Fueled by Avery Brewing Company
Elite mountain bike racers—i.e., pros and the legions of wannabes—from around the nation convened in Brian Head, Utah to compete in the American Mountain Classic Thursday through Sunday, August 21-24.
The American Bike Classic is a four-day stage race incorporating the rugged and scenic trails in and around Brian Head.
The event opened with a six-mile prologue race on day one, followed by three straight days of epic rides.
With over $20,000 in cash and prizes up for grabs, the event drew some of the biggest names in mountain bike racing as well as Ben Preston, Ethan Passant, Dave Ochs and Tim Poppe, four members of local bike racing team Brick Oven/Crested Butte Builders. In addition, pro riders and Gunnison residents Jenny and Brian Smith of the Trek/VW racing team made the trip.
Following the prologue, the riders got down to business on the second day, heading out onto the Virgin River Rim Trail for 55 miles of racing.
After breaching the top 15 of the elite category in the opening prologue, Preston and Passant were on a similar pace on day two, mixing in with the pros before Passant was stalled with a mechanical.
“Going up the first hill I was having bike problems,” says Passant. “I couldn’t get into my granny gear.”
At mile 25, Passant’s rear derailleur cable broke, leaving him to milk what few gears were available and dropping him way off the leaders, eventually finishing the day in next-to-last-place among the elite riders.
Preston forged on without any chaos, but was left to ride most of the course alone, void of anyone to reel in or pull away from.
“I was kind of by myself most of the day, which was kind of tough,” says Preston. “You don’t know if you’re going fast or slow.”
Preston found some inspiration in the final 10 miles, pulling past three riders to finish 18th on the day, 32 minutes off the leaders.
Passant recovered to finish day three’s 55-mile ride in 13th place with Preston hot on his rear wheel in 14th place.
The final day of the stage race took riders on yet another 55-mile ride, completing two laps on the Dark Hollow Trail. The ride incorporated an extremely technical section of downhill that took its toll on the riders and their bikes.
“I started to see people just crumpling,” explains Preston. “Wrecks, mechanicals and fatigue.”
“The Dark Hollow Trail is pretty brutal,” adds Passant. “There were a lot of crashes and a lot of blood.”
Neither Passant nor Preston fell victim to any of the pitfalls associated with the final day though, as Passant finished in ninth place and Preston two minutes back in 10th place.
Consistency proved key for Preston in the overall standings as he finished the four days of racing in 11th place overall among the elite riders. Passant recovered from his day two demise to come in 14th place overall.
Ochs absolutely dominated the men’s open class with first-place finishes all four days for the overall title in his category.
Poppe closed the event in sixth place in the men’s open class ages 35-39.
As for Jenny and Brian, they both had solid showings as seasoned riders in professional mountain biking. Jenny closed the weekend with a second-place finish in the women’s elite class to take home $1,500 in cash and Brian survived a crash to take fifth among elite men for a $600 payday.
“It was pretty cool,” says Passant of the event and the competition. “Those guys are all about it. They’re the kind of guys you see in the magazines. They’re just so freaking strong.”
“It was good having four guys down there all racing from the Brick Oven/Crested Butte Builders Team,” adds Preston. “Sat down in the evening, drank Avery beers, watched the Olympics and sat in creeks so your legs could attempt to recover.”