Durango professional mountain biker Howard Grotts enjoyed one of his best weeks of racing in Europe.
The three-time defending USA Cycling cross-country mountain bike national champion rode to a second-place finish in the general classification standings of a four-stage race at the Cyprus Sunshine Cup.
“I’m definitely happy with how things went the last four days,” Grotts said in a message to The Durango Herald. “I didn’t really have an idea of where my fitness was at, so this is a good confidence boost heading into the first World Cup and the Cape Epic.”
“The time trial had a lot of descending, so it suited the bigger, more powerful riders,” Grotts said, “but I was happy to stay close enough to the podium there. I felt pretty good on the short climbs on the time trial, so I thought maybe the longer climbs on Stage 2 and 3 would suit me well.”
During Saturday’s third stage of 66 kilometers, Grotts finished third in 2 hours, 29 minutes, 5.266 seconds. His Specialized Racing teammate Jaroslav Kulhavy of the Czech Republic won Stage 3 in 2:27:41.438. GC leader Lars Forster of Switzerland was second, 1.039 seconds behind Kulhavy.
Sunday’s fourth-and-final stage was a cross-country mountain bike course, and Grotts claimed his second stage win of the week in a time of 1:20:35.304. His time was 4.705 seconds faster than second-place Carod Titouan of France. Kulhavy finished the stage in 18th, 4:33.946 behind Grotts.
Forster was fourth, only 16.630 seconds behind Grotts, as he held on to win the GC standings in a total time of 6:22:58.109. Grotts was 26.008 seconds back of claiming the top step of the podium. Sebastian Fini Carstensen of Denmark finished third in the GC, 2:02.083 back of Forster.
“The competition is always a notch higher here in Europe, so to be at the front end of the race was pretty cool. It still is early in the season, but I hope to keep an upward trend going fitness-wise.”
Durango’s Benjamin Sonntag, originally of Germany, also competed in Cyprus. He finished 14th in the GC, 12:54.203 back of Forster’s winning total. The Team CLIF Bar rider was 19th in Sunday’s cross-country race, 4:35.462 back of Grotts. He placed 16th on Stage 3, 6:13.499 back of Kulhavy’s winning time. He was seventh on Stage 2, 1:02.231 behind Grotts. He also was 24th in the opening time trial.
Next up for Grotts, 25, is a World Cup event March 10 and the Absa Cape Epic March 18-25, both in South Africa.
He said he will compete in four of the seven World Cup events this season and hopes for a top-10 result.
“Having a good start position will definitely help, which is why I’m over here chasing some of these points.
“I could still get some work getting used to more technical terrain after spending a lot of time on the road this winter, but I’m pretty happy with the way things are shaping up for 2018.”