The second stop of the Pro GRT happened last weekend.
Located 45 miles East of Los Angeles, Fontana is far from the big mountain venues which will be raced on later this season. Smack dab in the middle of an urban area, what it lacks in elevation, it makes up for in uniqueness. Fontana is 50% downhill and 50% flat out pedaling.
Bike and component choice are key here. Go too heavy and you lose out on the pedaling. Go too light and you risk blowing up or flatting. I actually love it when you have to weigh all these options. It makes things interesting. I brought my 29 pound trail bike and my 37 pound DH bike. After walking the course Friday, I opted for my DH bike, and never looked back.
The course was arguably one of the most technically challenging and steep routes that Fontana has ever utilized. Near the top was a tricky, rocky spine section that had MANY riders crashing and rethinking their approach. Hands down the best rider I saw through this section was Canadian ripper, Kyle Sangers. He had a beautiful rhythm line that was super precise with just about zero tolerance for mistakes, yet every time he cleaned it so smoothly and perfectly. He made most everybody look like a hack through there.
Fast forward a bit further down the course and things got steep. A fairly long, rough waterfall section filled with boulders and loose dirt had you on your toes. Enter too fast and there was no way you'd make the bottom left hand turn. Enter too slow, and you still might not make the bottom turn. It was a tricky section with the most spectators gathered here come race day. After about a minute of true DH racing you were spat out onto "The Wall" and the next minute or so of pain and suffering began.
58 pros signed up to compete and come Saturday's seeding runs, none other than Mitch Ropelato on his 29ER TRAIL BIKE finished first. That is not a typo. You heard right. He seeded first on his 29er.
Myself, I decided to take it easy on my seeding run, save my legs and lungs for my race run, and seeded mid-pack in 26th. On race day I had a fairly clean and consistent top section, but still felt like I could have gone a touch faster. Onto the wall and I paced myself a little too much. I went about 95% instead of 100% which is a big no-no and I was kicking myself for this. A proper race run here will drain the life out of you and will have you seeing stars and nearly blacking out on the wall. I did not experience any of this. Oh well, there's always Sea Otter. 11th on the day for me, roughly 5 seconds off of the podium. An improvement from my 13th place finish at Bootleg.
And about that 29er...Mitch pinned those wagon wheels to the max, laying down some serious horsepower to take the win. I heard rumors from eye-witnesses of his run and they said it was like he had a whole different gear on the wall compared to everyone else. Warp speed or something...I believe it. The clock doesn't lie. He bested his seeding run by a couple seconds and took the win from fellow Specialized rider, Aaron Gwin, by a comfortable margin. An interesting and exciting weekend of racing at Fontana. Wheel sizes galore. I can't wait to see how everything pans out at Sea Otter in 20 days. Will big wheels dominate?