The CLIF Bar Racing Team had a strong presence at the Carson City Off Road. Team member Ben Sonntag shares his race story below.
Words: Ben Sonntag Photos: Bill Freeman
The third stop of the Epicrides series was held last weekend in Carson City. Both Russel and I showed really good form after our 1-2 finish at the GoPro Mountain Games in Vail, CO the weekend before and we were excited to see how we would match up against another strong field.
The course in Carson City is one of the smoother ones of the series, mainly consisting of basically two hours of climbing to get some incredible Lake Tahoe views before coming back down to Carson City on fun, flowy singletrack and some sandy, loose and sketchy steep dirt road descents interrupted with a flat pedally, time trial dirt road section. Both Russell and I decided to put our Niner AIR 9 RDO hardtails to good use as we felt it was the perfect tool. Every watt is put on the ground, but it still feels stable on the descents and offers a bit of compliance when things are bumpy.
Shortly after the gun went off, Howard Grotts, Keegan Swenson, my teammate Russel and I, separated from the main field and became the lead group. Howard and Keegan had a slight advantage on the steep climbing sections which came as no surprise as those two are some of the best climbers I know. For most of the day, Russel and I could compensate through teamwork and fast descending. Just before the high point of the course, the group began to further split up. Howard and Keegan separated themselves a few seconds from me and a few seconds further back was Russell. For the next ten minutes of twisty descending I knew I wasn’t far off the front, as could see those two up the road. I wasn’t able to get back on their wheels before we hit a ten-minute pancake flat dirt road section which definitely would have been nicer to ride in a group. That part of the course was in a low, thick cloud and I basically had no idea how far those two were ahead of me. It was a shock when the cloud lifted and the gap between Grotts and Swenson was less than 10 seconds.
I definitely felt a boost of energy and closed the gap in no time. All signs were now set for a sprint finish. With Russell only 30 seconds further back, I had a huge advantage as I could sit in on the last three kilometers on pavement to town before we started to play games about positioning ourselves for the sprint. I was in the same situation two years ago in this race, sprinting against Todd Wells and Russell for second. The confidence I gained from that experience played a huge role in my success this year. Your headspace can make such a difference and I was basically obsessed with the win at Carson City Off Road. Everything clicked automatically and I was able to get to the last 90-degree turn first and sprint in for the win. An unbelievable weight fell off my shoulders, as I knew how good my fitness was. This year allergies and personal life got in the way of results I knew I was capable of. It was nice to put all those training hours, support from my team and sponsors into a result I was proud of.