Howard Grotts to defend Carson City Off Road title |

Howard Grotts to defend Carson City Off Road title

Darrell Moody
Howard Grotts is set to defend his Carson City Off Road title this weekend.
Michal Cerveny

Howard Grotts’ first visit to Carson City was extremely successful.

The 25-year-old Grotts, a former Olympian and one of the most decorated mountain bike riders in the United States, won the 50-miler at last year’s Carson City Off Road, and he’s back to defend his title this week at the third annual event.

Grotts and the rest of the field will be riding a different 50-mile course for the third straight season. Heavy snow in 2017 forced event organizers to come up with a different course last year. This year, the Marlette Flume has been added, and organizers said there will be plenty of single-track racing this year.

“I’m probably going to get there Wednesday (today), and I’ll try to get out there and test some of it,” Grotts said. “It was three laps last year. This year we will have one big climb and one long downhill. It makes it more interesting.”

Grotts said strategy will be key, because once you’re on the single-track portion of the track there’s no passing.

Grotts expects to be challenged by Keegan Swenson, who was runner-up last season in Carson City. Grotts leads Russ Finsterwald, who was fourth in the 50-miler in 2016, by 5-minutes 15-seconds after the first two events of the four-event season. Geoff Kabush, who swept the 2016 50-miler and criterium, is in fourth place facing a 10-minute deficit. Ben Sonntag, who finished second in 2016, is seventh in the overall standings. Reno’s Jake Yackle is 16th overall.

“Keegan is definitely somebody to look at,” Grotts said. “He beat me in a sprint at the Whiskey Off-Road (last month).”

The 2018 season has been a good one for Grotts. He won the Absa Epic in South Africa and a race in Missoula, Montana. He has seconds in the USA Nationals, Sea Otter Classic and the Cyprus Cup. He won the U.S. National event in both 2015 and 2016.

Grotts also qualified for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. Unfortunately he finished 38th after dealing with mechanical issues. He was the only American mountain biker in the field that year, and he’s hopeful of qualifying for the 2020 Olympics in Japan.

“It was huge,” Grotts said. “I would have liked the race to have gone better. I’ll give it another shot for 2020.”

Grotts had a rear tire flat and suffered a broken seat on the second lap of the race.

“I had a start loop crash, which had me chasing from the back at the beginning, and then another crash on the second lap which bent my seat and caused a flat tire, so rode that for half a lap,” Grotts told USA Cycling back in 2016. “I fixed it and chased back, but then ended up riding the other half of the course with a rear flat.”

Grotts suffered through another flat on the sixth lap, and that put him a whole lap behind the leaders. He had worked his way from 45th to 36th prior to the second flat tire.

He didn’t get to enjoy the total Olympic experience. He didn’t arrive until the second week of the Olympics, but he did stay through the closing ceremonies, and called it “memorable.”

Grotts has enjoyed a ton of success, but it’s not surprising given how hard he works at it. He started riding a bike at age 3, and was competing by age 8.

“My dad (Don), brother (Donnie) and I would race in regional events (Four Corners Cup Series),” Grotts said. “We got out there every week. Definitely for fun.”

Donnie, according to published reports, was a technically sound rider. However, he got into drugs, and stopped riding shortly after high school. The elder Grotts moved away from the family at 18 and eventually died when he was 28 (in 2015).

Nine days later, Howard went out and won the Missoula Pro XCT, an 18.6-mile race. Grotts went out early in the race and was never challenged, winning by five minutes.

“Everything I did out there, the race, everything, was for him,” Grotts told the Missoulian after the race.

Did he envision the success he’s had?

“Not really,” Grotts said. “I really love what I’m doing.”

And biking aficionados love to see Grotts turn in magical performances.