

Following their first night of tent camping in Soroa riders will ride the following day for the first official competitive stage of the 2016 Titan Tropic.

This stage will be a 106 km loop bringing riders back to Soroa after completing a tour of several hydro-electric dams, fertile crop fields, and some technical riding including a 300-foot rocky climb to the finish line.

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Stage 3 is the longest of the Titan Tropic at 119 kilometers and perhaps the most scenic taking the race from Soroa to Vinales. This stage includes multiple large river crossings, mountain climbs as steep as 18%, and the unique mogotes (haystack-shaped limestone mountains) of Valle Vinales which make it a Unesco World Heritage site.

Riders will camp here overnight before taking on stage 4, Vinales to Vinales, of 84 kilometers. Known as the Queen Stage of Titan Tropic, Vinales to Vinales, is completely off-road and reportedly the most difficult of the race.

The fifth and final stage takes riders 86 kilometers from Vinales to Cayo Jutias, a white-sand key on the northern Atlantic coast of the island. Despite being named for the giant tree rats that inhabit the islands mangroves, Cayo Jutias is a jewel of the northern coast of Cuba and protected for it’s singular beauty.

Click Here for a Full Start List for the Titan Tropic.

Check back with MTB Race News for updates throughout the week.