The Dirt: Grotts out of Cape Epic; Team USA for Pan Am Championships

American Howard Grotts will not defend Cape Epic title due to illness. Kate Courtney to lead Team USA at Pan American Championships in Mexico.

Photo: Michal Cerveny

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Welcome to The Dirt, the weekly news round-up on what is happening in the worlds of gravel, mountain biking, and all things rough and dirty.

Defending champ Grotts won’t race Absa Cape Epic

After initially planning to return to the Absa Cape Epic mountain bike stage race to defend the title he won with teammate Jaroslav Kulhavy in 2018, American Howard Grotts has withdrawn ahead of the race’s March 17 start. Illness derailed his lead-up to the eight-day race in South Africa.

“I am obviously disappointed that I won’t be racing with Howie [Grotts] for this year’s Absa Cape Epic,” Kulhavy said. “We had a really good race last year and we were hoping to build on that. But it’s important for Howie to take the time now to recover completely so that he can be healthy for the rest of the season.”

Instead, the 2012 Olympic champion Kulhavy will team up with fellow Specialized athlete Sam Gaze of New Zealand to ride for Investec-songo-Specialized. Gaze is a two-time under-23 world champion.

USA Cycling picks 10 riders for Pan American Championships

Kate Courtney
Kate Courtney will start her season in California before heading to Mexico for Pan American Continental Championships. Photo: Margus Riga (File).

World cross-country champion Kate Courtney (Scott-SRAM) will lead a contingent of 10 Americans at Pan American Continental Championships April 3-7 in Aguascalientes, Mexico.

“We don’t typically emphasize this event,” said USA Cycling mountain bike director Marc Gullickson, “Our focus is to improve our nation ranking for Olympic quota spots, so we brought a fairly stacked elite team.”

The UCI points on offer in Mexico will help the American riders chase start positions for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. At this point, the women are in a three-way battle with the Netherlands and Canada to secure three starts. The men are expected to get just one berth for the Games.

Gullickson also said the team will race the team relay on the Wednesday prior to the cross-country championship event. This also affords UCI points for Team USA.

“We’ll also take part in the team relay that awards points for nations,” he added. “We brought a junior male rider specifically for that relay, and we don’t typically send a junior to Continental Championships for development since it isn’t usually an Olympic-style course.”

Per UCI rules, a relay team must include one elite woman, one elite man, one under-23 woman, one under-23 man, and one junior man. Team USA’s relay lineup will be Erin Huck (CZ Racing), Howard Grotts (Specialized), Hayley Batten (Clif Bar), Christopher Blevins (Specialized), and Riley Amos (Bear Development Team).

Although all eyes will be on world champ Courtney, Gullickson says the Coloradan Huck might have a better chance at the championship, given that it is at high altitude, about 6,200 feet.

“The issue with this event is it’s at semi-high altitude,” Gullickson added. “That may not be right up [Courtney’s] alley that early in the season, but I hope she doesn’t put a lot of pressure on herself to win the event — if it happens, that’s great.”

The team also includes Chloe Woodruff (Stan’s-Pivot) who was second at last year’s Pan American Championships.

Elite women

Kate Courtney (Scott-SRAM)
Erin Huck (CZ Racing)
Chloe Woodruff (Stan’s-Pivot Pro Team p/b Maxxis)

Elite men

Howard Grotts (Specialized Bicycles Factory Racing Team)
Luke Vrouwenvelder ( p/b Violich Farms)
Keegan Swenson (Stan’s-Pivot Pro Team p/b Maxxis)
Russell Finsterwald (Clif Pro Team)

U23 women

Haley Batten (Clif Pro Team)

U23 men

Christopher Blevins (Specialized Bicycles Factory Racing Team)

Junior men

Riley Amos (Bear Development Team)

Grinduro doubles gravel event line-up for 2019

Grinduro is equal parts fun party and racing. Photo: @elliotlayda

Gravel racing comes in a range of formats, but few events are quite like Grinduro, which takes an enduro approach to the race timing. Instead of racing for the entire 60-mile route, a handful of key segments are timed, so you don’t have to be at the limit all day long.

The original race is held each fall in a remote corner of California’s Sierra Mountains. Two years ago, a Grinduro Scotland event was added. For 2019, two more events will join those existing races: one in Quebec and one in Japan.

July 13
Grinduro Scotland, Isle of Arran, Scotland
August 17
Grinduro Canada, Saint-Urbain, Quebec, Canada
September 28
Grinduro California, Quincy, California
October 2019
Grinduro Japan

Ride with Rapha at Land Run 100

In case you don’t get your fill of red dirt, gravel, mud, and more at Land Run 100 on March 16, Rapha will host a shakeout ride Sunday morning, March 17 at 9 a.m. The ride will leave from District Bicycles, in downtown Stillwater, Oklahoma where the 100-mile race starts and finishes.

Keep an eye out for Chris Case and myself in Stillwater if you are going to the event — we will be racing Land Run 100 for the first event in our series of 2019 gravel events!

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