Gravel Season Hoppers Off to Epic Start
The first Grasshopper Adventure race of the season, Low Gap, was a doozie.
The drive to Ukiah, Ca, came way too early if all the grumbling in the parking lot was any indication of the group's mood. The weather was chilly, but the bright sunlight and blue skies seemed to improve everyone’s mood.
The field was packed with heavy-hitters with Niky Taylor, Libby Caldwell, Amity Rockwell, and Maude Farrell joining Kate Courtney on the start line.
The men's field included the likes of Christopher Blevins, Geoff Kabush, Anthony Palicci, our very own Brennan Wertz and the eventual solo winner Peter Stetina. There was also a pair of Legion riders trying their legs out at the first real gravel race of the season, Tyler Williams and Lance Haidet.
"What a way to start off the year," said Wertz. "After a few months away from the racing scene and countless rainy winter rides, racing the Low Gap course from Ukiah on a beautiful late January day was as good as it gets."
“That first climb kicked my ass,” said Anthony Palicci, of Mill Valley, Ca. By all indications things went "nuclear" from the gun as the group raced up Orr Gap Road, climbing 1800 feet over the first 9 miles.
The Orr Gap Road climb left riders strewn all over the Ukiah climb and gave everyone a pretty good indicator of their early season fitness.
The first half of race takes place on pavement, with the second half hitting the pristine gravel roads, before the final push to the line on pavement. All in, the riders did over 4800 feet of climbing over 44 miles.
“This was quite the reintroduction to race pace after off-season,” said Wertz, who eventually finished in 11th. “My favorite part of the race was ripping down the beautiful ribbon of tarmac that followed the first climb of the day. I had been gapped off the back of the front group over the crest and was chasing desperately to try to catch back on.”
Peter Stetina appeared on the final run alone, but made sure to take one final look over his shoulder, but he had nothing to worry about, as he was two minutes up on Christopher Blevins. The Legion duo followed shortly there after with Ian Lopez de San Roman.
Leading the women's field Kate Courtney came rolling in with a huge smile on her face and her right shift/brake levers flopping around like a wounded duck. Turns out she was taken out earlier on the ride by a fellow competitor. She luckily was unharmed, as her bike took the brunt of the incident.
“Thanks for the encouragement,” said Kate Courtney, to local chef and gravel racer Matt Accarrino during post race hugs.
If the vibe at the finish line was any indication, the first Grasshopper of the season was a big success. And everyone was already talking about the next in the series, Huffmaster Hopper, which is coming up February 25, 2023 in Maxwell, Ca.
All the results are available here.