Durango and Fort Lewis College are nearly synonymous with world-class mountain biking. This year, a Durango-native FLC alumnus embodied that excellence at the Rio Olympics.
Howard Grotts (Mathematics, ’14) won national championships as a junior, which he says put him on USA Cycling’s radar. Since then, he has been racing professionally for the Specialized mountain bike team. When the United States earned a single slot for men’s mountain biking at the latest Olympics, the honor went to Grotts.
“You feel like you're part of something bigger,” Grotts says of the experience.
As the lone representative for Team USA, Grotts finished 38th in a field of 49 riders. The man-made course presented him with race-day challenges: he overcame two flat tires and a seat malfunction to finish the race.
“You put a lot of work in to have it not pan out the way you want it to,” he says. But the finish doesn’t seem to have diminished his sense of Olympic magic—particularly the experience of the closing ceremonies.
“We hung out in a parking garage for a few hours before while the stadium was filling up,” he says. “And then we got to walk right into a big roar of people. The single coolest moment was just entering the stadium.”
“All the track athletes get to experience that kind of thing all the time. Mountain biking, you're out somewhere,” he adds. “Even if you have a huge number of fans, it's never going to feel like a stadium, the echo and everything. It was cool.”
Grotts acknowledges that he would like another shot at the Olympics. Since the qualification period doesn’t begin until 2018, he’d like to try some different forms of riding for the next two years. “I might stay a little more domestic for at least next year,” he says. “Just do different styles of racing than I have. More like the big participation races. Leadville is one I've really wanted to try, the hundred-mile mountain bike race.”
Winter is Grotts’ offseason, during which he spends more time running and less time riding. But when the weather allows, he can take advantage of his favorite trails in the Durango area, where he still lives.
When asked, he gladly spills his favorite local routes. “When I do trails, I usually do something like Sailing Hawks loop, just because that's real nice slow technical stuff,” he says. “Then I usually head up Test Tracks [Overend Mountain Park] and do Star Wars because that's a blast. Then you can do more cornering practice in the test tracks after that. That's the classic in-town loop I do. Otherwise, Haflin Creek Trail from Missionary Ridge has some real steep areas in there, so you get to practice riding with your seat in between your legs. Raider's Ridge, up Skyline and along the ridge, that's real slow, works on your core. I don't ride too much outside of those, just because they target everything I need.”
Racing and riding have dominated Grotts’ time for the last five years. He gladly acknowledges how the Fort Lewis College cycling program enabled him to stay focused on World Cup racing while also continuing his education. “Plus,” he says, “collegiate racing is just fun. And it’s a great community. In fact, most of my friends in Durango are people that I met through FLC Cycling.”
“It also helps that FLC has done so well nationally—not just mountain biking but at road, track, cyclo-cross, and BMX too,” Grotts adds. “A lot of my teachers rode bikes and were enthusiastic about the program and its continued success. So FLC was the perfect match for me.”
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Keep up with FLC Cycling's current superstars by following the team on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. The mountain biking team heads to Snowshoe, West Virginia this weekend for the USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Biking Championships, where they earned the top of the podium last year!