Taylor Lideen Repeats as True Grit Champion and Joey Lythgoe Takes First 100 Mile Win
Written by: Shannon Boffeli
Once again riders from all across the country made the trek to Santa Clara, Utah, to take in the desert singletrack oasis tucked in the southwestern corner of the state. Warm weather and ideal trail conditions greeted the 500 riders registered for this year’s True Grit Epic.
The fact that the NUE series finale would be moving out west in 2017 provided extra buzz as many of those in attendance would be making a run at the series title, a challenge that is typically out of reach for most racers out west who have a hard time traveling to the east coast for the series final. This year’s finale will be located in Big Bear, California.
The open men’s field included a healthy bunch of seasoned NUE racers looking to kick off 2017 with a race win.
Last year’s True Grit champ Taylor Lideen (Elevated Legs) looked poised to repeat after a winter of training in sunny Arizona.
Looking to unseat Lideen as champion was 2016 NUE series champion Dylan Johnson (Cameron Racing). Johnson was making his first appearance at the Utah race. Following a long trip out from the east coast Johnson wasn’t left with much time to ride the True Grit course prior to race day and would be racing blind for the first of two laps.
Not to be counted out was Colorado duo David Krimstock (Giant) and Josh Tostado (Santa Cruz); both experienced ultra-endurance riders capable of taking the title in Santa Clara. Perennial contender Cary Smith (The Hub) of Jackson, Wyoming is always in the mix and should never be counted out of a 100-mile event.
This impressive bunch departed downtown Santa Clara just as the sun rose Saturday morning. Once on course, it didn’t take long for Lideen and Johnson to establish themselves up front. A sight the chasers would have to get used to seeing all day.
Misfortune struck Cary Smith early on as one puncture led to another leaving the Wyoming strongman walking his bike on course in the first hour of the race and forcing him to call it a day much earlier than he would have liked.
This left the two leaders out front with Josh Tostado solo behind, doing his best to chase down the leaders.
“I felt really good the first lap and a half but toward the end of lap two the heat started to get to me.” The Breckenridge-based rider shared after the finish.
This was a common theme for most riders even with temperatures creeping just above the mid-seventies many riders, who traveled south from snowy, cold winter locations, were quickly overheating.
Lideen wasn’t feeling the heat though. In fact, the Phoenix-based rider was in the opposite situation. “I thought it was so cold this morning,” he remembered at the finish. “Mary (his wife and support crew) and I had to drive the van around this morning to get the heater running so I could warm up.”
Now in the seventies he was feeling comfortable and midway through the second lap he started opening up a gap on Johnson, who had stayed glued to his wheel following all his lines throughout the day.
On the long, false-flat climb of Stucki Springs, Lideen slowly pulled away from the reigning series champ who was also dealing with a broken saddle that cracked toward the end of the rugged Zen trail.
Lideen could feel a gap opening and kept the hammer down, deciding he wouldn’t look back until the very end, just a mile or so from the finish when his win was all but secured.
The two-time True Grit winner was ecstatic at the finish. Through big smiles Lideen had this to say about the course, “I think this the best single day endurance racecourse. It’s true mountain biking. I like seeing more and more people racing with dropper posts each year. Some of this stuff gets gnarly on an XC bike. I think it’s great.”
Johnson, comfortably held on to second spot crossing the line just over 10 minutes behind the race leader.
Josh Tostado took third but was feeling the heat, coming from the sun and Giant rider David Krimstock who was closing the gap on Tostado late in the race.
In the end, just over a minute separated the two with Tostado taking third.
Krimstock would finish the day in fourth place with not much time to spare over final podium finisher Heath Thumel (Race Pace Bicycles).
The women’s event featured one overall favorite and several lesser-known challengers looking to compete for the top spot on the podium.
Previous True Grit 100 race winner and ultra-endurance superstar Sonya Looney (Freakshow/Scott) was looking to continue her winning ways in Utah but would be challenged by former 50-mile winner Joey Lythgoe (Kuhl) and successful triathlete and road racer Shirley Lydsman (Red Rock Bicycles) who just recently found a love for the dirt.
The race got off to a fast start with several of the women mixing in with the men. The main contenders were all well established early on until Looney suffered a flat on one of the opening descents costing her time early on.
Lythgoe established herself out front and never let off the gas for the rest of the race. After the first of two laps the Kuhl rider’s lead was just over 10 minutes and almost double that at the finish line.
Lydsman meanwhile, surprised herself with a strong showing occupying the second spot throughout the race. Her fitness and ability on the mountain bike showed as she tackled one of the most technical racecourses on the NUE circuit.
Sonya Looney never recovered from her early flat. Loosing significant time and getting into the red zone trying to catch back up left the defending True Grit champ in a very dark place suffering from heat stroke for much of the day.
She worked her way back to the fourth spot but was never able to overtake third-placed rider Abelyn Broughton (Fitzgerald’s Bicycles) in the end.
Chase Edwards finished off the podium in fifth.
At the beginning of the day the big question on everyone’s mind was, ‘Is Gordon Wadsworth here.’ It was rumored the multi-time NUE singlespeed champion and last year’s True Grit winner would be in Utah defending his True Grit win from 2016.
Steven Mills (New West Medical) stood on the start most interested in Wadsworth’s location. Mills was determined to rectify his mistakes from 2016 that let Wadsworth steal his race win. Mills led all of last year’s 100-mile event until an inexplicable course deviation just 10 miles from the finish meant he needed to ride back on course and complete the section he missed dropping him from first to third.
Mills took no chances this year and if Wadsworth was on hand Mills was determined to take him on. He threw a heavier gear on than he rode in ’16 and went hard right from the start.
Mills got out early, mixing in toward the front with many of the fastest geared competitors. And although Wadsworth ultimately didn’t make the trip out west Mills rode as if he were there.
He went out so hard in fact that even his closest chasers couldn’t see or follow him.
“He kind of has a great game plan for this race,” said second place finisher Quin Bingham (America First/Bikers Edge). “He has a big gear and gets out front really fast with the geared guys. Then he was just gone. I chased for awhile but you eventually just kind of forget about him.”
Mills also rode a hardtail on the rough southern Utah course but that didn’t seem to slow him down much.
Out front all day Mills eventually finished with a time of 7 hours 28 minutes. Good enough for first in singlespeed and ninth overall.
Bingham finished just 12 minutes behind the leader. Mark Schafer (Team Eastside Cycles) finished third.
Kip Biese, last year’s NUE singlespeed runner-up came home in fourth.
Masters Men 50+
Last year’s True Grit winner Greg Golet returned as the overall favorite in the 100-mile event. In addition to taking last year’s race win he also finished second in the overall NUE series barely getting beat out in the series final by top rival Jeff Clayton.
Clayton wasn’t on hand in Santa Clara giving Golet a clear shot at another True Grit title.
He proved to be up to the challenge turning in a blistering sub-eight-hour time, the only masters racer to do so.
Golet had a clean ride with no issues throughout the day. His consistent pace got him to the finish line almost a full hour ahead of second place and provided him with a great start for his shot at the 2017 NUE title.
Tim Phillips crossed the line in second at 8 hours 46 minutes followed by Sten Hertsens (Carborocket) just five minutes later.
Next the NUE heads back east to the Cohutta 100 in Ducktown, Tennessee April 29th. Check back for full coverage only on MTB Race News.