For the past several years Cannondale rider Alex Grant has been piling up podium finishes all across the western hemisphere. His most recent, a second place the La Ruta De Los Conquistadors, was his second consecutive runner-up finish at the 4-day stage race.
Originally from Vermont, Grant now lives in Salt Lake City and has steadily molded himself into one of the best ultra-endurance riders in the country. After a long season Alex is finally taking some time off the bike. He sat down with us and talked about his recent success at La Ruta and what it's like being an ultra-endurance badass.
MTB Race News - You and Ben Sonntag took the top two spots at the La Ruta. Did you guys work together, as a team, throughout the race or were you just the fastest?
AG - Well, Ben was the fastest and I just sucked his wheel! Ha ha, in all seriousness though, I would have to say that teamwork played a huge roll. Without me would Ben have won? Without Ben there would I have won? Hard to know, but I do know that we helped each other a lot- not only through drafting, but with moral support. Suffering up a 25% grade in the sun is a little easier if you have company. We worked really well together the whole time and helped each other through bad moments- and it worked. Canít beat 1-2.
MTB Race News - What is the hardest part of racing La Ruta? Why?
AG - The cumulative attrition and fatigue. You are so tired when you get up at 4 am but you better get going quick and get ready to pin it!
MTB Race News - You finished second behind one of your teammates at Trans-Sylvania Epic, Breck Epic, and La Ruta this season. Will you be looking to win some of those in 2011?
AG - Yea I need to win one for sure! But when itís your teammate ahead of you its almost akin to winning yourself. Now I just need to talk to those guys about splitting some prize money!! Ha ha
MTB Race News - With riders like yourself, Jeremiah Bishop, and Sonntag the Cannondale team is almost unbeatable in ultra-endurance and stage races. How did that come about and do you think we will see more teams adopting a similar look in the future?
AG - That stems from the now defunct Monavie-Cannondale team of 2007-2009. The three of us where all part of that team in 2009 and the tagline was "Epic Racing Around the World.Ē Matt Ohran managed the team and he has a really good eye for talent. He picked riders that he thought had potential for endurance and stage race formats. Iím not sure if other teams will make that switch- maybe itís just easier to look at the Pro XCT schedule and say OK thatís what weíre doing. Iíd like to see more top riders at all these races for sure. It was awesome having Sam Shultz down at La Ruta.
MTB Race News -This year the La Ruta organizers really cracked down on riders taking assistance outside the feedzones. Do you feel like that impacted the race and how?
AG - They did enforce some of those rules about assistance, but there were still rumors of it going on, and a few disputes where people werenít sanctioned that others thought should be. I didnít see anything myself so I canít say anything. I do know that Federico Ramirez refused outside assistance for a flat tire on Day 1 and lost a lot of time because of it. He may have had the legs to win but he played by the rules and stood his ground. I have a lot of respect for him. If you cheat and break the rules you are disrespecting your fellow competitors. If you donít show respect, how can you expect to get any respect in return?
MTB Race News - This season you took second at the 6-day Breck Epic and then won the 75-mile Park City Point to Point the following week despite working a full-time job. How do you recover from huge efforts like that and race again the next week?
AG - The job is the secret. If I didnít have to work maybe I would have been tempted by the beautiful weather and sweet singletrack here in Salt Lake and rode too much that week instead of being forced off the bike for work.
Donít get me wrong though, I was a bit flat at the Point 2 Point and luckily Josh Tostado had done Breck too. It was interesting because I did the Leadville 100 a week before Breck and that was a turbo boost or something because I feel like I was riding about as good as I ever have at Breck. I was on an upswing going in to that race, and a downsing by the Point 2 Point but I was able to go on a good base, sheer determination, and ability to suffer at the end.
MTB Race News - How would like to see U.S. mountain bike racing evolve in the future?
Alex Grant - Iíd like to see it continue to grow, both in participation and outside interest. Thereís a balancing act going on now between trying to keep the sport true to its roots and appeasing to spectators and exposure. You kind of see that with the debate on course length to make races more spectator friendly. Shorter courses are better for spectators and that model is working great in Europe as well as a few venues here in the states. I hate to see courses suffer though. Mountain biking is all about riding challenging trails with flow and character, not just cookie cutter loops made to meet a certain standard.
I think some people are starting to think outside the box a bit with regards to the traditional cross country and we may see some of those thoughts at work at next years Missoula, MT Pro XCT. I talked with Sam Schultz a bit and the guys up there have some good ideas.
I have focused more on one-day endurance events and stage races and Iíd love to see these continue to grow as well. Thatís where I think there is the most room for growth on the participation side. People are tired of paying to race around the same old XC loops and would rather sign up for something like The Breck Epic, Park City Point 2 Point, or the Trans-Sylvania Epic where you get a sampling of the local trails and feel like youíve done an epic ride at the end of the day.
Iíd like to see some more Enduro style racing and long Super Dís too- just anything to mix it up and keep it fun. Thatís why we all do this right?
MTB Race News - What was your favorite race this season and tell us why you liked it.
AG - Well, last year I said the Park City Point 2 Point so this year I am going with La Ruta. Itís fresh in my mind and despite the difficulty those guys put on an amazing race and the whole country welcomes the racers. The vibe surrounding the race is great and it has so much history. Every local newspaper had coverage of each stage- and it was often in the front page. Before the race we did interviews with local television stations and they were broadcasting each stage. Very cool. The fact that it went so well for us doesnít hurt either. Riding at the front of a major international stage race is something to savor for me.
MTB Race News - What races would you like to focus on next season?
AG - Boy a lot depends on work and how I can fit things in. Last year I tried to get going for some early spring races and that was a mistake after La Ruta so late in the year. I may delay the start to my season a bit.
MTB Race News - Do you work with a coach and if not how do you come up with a training plan?
AG - No, Iíve never worked with a coach and just kind of train by feel. Iíve never used a power meter either, and my heart rate monitor died earlier this season and I never replaced it. I just like to ride and I have a few ideas of workouts that I think make me faster. Sometimes it works out for me, and others I tank- but thatís all part of the fun I guess. We arenít robots. I enjoy learning how my body responds and feel like I learn more each season. Maybe by the time Iím old and slow Iíll have it all dialed. The only thing I keep track of is weekly volume- just a rough estimate. Its amazing how well you can ride after very little volume. Tapering works. In the 10 days before La Ruta I rode about seven or eight hours. Before that I probably averaged 15 hours a week in October, with one 20 hour week. Most of that comes on the weekends, with maybe one good ride during the week.
MTB Race News - What are you going to do with your off-season?
AG - Ski & snowboard (resort and backcountry), relax, work, hike, maybe lift some weights eventually, NOT ride a trainer. I donít ride trainers, at all, thatís a rule. Ten minutes on a trainer feels like three hours to me. I hate it. I only have so many matches to burn mentally and forcing myself to sit on a trainer all winter burns too many. Iíd rather bundle up and ride in the snow. I guess I am lucky enough to live in a place where we have great backcountry skiing tooÖ.
MTB Race News - When do you start training again for next year?
AG - Iím going to rest a little better post La Ruta this year than I did last year. If that means I get a later start and am a little slower in March thatís fine. With all the snow we have now the challenge is going to be making myself take it easy on the backcountry skiing! That will make up a lot of my base, along with some skate skiing and weights, then Iíll start worrying about the bike in a couple months. I am pretty unorganizedÖ maybe I could benefit from a coach, but I like it this way. I donít want to make riding too structured and take all the fun out of it.
I also want to say a big thanks to Cannondale for all their support this year and for making such awesome bikes.