A little more than a month after Durango’s Payson McElveen set the fastest known time for a mountain bike ride of the 100-mile White Rim Trail in Moab, Durango’s Quinn Simmons claimed a new FKT of his own on the famed loop.
McElveen’s time of 5 hours, 45 minutes, 16 seconds set March 27 had taken down the previous record of 5:59:34 set by Salt Lake City’s Andy Dorais in 2016, though the two started on different parts of the trail. On Wednesday, Simmons set out on the White Rim Trail from the same start point as Dorais, and he finished in 5:41:17 to beat McElveen’s time by 3:59.
“I don’t go uphill very fast. I wanted to get the climb out of the way and not have to worry about it,” Simmons said of his route choice in a phone interview with The Durango Herald. “I didn’t go up very fast, and I would have gone up way slower if I was tired. It was a faster point for me, personally, using my strengths on the course and knowing how I could roll the fastest.”
McElveen saluted Simmons’ effort.
“First of all, I’m super, super impressed,” McElveen said in a phone interview with The Herald. “At the end of the day, Quinn had an absolutely impressive ride, and I acknowledge it. He covered those 100 miles faster than anyone else, and that’s what it boils down to.”
Simmons completed the feat on his 18th birthday. It was his first time back on a mountain bike since last year’s USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships when he won the junior men’s age 17-18 short-track and cross-country national titles. A week later, he would win the USA Cycling Amateur Road National Championships junior men’s road race, and his focus has been on road racing with the LUX Cycling Development Team ever since.
Simmons had previously completed the White Rim loop on Oct. 28, 2016, and he finished in 6:28:40. Seeing how far he has come on a bike was as rewarding as finishing the ride itself.
“It’s honestly the coolest part about it is seeing the difference between then and now and how much stronger I’ve gotten,” he said.
Simmons borrowed a bike, a Specialized S-Works Epic, from Jason Rowton, a Fort Lewis College cyclist and Simmons’ former teammate on the Whole Athlete cycling team.
“The only thing I changed is I put a saddle that I use on the bike,” Simmons said. “I taped a bunch of (Gu Energy Gel) on the top tube and added a third and fourth bottle cage on the seat post. It was kind of weird adjusting to being back on a mountain bike. I was embarrassingly slow on the downhills. After about 80 (kilometers), I kind of figured it out again. It took some getting used to, and I wasn’t very confident, but it came back after awhile.”
Simmons said he carried 64 ounces of fluids with him during the self-supported effort. He didn’t talk with McElveen to get any advice on the ride before his attempt.
“I kind of wanted to keep it on the down low in case I didn’t get it,” Simmons said. “I didn’t talk to many people. I decided to try it last Sunday or Monday. It kind of worked into my training plan, and I got approval from my coach as long as I promised not to skip any other workouts. I asked (Rowton) for a bike, and he let me go for it.”
McElveen said he wanted to establish a standardized route for what the record attempt should look like. McElveen started from the most commonly accessed parking lot for the trail, while Dorais and Simmons opted to begin the route with a trickier drive to the bottom of the 2,220-foot Shafer Hill. Dorais and Simmons both started with that big climb, where McElveen didn’t hit that climb until the final hour of the effort.
“It kind of puts things in a tough spot,” McElveen said. “One of the major motivators of our project was standardizing the route, doing parameters around the FKT. I went back and forth for a long time on how to do it. We knew starting at the bottom of Shafer like that makes it significantly faster. We had a lot of guidance from folks like Rebecca Rusch and Travis Brown, and everyone unanimously said we should standardize this thing. If it’s a competition, we need some rules involved.
“We also wanted to make it the most relatable. The start point Quinn used and Andy used is hard logistically. Few people have the sort of vehicle to get down there, and that’s why we decided to kind of standardize it and use the most commonly accessed trailhead.”
Simmons attacked the route going for the fastest time he could and believes part of the record attempt is formulating a strategy for speed.
“It’s a circle. It always connects,” Simmons said. “I think everyone is different and can pick where they start. As far as standardizing it, all the previous attempts were from where I started. If you’re a good climber and know you can rip the climb, then, yeah, start it on the road and get that done. But, if you’re like me and know you can’t go uphill very fast, it makes the most sense to do the climb first.
“In the end, it’s not a big difference if you’re smart about it and set the course to your best strengths.”
Only days after McElveen’s record, Durango’s cycling phenom Christopher Blevins also rode the White Rim and eventually decided to complete the loop in a self-supported endeavor. He finished in 6:01 and set seven king of the mountain records on Strava. He used the same start point as McElveen.
This weekend, McElveen will try to win a third consecutive marathon mountain bike national championship in his home state of Texas.
Simmons is set to leave Durango on Sunday for another round of road racing in Europe. Earlier this spring, he became the first American to win the junior men’s Gent-Wevelgem classic road race in Belgium. Now, Simmons will get a mention in McElveen’s upcoming video project about his White Rim record attempt on the mythical loop that has only boomed in popularity since McElveen’s ride in March.
“Seeing Quinn did 5:41, I wrestled with it some,” McElveen said. “Let’s put it out to the public. Our attempt of standardizing the thing kind of failed. It could be that a majority of people say part of the challenge here is figuring out the fastest way to do it regardless of where the start and end point is. I’m conflicted. I’m not the UCI or a governing body or the creator of some rule book. I was trying to create a structure around it to make it relatable. But, with all that said, I’m super impressed by Quinn’s ride. He went super fast, and obviously he’s on an absolute tear. I have enormous respect for his effort because I know what it’s like.
“I’m leaving it up to the mountain biking world as a whole to decide whether we should standardize this FKT thing and whether that should be a practice moving forward or if part of the challenge is finding the fastest way to do it.”