REFLECTING ON BENTONVILLE'S LIFE TIME GRAND PRIX RACES.
I love racing in Bentonville.
The punchy climbs and rocky surfaces of both courses suit me, and starting and finishing in bike-crazed Bentonville is the best.
For the gravel in Oz specifically, I really like how narrow and twisty it is. A lot of the gravel racing we do in the US is on wide-open midwest style roads without much cornering; but on the gravel around here, you're always doing something.
For the XC side, I really enjoy the big Tunnel Vision and Back 40 laps that make up the bulk of the Little Sugar course. Hitting the closer-to-town networks like Blowing Springs and Slaughter Pen is a sweet way to finish up the day as well. I look forward to seeing how the route progresses in future iterations – it would be awesome to see some of the new handcut trails included in the future.
Stay bored, win races
These two races were the sixth and seventh weekends of racing in a row for me, so I knew I'd likely be on a bit of damage control duty for both. It was an exhausting but really rewarding streak of tough competition in all kinds of different environments, but my gas tank was getting pretty empty post-Italy.
My plan for approaching Little and Big Sugar was… nothing special. Both races are long and attritional. I had a few spots on each course I knew positioning would be key, but overall planned to focus on being efficient and saving energy. Generally speaking, the secret to doing well in a race is staying bored as long as you can. These things usually come down to who has a little something extra left at the end, and if you’re not going hard in the early stages, you’ve got a better chance. That was especially true considering where I was at in the season.
I had a really tough patch about 2 hours into Little Sugar. I'd been battling a bad stomach that morning, and was close to needing to pull over and handle a bit of business. My legs just weren't quite firing with the power required to stick with the front group either. I had to dig pretty deep mentally to keep my head in the game, but things came around and I snagged a top ten just by staying consistent and committed.
In Big Sugar, I again could feel from early on that I wasn't having my best day, but pulled out every trick I know to hang with the lead group. I actually got dropped out of that lead group three times, but each time convinced myself to fight back to it. It was really tough. I actually vomited coming back to the group the third time, but just really wanted to be proud of my last race effort of the year – and I did accomplish that.
I ended up in tight battles at the end of both races. I'm not sure I lit it up per se, but even when just battling for a top ten, the adrenaline of being in a close fight like that as the finish line nears is always special – those battles feel weirdly personal to me. You're just literally trying to break the will of someone else, and they're trying to do the same to you. It’s kind of primal, and you can see that if you stand in the finish corral of a pro race like this. Everyone is a bit wide-eyed, not really able to put words together yet, trying to reenter the real world. I think it's good to visit that headspace now and then.
photo: Jared Sluyter
Obligatory bike check
At Little Sugar, I rode the BEAUTIFUL new OZ Limited Edition BC40 with a SRAM T-Type 38x10-52 drivetrain, the new ZIPP 1Zero Hitop SW wheels, and Maxxis Rekon Race 2.35 tires. The rubber on those tires is stiff and thick as hell, making them tougher to ride than a more supple tire, but it's worth it on these super sharp OZ rocks. Even with that added reinforcement, I actually cut my front tire about 3 hours in, but luckily the Orange Seal sealed it up.
For Big Sugar, I rode my tri-fade ABLE with 48x10-50t gearing, ZIPP 303 Firecrest wheels, and 45mm Maxxis Rambler tires. The bit of extra volume in those tires was really nice on the rough course – it’s definitely suited to big tires.
The Life Time Grand Prix’s secret sauce
It feels like every year the Grand Prix races get bigger. It's kind of wild we're only in year two with how much the series has already grown.
The secret sauce of course is that they're mass participation events. It's really rewarding to get to connect with the amateur riders, share a story, take a photo, chat about a podcast episode they liked – it’s really a community out there.
It's still funny to me when people say we inspire them or that they look up to what we do. But it does reinforce that these events – and those of us at the front of them – can contribute to fostering others’ love for the bike. We all know how powerful the bicycle is, and it's so cool to feel like an ambassador of that power.
photo: Jared Sluyter
THE OZ | BC40 LIMITED EDITION
The OZ BC40 is MTB meta: a limited edition that was inspired by the trails that inspired the bike.
Lit up with a sunset gradient fade anchored by the rich darks and lush greens of NW AR’s rugged landscape, The OZ is a nod to the terrain and trails that inspire our passion for the bike – and shaped the XC-meets-trail qualities of the BC40.