Sagebrush Safari: Defining the MTB Classic

Ever wonder how a brand-new, first-time event can be called a “classic”? You see it all the time. Some podunk parks and rec department in eastern Maine hammers a few arrows into the ground and BAM — the Crab Cakes Classic. A classic is by definition “something of lasting interest or significance.” The ’57 Chevy. Springsteen. Michelangelo. Don’t even get me started on the concept of the “instant classic.”

You want to talk classic in the context of a cycling pub, let’s talk Sagebrush Safari. This is a mountain bike race that’s been around since before Gary Fisher’s goatee. The exact history is — like the facial hair — somewhat fuzzy and subject to lively MTB forum debate. Let’s just say many of this year’s participants had not yet been born when it first rolled through the chaparral in the low mountains east of San Diego. For arguments’ sake, make it 1988; bring it.

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Images by Phil Beckman/PB Creative 

Cross-country riders from all over the Southwest and even south of the border (Mexico is only three miles away) target this one as a must-do because of its unique character (hey, how about that paved road at the start?) and swoopy singletrack trail system. Everyone seems to have a Sagebrush story, especially if the weather was sketchy (the mud here is similar to Pepsodent, and snow is not unheard of). This year it was on the dry and slighty warm side. Rattlesnake weather.

The Sagebrush Safari is such a classic it doesn’t have to resort to the cliché.

Team Big Bear once again kept the Sagebrush saga alive and gave it some extra relevance by making it not only the penultimate round of the 2013 Kenda US Cup West Series but the opening round of the Pro Ultra Endurance Tour as well. This is a three-race USA Cycling series of 50-milers for the seriously truculent two-wheeler.

Series sponsor Sho-Air/Cannondale could not possibly have asked for a more savory outcome in that one. Its team riders swept the top three positions in the Men’s division and then iced the cake with the Women’s win too.

Alex Grant and Tinker Juarez tag-teamed the field to build an unassailable lead, with Grant — a 31-year-old from Salt Lake City — finally moving away from the American MTB legend for a three-and-a-half minute win at 3:25:50. Closing the deal for the team was motorcycle celebrity Eric Bostrom, who grabbed third from Ryan Clark (Audi/Felt) by a little over three minutes.

Monique “Pua” Mata, the defending Pro UET series champion, had little trouble dispatching the small Open Women field in a time of 3:49:24.

On the sprint-oriented side of the results board, former Sagebrush winner Sid Taberlay (Kenda/H2O) put in a tactically adept day to top the Pro Men race by a little over a minute. Ignacio Torres of the Mexico-based Turbo Bike Team was a clear runner-up, while early leader/young gun Joel Titius (SoCal Endurance) rounded out the top three. US Cup West series round five winner Casey Williams (Whole Athlete) had a relatively down day but still finished fourth, while KHS/Cytomax’s Sean Donovan completed the podium in fifth.

Series leader Larissa Fitchett (Lost Coast Brewery) captured the Pro Women’s division over Deyanira Guerrero (Veloz/Ellsworth).

For full results and more, visit the US Cup website.

Words and images by Phil Beckman/PB Creative 

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