Bicycles and Todd Wells. It was a match made in heaven.
Wells raced BMX until he was 16, and after high school he bought his first mountain bike. What happened next was the stuff legends are made of.
The 40-year-old Wells has appeared at three Olympics — 2004, 2008 and 2012. In 2004 in Greece, Wells was 19th in cross-country, and he was 43rd in Beijing. In 2012, he had a career-best 10th-place finish.
Wells has won 14 national championships across the four different disciplines of bike racing, and he’s also won two Pan American crowns. He has been a 13-time world team member, and in 2010, he was the first person to win professional national titles in cross-contry, mountain bike, short-track cross-country and cyclo-cross in the same year, Throw in two collegiate championships at Fort Lewis College, and you have a guy who has withstood the test of time en route to dominating the sport.
With that being said, Wells is the big name at this weekend’s inaugural Carson City Off-Road 50-mile race on Sunday. He’s looking to back up his win in Grand Junction, Colo., with a win in Nevada’s Capital City.
Wells was second to Benjamin Sonntag in the first race of the series in Arizona, trailing by a minute (3:18.30 to 3:17.30). In Colorado, Wells won by nearly two minutes (3:01.48-3:03.31).
“It’s been a pretty tight series so far,” Wells said in a phone interview earlier this week. “In mountain bike racing, there are 3-4 rest stops in a 50-mile race. Other than that you are on your own if you have an accident or flat tire etc … your lead can evaporate.
“The biggest challenge in any race is the competition. I’m hoping for a clean race and no mechanical problems.”
He has the respect of 24-year-old Beechan to be sure.
“Clearly Todd is the man right now,” said Beechan, who’s third overall heading into the weekend. “Not many guys in their 40s are able to do what he’s doing.”
Wells knows nothing about the course except for what’s he read or seen on maps. That will change quickly.
“I’ll ride half the course before the exhibition on Friday,” he said. “I’ll ride the other half before the race (on Sunday).”
Wells said being an Olympian was one of his biggest thrills.
“Nothing compares to the Olympics,” he said on his personal blog. “The Olympic experience is amazing because you are surrounded by so many incredible athletes. It’s very humbling to be a part of the greatest global sporting event. I haven’t been active on the World Cup scene for a while,” Wells said. “Olympic style is shorter, quite different than the 50-mile 3-hour rides we do (in Epic Rides). I enjoy the longer rides; the different terrain.”
Which means Wells may not pursue another berth.
There’s no mistaking his love for riding, however.
After graduating from the University of Arizona, he went to work for IBM, but left in less than a year when he returned full time to cycling. He wanted to be one of the best, and he’s certainly achieved that.
Wells, who splits his time between Durango, Colo. and Tucson, Ariz., is also an avid golfer. He said time spent on the course has dwindled in recent years, but his son, Cooper, has taken an interest in the game.
“He’s into golfing, so we go to the driving range,” said Wells.
Besides Sonntag, one of the riders chasing Wells is Beechan, a 24-year-old Southern California native, who turned to mountain bike racing after a high school and college running career at Hemet High School and later UC Riverside.
“I’ve been enjoying the Epic Rides series quite a bit,” Beechan said earlier this week. “I’m getting more confident. I was 10th the first race and the last race in Colorado I was third. I’m third overall, so hopefully I can finish high this week.
“I competed in high school and college as a distance runner, and I didn’t fulfill the goals I wanted. I got to regionals in college, but never beyond that.”
Beechan was 43rd in the Big West Championships in the 8k and finished 143rd at the NCAA Regionals in the 10k. Both races were in 2014.
Beechan said not knowing the course is always the most challenging aspect of a race.
“There looks to be a whole mess of climbing,” he told Epic Rides personnel. “Hopefully my body and bike perform well enough to gain a mere 14 minutes and move up in the standings.”
Beechan said his long-term goal is to be an Olympian.
“This year we only have one Olympic rider,” he said. ‘I definitely want to get there. I want to crack the top 30 then the top 20 and then the top 10; move up in the field.”