With terrain ranging from 2,000 feet to 13,500 feet above sea level, Utah is a cyclist’s paradise. Mountain ranges rise dramatically out of desert valleys, creating serious topographical relief that challenges the highest level of endurance riders. Every summer, Utah hosts a wide range of cycling races and events that draw competitors from all over the country. I have been lucky enough to participate in most of these races, and despite the pain, keep coming back to them summer after summer.
Mountain Biking: Park City Point to Point
Mountain bike races are harder to find than gravel and road races, and perhaps this is due to the fact that mountain bike races need large amounts of singletrack (trail) designed for mountain bike use. Luckily, Park City, Utah has well over 400 miles of singletrack built for mountain biking, which makes Park City’s trail network one of the most extensive in the country.
The Park City Point to Point (PCP2P) mountain bike race is arguably one of the hardest mountain bike races in the country. The PCP2P is 75 miles long and over 90% singletrack. Whew, that is A LOT of singletrack to ride in one day! This race has over 10,000 feet of climbing, and features a lot of rough, old-school singletrack that is sure to challenge you both physically and mentally.
When I raced the PCP2P in 2017, I had spent the majority of the previous spring and summer training for what I knew would be a really long day on the bike. My plan was to ride slow and steady, to stick to my own pace and hopefully have a consistent day without any major ups or downs. Turns out that was easier said than done. Adrenaline, nerves, and overall excitement got the best of me for the first 40% or so of the ride, and I went much faster than I should have. I remember being in a fast group of riders on Team Big Bear, knowing that I was pushing myself too hard considering what was to come. After the last major rest stop below Armstrong, I found myself deep in the pain cave. Slowly but surely, I pedaled my way to the finish line near Kimball Junction for an overall time of 10:45. Yes, that is almost 11 hours riding singletrack! While the PCP2P was an incredible race and one I will surely do again, it is so hard that it’s definitely not a race I will do every year.
Distance: 75 miles
Elevation Gained: 11,000 feet (depending on tracking device)
Location: Park City, Utah
Road riding: Utah Ultimate Challenge
Utah has an incredible amount of paved mountain roads that make the state a world class road riding destination. Every August, Utah host’s the Tour of Utah, which is one of the hardest professional stage road races held in the country. The Utah Ultimate Challenge (UUC), which in 2019 took place on Saturday, August 17th, more or less follows the final stage of the Tour of Utah. The UUC gives us non-pros a chance to ride a professional level course and access beautiful mountain roads that are private every other day of the year. Add to this that the UUC starts and ends in my hometown of Park City, and I just had to give this ride a shot.
I went into the UUC knowing the route and generally what to expect, but I wasn’t sure how it would all come together and if the ride would be really difficult or just difficult. I mean, any time you ride 90+ miles, there is going to be some element of challenge and struggle. It turns out that the UUC is right up there with some of the hardest long distance road rides I have ever done. Riding up the start of the Wolf Creek Ranch road was incredibly steep, so steep that a lot of riders zig-zagged up the road to lessen the grade. At the top, there was a rest stop where I consumed everything in sight.
The real challenge from this ride came at the end, and I knew beforehand that the final climb from Midway to Empire pass (Pine Canyon) would be one of the hardest climbs I had ever done. I’ve biked Pine Canyon plenty of times. It’s incredibly steep and rated as a top-two road climb in Utah. I had never, however, done this climb after 75 miles and 4,500 feet or vertical. My body hurt, my stomach was all sorts of messed up after eating gummy bears, coke, and Nutella sandwiches, and mentally I was beginning to waver. Somehow, I crawled the 3,000 feet up Pine Canyon, knowing that when I topped out the ride was essentially over. The next day, I went to Main Street, Park City to watch the pros on a big screen ride up that same climb. It was amazing to watch them absolutely sprint up it in a third of time that it took me.
Distance: 94 miles
Elevation Gained: 8,124 feet
Location: Park City, Utah
Gravel riding is like road riding, just on unpaved surfaces such as dirt or gravel. Gravel bikes often resemble road bikes, but with slightly bigger tires and perhaps a small amount of suspension (20-40mm). Utah is a gravel cyclists playground. With mountain ranges all over the state with BLM and forest service roads, there is gravel practically everywhere. The Tushar Mountain range of central Utah is the states’ third highest mountain range, behind the Uintas and La Sals. Every July, cyclists from all over the world descend on the small town of Beaver, Utah to ride Crusher in the Tushar, a 70 mile brute of a gravel ride that ascends to the crest of the Tushars; twice. This professional level gravel race is known as one of, if not the, toughest gravel race under 100 miles, and it tops out above 10,000 feet!
Crusher in the Tushar is a beautiful, wild, and unpredictable ride. I’ve done Crusher twice (2018-19), and have been humbled each time. In 2018, the weather forecast for race day kept deteriorating. When we left Park City to drive the three hours to Beaver, the weather forecast had said 20-30% chance of rain. The next day, we woke up in our Motel 6 somewhere in Beaver to a sky filled with dark looking clouds and a forecast that all but guaranteed some sort of rain. I had a lightweight windbreaker, and my partner went to the nearby dollar store to purchase a poncho. Good to go.
As it turns out, we weren’t actually ‘good to go’, at all. The race went according to plan until we crested the famous ‘Col de Crush’ to get us up to around 9,000 feet with something like 8,000 feet of vertical gain under our pedals. All of a sudden, the weather decided to go haywire, and I was helpless to protect myself. At first, it rained hard and thunder clapped in all directions. I quickly learned that windbreakers block wind, not rain. Soaked to the bone, I tried to act like all was normal. The rain then turned to hail, and the temperature dropped from somewhere in the 60’s to low 40’s. I ditched my bike and took shelter under a tree for a bit, and then slowly pedaled my way to a rest stop tent. All in all, the storm hit the Tushars for over an hour, and I crossed the finish line not being able to feel my hands or other extremities. This year, the ride had great weather, and I was able to shave over an hour off my previous time. Crusher in the Tushar is a simple yet brutal race that I am sure I will ride time and time again.
Distance: 70 miles
Elevation Gained: 9,000 feet
Location: Beaver, Utah
Whether you ride road, gravel, or singletrack, there are ample races and events for you in Utah. Beautiful vistas, big climbs, and a tight knit riding community await, so why not test your limits and ride a big Utah endurance race?
By: Cal Perfall, Content Writer