Giant Factory Off-Road Team rider Carl Decker scored a double victory last weekend in Northern California, capturing a piece of the crown at the unique Grinduro off-road event while also defending his title as the Lost Sierra Triple Crown champion.
The Lost Sierra Triple Crown competition includes three events in Northern California: the Lost and Found Gravel Grinder in June, the Downieville Classic in August, and Grinduro in October. This year Carl finished first and second respectively at those first two races, putting him in contention for the overall with a strong finish at Grinduro.
Carl faced tough competition in the unusual one-day Grinduro event, which combines gravel road racing and mountain bike enduro racing. It’s a one-of-a-kind race that covers 65 miles of rugged terrain, over 8,000 feet of climbing, and four timed “special stages” that require both fitness and off-road handling skills. And with so many variables, bike and equipment choices play a major role.
This year Carl’s top rival for the Lost Sierra Triple Crown was Canadian Olympian Geoff Kabush, who also had a first and second place at the first two events. The other rider to watch was his former Giant Factory Off-Road teammate Duncan Riffle, last year’s Grinduro winner.
Here’s how it all went down, in Carl’s own words:
Grinduro is a mashup of gravel grinder and enduro style races: four timed stages along a 65-mile route in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Racers camp at the start/finish in Quincy. There's a palpable buzz at camp, with 700+ racers and their friends and family enjoying good food, drink and music.
Grinduro is also the final race of the Lost Sierra Triple Crown competition. An ornate steel crown and a gigantic three-handled jug are awarded to the rider with the most points across all three events. And I've been proud to display both on my mantle since last year's inaugural event.
Going into this year, defense of the Triple Crown was on a short list of my goals. And after winning the first event, the Lost and Found, things were looking good. But at the second round in Downieville, Geoff Kabush turned the tables. So, with a win and a second place each, we were tied up. The highest finisher at Grinduro would take the crown. Geoff said he wanted it. And I know that I did.
What sets Grinduro apart is the timing: the race is entirely chip timed. Which means you can start the stages whenever you want. There is no start time for each racer. Which means you can ride with whomever you want. Alliances between friends and strangers can have significant impact on Stages 2 and 3, where drafting is a benefit.
With this unique format comes new strategies. Such as the "Reverse Breakaway" or "Slack Attack," in which a racer waits for his competition to start a stage, but hangs back to start 10 seconds later. If you can close a gap to a rider that started in front of you, and finish with him, the timing will show that you “won” by the length of the gap. It's new, it's gamesmanship, and it's fun to figure out.
This is how last year's winner, (and my old Giant Factory teammate) Duncan Riffle, Geoff Kabush, and I ended up ahead of everybody else approaching the second stage—a fast and twisty gravel road descent. All three of us were sizing each other up, trying to find a way to work with one another or work against one another—but not work merely for the others. We'd stand around for 10 minutes, waiting, balking—considering hiding. A new and hilarious game of bicycle chess.
Like the Lost and Found Gravel Grinder, most people choose to ride a cyclocross bike at Grinduro. Some have flat bars, but most have drops. There are a few mountain bikes in the mix, but the road aesthetic is preferred by most.
Like the Lost and Found event, I chose to ride my rigid XtC Advanced 29 at Grinduro. With the entire Triple Crown riding on this one event, I figured the beefier Snakeskin protected 2.25 Racing Ralph tires would be the safest bet. My XtC would be more work on some stages, but it would be safer on others. I had to take some kind of gamble, though this one felt more like an insurance policy.
The stage times were incredibly tight this year, with only a few seconds between Duncan, Geoff, and me on most. But nobody knows where they stand until the results are posted back at camp. On Stage 2, Geoff had a puncture that cost him a minute. But on the third stage, he rode hard enough to make me wonder if he hadn't put that much time into me on Stage 1.
On the final stage, all three of us thought we had a shot at victory, and we all rode with commitment down the rough singletrack of Mt. Hough. At the bottom, Kabush and I were wide-eyed and happy with our rides and the close calls we'd survived. But Duncan crossed the finish line dusty and angry looking—he had a crash of some type.
Back at camp, the reveling began as we awaited the posted times and awards. When the preliminary results were up, it was unofficial: I'd won! By only 1.2 seconds over Duncan. And Kabush was 40 seconds back, due to his puncture.
At the awards ceremony, they announced that Duncan and I had tied—down to the 10th of a second. Which was weird. But it was late by then, and my debate/math skills were softened by a fun evening. So there were two winners. But a clear defense of the Triple Crown, and a gaudy new crown were mine.