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Quincy, We Love You–Grinduro 2016 Recap

This map may be big, but it doesn’t come close to showing everything that Quincy, CA has to offer. The author on the left, and Competitive Cyclist Brand Manager Garin Fons on the right.

From the moment we rolled into camp on Thursday night, it was clear that this wasn’t just another bike race. Sure, the usual trappings were all there—carefully set up campsites, people enjoying beers around the fire, stickered-up Sprinter vans and tastefully outfitted Land Cruisers—but something was different. It may have been the sense of relief that comes with standing still after spending all day in a car, but despite the obvious signs, it didn’t feel like we were at a bike race at all.

If not for having to pick up number plates, we might have forgotten that ultimately, we were there to race.

There was no tension, no smack talk, no geeking out about equipment to speak of. The sensation was more like showing up to a party surrounded by people you don’t know, but inexplicably certain that these people are your friends, and that you’re all there for the same reason. Then again, we shouldn’t have been surprised—it’s just the spirit of Grinduro.

Garin affixing his number plate. Note the handlebar bag. Spirit of Grinduro indeed.

The Concept

The formula for Grinduro is fairly simple. It starts with incredible terrain, courtesy of Quincy, California. It’s bolstered by the same format used in the discipline of enduro racing, where a route is set, and times are taken for various segments of the course, rather than the overall time. The upshot is that the transfer stages afford plenty of time to recover and socialize, leaving racers fresh to attack the timed stages with full force. Because of the focus on strategy and skill, it allows racers with a wide variety of backgrounds to be competitive. But let’s not kid ourselves, with over 8,000 feet of climbing packed into 63 miles, simply finishing Grinduro is a serious endeavor.

Good times and plenty of purple were the dominant themes of the weekend.

But that’s only half of the story. Grinduro is an event, not just a bike race, and like any great event, it starts with a reason to come together. In this case, that reason is a deep and abiding love of cycling. Some of the manifestations are obvious, like the gallery showcasing the finest wares from some of Northern California’s most esteemed custom bike builders. Others are subtler nods to things that cyclists tend to appreciate, like the local restaurants keeping attendees fed, or good bands doing their thing. But the thread running through Grinduro is clear—this is an event put on by cyclists for their friends and people like them. Whether you’re there to race or not is secondary. Enjoying yourself is the top priority.

It’s a big day in the saddle, but it’s all in the name of fun.

The Racers

Grinduro offers something for nearly everyone, which makes it unsurprising to see well-known cyclists from a range of different backgrounds represented. The pro class saw entrants with elite-level cyclocross, cross country, and road palmares. However, last year’s runner up, Duncan Riffle, who narrowly edged out the rest of the field with a blistering descent on stage four, is best known for twice being US National downhill champion. It’s a phenomenon that was repeated in seemingly every class—racers of nearly every background represented, some focused on enjoying the day, others hell-bent on contesting the win.

The winning bike, mere minutes before the start. Duncan Riffle’s Santa Cruz Stigmata, kitted out with SRAM Rise 60 mountain wheels, 40mm Clement tires, and what appears to be a 10-42 cassette. In other words, a steed perfectly suited for the task at hand.

Competitive Cyclist VP Will Sladek and his dad Phil rented an RV and made a father/son weekend out of it. Placing an impressive 4th in the highly competitive 60+ category, Phil earned some serious bragging rights.

The Event

Grinduro can be rightly considered a true all-rounder’s race, and the variety of timed stages couldn’t make that any clearer. The race starts with a dirt road transfer climb out of Quincy and up the first of two ascents up Mount Hough, leading to the first challenge of the day: a 1.2-mile hill climb stage called, appropriately enough, Hough and Puff.

The author, left, with our Grinduro giveaway winner Mark Newton. This was just the latest in what sounded like an amazing series of riding trips he’s taken this year. Saying he was happy to be at Grinduro would be an understatement.

The author ditching the wind vest in preparation for the first timed stage. With electronic timing chips embedded in the number plates, there was no need to stagger riders at each stage, which helped the race proceed without skipping a beat.

It’s followed by a fifteen-mile transfer stage that steadily gains elevation, bringing you to the top of the second stage, the 6.4-mile Big Grizzly descent. It’s fast, and although it’s mostly smooth, it’s punctuated by washboard braking bumps and the occasional patch of embedded rock, both of which were littered with water bottles and the occasional racer fixing a flat tire. The following transfer stage maintains a steady downhill trajectory, eventually setting racers back in the bottom of the valley, and the start of the third stage—the 6-mile Indian Creek time trial.

The author and Garin en route to the start of the time trial. The stage invited an all-out effort, but the scenery took the edge off, bleeding eyeballs notwithstanding.

The mid-race lunch stop was excellent. Hats off to the Grinduro staff for making sure the entire field was well fed all weekend.

This single paved stage follows the rolling contour of the valley floor, concluding within throwing distance of the designated lunch stop, which provided a much needed opportunity to regroup prior to the second transfer up Mount Hough. The average grade is rumored to be over 20%, with sections surpassing 30%, and it’s unrelenting, making this transfer stage arguably the single biggest challenge of the event. But the upshot is that it brings riders to the fourth and final stage, the 3.3-mile Mount Hough singletrack descent.

Access to the singletrack stage was hard to come by, but thankfully we had the foresight to shoot photos when we pre-rode the course. Here, Garin blasts on the singletrack section.

It’s fast and flowing, punctuated by manicured corners and eye-popping backdrops, and overall our favorite stage of the race. After a quick detour to enjoy some refreshments and a quick swim, racers headed back into town for the second chapter of Grinduro—the party.

Event of the year? That sounds about right. The bands, beers, and good times kept going well into Sunday morning.

The Experience

It would be futile to try to sum up the entire weekend, but a few things must be mentioned. First, everyone we met was fantastic. From our neighbors in camp, to the volunteers, to the vendors, and certainly not least of all our fellow racers with whom we spent time on course, you’d be hard-pressed to find a friendlier or more interesting group of people. Second, the promoters nailed it. The location, the course, the food, the music—it was a damn good time. Finally, if you’re thinking about it, make a point to sign up for next year’s edition as soon as registration opens. This year’s race sold out quickly, and that phenomenon seems likely to repeat itself. It’s not without good reason— Grinduro is an event that you do not want to miss. Until next year you can be sure we’ll be dreaming of Quincy.

Never mind the drop bars. As usual, the author couldn’t pass up the opportunity to lean it over.

Who can resist a photo booth? From left to right, Will Sladek, Garin Fons, Dain Zaffke (Giro), Eric Poole, Garson Fields.


From the Top: A Closer Look at Grinduro