Durango rider steals the show at Blast the Mass in Snowmass | AspenTimes.com

Durango rider steals the show at Blast the Mass in Snowmass

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Pro start (Patrick Ghidossi/The Aspen Times)

SNOWMASS VILLAGE – Howard Grotts looks and acts every bit like a junior – from his youthful appearance and slender build to his shy demeanor.

But when he clipped into his pedals for Saturday’s Blast the Mass cross-country race, the 18-year-old from Durango performed like a pro – and then some.

The precocious Grotts took command on the opening climb, established a two-minute lead over the experienced pro field after the first of two 11.3-mile laps and never looked back, pedaling to victory in 1 hour, 54 minutes, 35 seconds.

Avon’s Jay Henry, a winner here in 2008 and 2010, finished second, 21⁄2 minutes off the pace.

“I know he’s been riding well – he beat me at a race earlier this year pretty handily,” Henry said of Grotts. “Obviously, he’s just getting faster.

“[I was] absolutely outclassed from the gun.”

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Costa Rican rider Manuel Prado, who has been bunking and training with friend and Aspen Mountain ski patroller Max Taam in preparation for next week’s Leadville 100, wound up third in 1:59:39.

Multiple people lobbied race officials to secure the youngster a spot in the pro field, Grotts said. The Fort Lewis College sophomore took full advantage of the opportunity, much like he did in two previous mountain bike races against elite athletes this year; Grotts won May’s Iron Horse Bicycle Classic in his hometown, then finished fourth at June’s Teva Mountain Games in Vail.

Any drama Saturday vanished in mere moments as Grotts charged on the lengthy climb up the Snowmass ski area’s Dawdler work road.

“I felt really excellent today,” he said. “You see how everyone else is going, then decide you can go a little faster. Whatever it takes.”

Soon after, he was gone.

“I realized it was a cross-country race, just two hours, so I figured ‘Why take it easy?’ I went real hard up that climb for maybe a quarter of it, then [Grotts] came around me and put the hammer down,” Prado recalled. “We never saw him again.”

While the level of fanfare paled in comparison, the scene was reminiscent of 2009’s race, when seven-time Tour de France winner and part-time Aspen resident Lance Armstrong dusted the pro field en route to a convincing victory.

Henry, who finished second to Armstrong, was effusive in his praise of the cycling icon at the time, saying: “Man, he’s riding fast. There was no way I was going to catch him. … I’m not surprised, but very impressed.”

He was similarly complimentary of Saturday’s winner.

“He went from a junior to being at the front of the pro pack – he skipped like seven levels most young riders go through,” Henry said.

“Coming through [the finish area after the first lap], the gap was

2 minutes. You can’t see that far ahead, so it could’ve been 40 seconds or so, but when I found out it was 2, then I was racing for second.”

While they secured their spots on the podium early, Henry and Prado battled for second place for much of the first lap, as they sped toward the Ullrhof restaurant, traversed Cross Mountain and Government trails, then tackled a demanding downhill known as Anaerobic Nightmare.

Just 1 second separated the duo after the first lap. That changed soon after, however.

“I was climbing a little better than he was, and he was just railing the descents, so I knew I needed to build a gap,” said Henry, a two-time winner on the Mountain States Cup circuit this year.

Added Prado: “I rode a pretty good first lap, but in the second half I struggled a little. Maybe it’s because of the training load I’ve had the last couple days.

“I always go into every race wanting to win, and I gave it a go. Jay Henry and that kid at the front were riding very strong, so props to them. I’m happy for third.”

Grotts, too, was all smiles after logging the latest impressive performance in what has been a breakout season. He won the 17- to 18-year-old men’s cross-country national championship in Sun Valley, Idaho, in July and also triumphed in a junior World Cup race in Windham, N.Y.

He is one of six juniors (four boys, two girls) who will represent the U.S. at the world championships later this month in Champery, Switzerland.

“I think he has a good shot at winning, which would be awesome,” Henry said. “Geez, he has a bright future.”

In other action Saturday, Judy Freeman won the pro women’s race with a time of 1:59:58. Erin Huck (2:00:36) was second and Kelli Emmett (2:01:59) third.

For complete results, visit http://www.racemsc.com.

jmaletz@aspentimes.com

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