The Salty Lizard 100 sent riders for their third run around the Silver Island Mountains in Utah’s West Desert on Oct. 8, cementing its place as an annual treat/torture (or “treature”) for gravel riders from across the West, nay, the entire continent.
Fast folks and entire families signed up for a day of speed and suffering on the famously variable dirt roads north of Wendover, Utah / West Wendover, Nevada. Thanks to a new grant from the Nevada Board of Tourism, organizers put up a prize pot of $3,000 paying five deep to the women’s and men’s Open category riders.
It was a suspiciously glorious day in Wendover as riders lined up at the Wendover Airfield Museum for the start. Rain the week before had knocked down the dust and the temps hovered around livable. The Historic Wendover Airfield Museum buzzed as riders bombed down from hotels and emptied out of cars newly arrived from the Wasatch Front. The smell of bacon hung in the air over the camping area and the soft hiss of aerosol lubricants accentuated the rustling of many bodies and bikes preparing.
After a quick rider meeting and lots of nervous pre-race pees, it was go time, each distance heading out in a mass start. After a neutral start up the hill, riders immediately faced the Aria Blvd downhill, formerly the finishing climb but now the race’s first obstacle to staying upright. Riders of all abilities were taken out by the twisting descent that featured (in order): deep pea gravel, sand, bedrock, larger gravel, more sand, hardpack.
A group of four formed over the fast, flat run north to Silver Island Pass. The traditionally loose pass had been solidified by the previous week’s rain and at least all the leaders were able to ride the largest sand traps. Over the top of the pass and the rocky, black volcanic roads leading around the north end of the range, they worked together, opening the traditional insurmountable gap on the rest of the field. Eventual Women’s Open winner Charlotte Backous (Zone 5 Racing) made her move and started a gap on the climb over the pass that would last for the rest of the race.
Over the second summiting of Silver Island Pass, the men’s lead group stayed together before splitting in half on the long, gradual climb to Leppys Pass. Bri Hoopes (Bucked Up Racing), Women’s Open runner-up, did some high-level gravel strategizing and turned an extra-speedy stop at the Leppy’s aid station into a gap and a spot higher on the podium.
Everyone described the miles after the Leppys Pass station as the hardest. Unlike in past years, this year’s course backend-loaded the climbing. Eventual Men’s Open winner David Christenson and runner-up Tanner Visnick (Rockhorn Racing/Park City Bike and Demo) took off, with Christenson attacking shortly before the aid station and opening a gap that he would hold until the end of the race.
That meant keeping it together on the long downhill to Leppy Reservoir in the bottom of the valley (and actually wet this year) and then on the equally long slog up to the Dead Cow MTB route as the Hastings Trail rose up to the south. The climb arched suddenly upward to the bench at mile 81, climbing an “unswitchbacked” dirt bike trail sprinkled with golf ball-sized stones that had been the fastest descent in previous editions of the race.
After a swooping descent to the I-80 aid station, it was a downhill time trial through the sand of Mt Dune to the railroad bridge that marked the end of elevation and the final turn east to the finish. The finishing route alternated between hardpack and deep sand and pea gravel, with one particular final pass under the Hwy 93 bridge into West Wendover treating riders to a wave-like berm of soft gravel.
But after that, it was all smooth sailing back to the line on the pavement of Airport Way and a skidding stop in the dirt next to the Historic Wendover Airfield Museum where race director John Hernandez and a growing welcoming party sat tailgating the finish line.
And, most importantly, free fry bread.
Finishing the Stupid Lizard, a 300-mile doubleheader that started with the Stupid Pony ended with the Salty Lizard 100, were Andrew Kulmatiski (Logan Race Club), Brent Owens, and Brook Henderson (Serious Cycling).
Salty and Stupid Cycling would like to thank all of our generous sponsors: the cities of Wendover and West Wendover, the Tooele Tourism Tax Advisory Board, the Nevada Board of Tourism, Hammer Nutrition, Boyd Cycling, ROTOR Components, Bike Hardcore, Wolf Tooth Components, ENVE Composites, Wasatch Touring, Saturday Cycles, Original Free Range, the Cache Gran Fondo, SNEK Cycling, Spinner17, Open Range Consulting, Fratelli’s Pizza, and the Wendover Historic Airfield Museum.