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Brennan Wertz breaks Huffmaster gravel record, Oliveira Parks takes series lead

Brennan Wertz (Mosaic Cycles) and Flavia Oliveira Parks (Excel Sports) blasted across the long gravel route of Huffmaster Hopper and won the pro divisions of the second round of Grasshopper Adventure Series in northern California Saturday. 

Wertz set a new record for the Huffmaster, riding 2:50 faster than Tyler Williams did in 2021. For a second time Peter Stetina (Canyon) finished in the runner-up spot, this time out-sprinting Sean Bennett (Mike’s Bikes), who took the final spot on the pro men’s podium. The duo trailed Wertz by 41 and 42 seconds, respectively. 

Notable finishers in the top 10 included Lance Haidet in fifth, defending champion Ian Lopez de San Roman in seventh and Lachlan Morton in eighth.

Parks won her first Huffmaster in three outings in the pro women’s division, riding solo 8:09 ahead of Jen Tave, who was second. Leslie Ethridge was 19:31 back for third.

With the victory Saturday and a second-place finish at Low Gap, Parks moved into the pro women’s division lead of the Grasshopper Series, with Tave and Ethridge completing the top three. Stetina took the overall lead for pro men, with Wertz, who was fifth at Low gap, moving into second. Bennett was now third overall and San Roman fourth. 

How it unfolded

Fast, dry conditions were a welcome break at the 2024 Huffmaster Hopper gravel race from recent heavy rains and winds that have characterised the West Coast of the USA this winter. Last year wet conditions wreaked havoc by turning the race into ‘Mudmaster’, which Parks characterised as “traumatizing, and finish times were nearly one hour slower than the most recent outing. 

The sunny start from Maxwell led fields on the flatter terrain of the long, 88.8-mile course, with the bulk of the 4,842 feet (1476 metres) of elevation gain and gravel coming on the second half of the counter-clockwise loop, which passed to the east of the Mendocino National Forest. 

Wertz got a small lead going into the first main climb of the day but then had to hang on the wheels of Stetina and Bennett once they crested the top. They maintained a gap on the chasers from the feed zone with 20 miles to the finish. 

“This is one of my favourite courses that we race all year. I made a couple of tweaks to my bike. I put a huge chainring on because I knew the finish was pretty fast and flat,” Wertz, who has finished fourth or better in as many outings, said about a 54-tooth set-up. 

The final trio worked together well, Stetina getting a 10-second gap on a dirt descent, then Bennett also distancing Wertz, but the 26-year-old from Santa Rosa made a late move on loose gravel to earn a second win in three years.

“He had a perfect race. He had a clean run today, in all the right ways,” Stetina recounted about the race. “He got a head start on a climb and ripped off [the front] knowing we would come back to him on the steepest climb before the first feed. Cresting the top, it was just us three. I tried to put pressure on the downhill of Huffmaster, but big Brennan rolled back.”

Wertz made his big-chain move on the ‘cobblestones’ section of the course, a long stretch of potholes spread on gravel with four miles to go, and “snuck away” for the win. 

“Every time we had a steep little roller, those guys were putting me under pressure. I knew with my size on those lighter sections with all the [loose] gravel would play to my advantage. I put [the] 54-tooth chainring to work on that section,” he said about using a larger chainring that allowed him to create the late-race separation from the former WorldTour climbers.

“We worked like a well-oiled machine for most of the day. I was able to sneak away from them the last 6k. It was fun riding with them.” 

Parks took her first victory at Huffmaster, finishing second in 2022 and fourth last year. 

“We had a small women’s field so we all started with the pro men. It was a bit of knowing where to be at the right place at the right time,” Parks said in the post-race interview. “It was about staying on top of your hydration, your nutrition. It was warm, a little windy at the start.”

She said she tried to race conservatively and not follow a lot of the men in order not to “blow up” early and got the third group on the first climb for a steady pace. After stopping to get fresh bottles at the first of two feed zones, she was the only woman at the front of the race.

“Would this course have been better suited for a proper gravel bike or a road bike? I chose my road bike with bigger slicks. The course had dried out and that was perfect,” said Parks, who was second at the series opener, and came a week early to the area for a recon of the route. “I’m happy with the decision. The course was amazing today.”

Lake Sonoma MTB is the next event, a traditional 26-mile cross-country mountain bike course on April 27 east of Geyserville, California. Due to high water at Lake Sonoma, organisers have altered the route, but the mileage and more than 4,400 feet of elevation gain remain similar.

The finale of the off-road set of four is May 11 at Ukiah-Mendo Epic, which also provides points with the Gravel Earth Series. The Grasshopper event is one of only two US events on the global 20-race collection, the other Oregon Trail Gravel stage race, June 26-30.

Results top 10

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Results – pro women
Pos. Rider Name (Country) Team Result
1 Flavia Oliveira Parks 4:30:03
2 Jen Tave 0:08:09
3 Leslie Ethridge 0:19:31
4 Chloe Mavvas 0:24:01
5 Helena Merk
6 Avery Masri 1:03:32
Swipe to scroll horizontally
Results – pro men top 10
Pos. Rider Name (Country) Team Result
1 Brennan Wertz 3:56:39
2 Peter Stetina 0:00:41
3 Sean Bennett 0:00:42
4 Cassius Anderson 0:06:41
5 Lance Haidet 0:06:42
6 Ben Frederick 0:06:43
7 Ian Lopez de San Roman 0:06:49
8 Lachlan Morton 0:06:52
9 Skyler Taylor 0:14:12
10 Blake Macheras 0:17:03
SOURCE: CyclingNews   (go to source)
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