Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder stage 4: ‘We all won before the stage even started today’

Blevins and Gomez Villafañe win the 'Queen's Stage,' one day of racing remains.

Photo: Wil Matthews

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The Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder is a five-day stage race in the Cascade Mountains near Bend, Oregon. Each day a pro will be reporting to VeloNews from within the event. 

We all won before the stage even started today.

The second half of the Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder may not look gnarly on the map, but those of us who have raced this stage before knew what was in store. The majority of the climbing is done, but that just means you’re hitting the sand, the windy road section, the false flat climb to the finish with tired legs. Making sure you have people to ride with on the road section and the final 30 miles is key to having a good day, or turning a bad day into an OK one.

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With most of the race’s courses getting shortened because of snow, Chad (Sperry, OTGG race director) got a call that the roads we were to race on originally were opened the day before. Chad, being the ingenious man that he is, figured out a way to carry on the original plan and deliver the OG Queen Stage!

This road was impassable until Sperry plowed it with his own heavy machinery. (Photo: Wil Matthews)

Stage 4 is the big girl stage, the “queen stage,” the big whammy. Camp was quiet around 9 p.m. the night before — people packed it in early in hopes to have more energy saved up for the 88 miles and 9,200 feet of climbing.

The race started off at a decent clip, but not as intense as on previous days. The main group stayed together over the long, rolling pavement section and started to break apart the second we hit the gravel and the climbing began. From there the race, as they say, was “on.” Regardless if you were racing the clock or your own body, there was no denying that the day was going to be relentless.

Isn’t this trio getting a bit tired yet? (Photo: Wil Matthews)

In the men’s pro race the top six riders (Christopher Blevins, Pete Stetina, Howard Grotts, Russell Finsterwald, Eddie Anderson, and Kerry Werner) stayed together for the most part throughout the day. Which is more or less how it went for all of the other stages — a proper race, if you will. They battled long, winding gravel climbs, chunky descents, big puddles and even snowy sections together. And then it came down to another sprint at the end.

It sounds like there was some attrition before the final shakedown between Stetina and Christopher at the line. The two had what’s called a gentleman’s sprint (not sure what that means), but they did it and Christopher walked away with another stage win.

Can an ice cream power Pete ahead of Blevins on the final stage? (Photo: Wil Matthews)

Stage 4: Top-five, men

  1. Christopher Blevins, 4:57:23
  2. Pete Stetina, 4:57:23
  3. Howard Grotts, 4:58:41
  4. Edward Anderson, 5:06:05
  5. Russell Finsterwald, 5:07:27
Serena Bishop Gordon, Caroline Dezendorf, and Rebecca Fahringer share some of the long miles. (Photo: Wil Matthews)

In the women’s pro race things shook out a bit differently.

While Sofia [Gomez Villafañe] was off from the start pedaling her fast little self mostly alone the whole day, there was some back and forth from second to sixth position all day.

Sarah Max started hot on Sofia’s heels for the better part of the climb, and Caroline [Dezendorf] and I were chasing nearby. Then things got interesting as the climbs kept on coming; Heather [Jackson] appeared behind us. She was but a little white jersey in the distance at first, but her experience with consistent pedaling from triathlon life served her well and she settled into a steady and productive pace. As I sat on her wheel for a bit, reeling Sarah Max back in, I decided that her pace, paired with my lack of calories, legs, and overall not feeling well was probably not a great combo.

Jackson, Max, and Gomez Villafañe — the women’s podium on the day (Photo: Wil Matthews)

Heather powered forward to eventually catch Max and overtake her after a feed zone Coke decision. Max said she stands by the decision to stop for the Coke and that it was still worth it. Caroline and I rode almost the entire race together, laughing about how we were running around massive puddles together and using our cyclocross skills to re-mount our bikes.

Nearing the finish we were caught by a speedy and always chatty Becca Fahringer. The three of us rode in and had a kinda, sorta sprint for fourth place. Caroline bested our dead legs for the spot.

Sturm and Dezendorf after “kinda sorta” sprinting to the finish (Photo: Wil Matthews)

Stage 4: Top-five, women

  1. Sofia Gomez Villafañe, 5:48:49
  2. Heather Jackson, 5:49:51
  3. Sarah Max, 5:52:53
  4. Caroline Dezendorf, 6:00:31
  5. Rebecca Fahringer, 6:00:31

The best part of this event, aside from the beautiful terrain, the amazingly coordinated and organized staff and weirdly happy racers, is the camp scene. Riders trickled in all afternoon, some dustier than others, some with sponsors and some taking precious vacation time to be here, but all of us have the same thing in common, we did something hard and got to share it with new and old friends. Today we got to crawl into our tents, vans and buses knowing that only one more stage stands between us and completing the Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder.

Men’s and women’s overall results.

Sarah Sturm is the reigning champion of the Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder. She is a decorated cyclocross, gravel, and mountain bike racer, often traveling to events in her colorful renovated school bus with her trusty canine companion Norman. She lives in Durango, Colorado. 

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