Fast Learner: Kalispell cyclist quickly rising to sport's heights

13. září 2012 v 8:22
Rose Grant wasn't sure what to expect last spring when she resumed mountain bike racing after a 10-year hiatus.
She fared well in junior races when she was in high school, but at age 28 and with no high-level experience, she tempered her expectations.
"I'd look at the competition and pick out a girl that looked really fit and fast and say, I'm just going to try to stay on her wheel," Grant said. "Then the race would start and I'm like, where did she go?"
Grant surprised herself by often leading the pack during her first season as a competitive mountain bike racer. Competing in Category 1, the highest level of amateur cycling in the United States, Grant dominated her local races and took first place in her age group at the USA Cycling nationals in both the cross-country and marathon distances, despite lacking a structured training program.
Now 29, Grant upgraded to pro status this year and competed in three national races against the best mountain bike racers in the country. She placed sixth at professional races in Colorado Springs and Missoula, and took 13th at the national championships in early July.
Grant can't explain why she's taken to the sport so quickly, but she has a few theories.
"I have four brothers, so maybe that helped me not to be scared of going fast," she joked. "I always skied growing up and a lot of the downhill (cycling) stuff is similar to skiing where you have to take a line and go, but I'm not really sure. There's nothing I can pinpoint."
Ben Parsons, Grant's teammate on the Kalispell-based Sportsman & Ski Haus cycling team, had less trouble identifying reasons for her quick ascent. Beyond her tall, athletic physique, Parsons said Grant's competitiveness sets her apart.
"Off the bike she's very congenial, pleasant to be around, easygoing and you definitely wouldn't assume that she's such a competitor on the bike," he said. "When the gun goes off, she is so focused on the race. I've ridden behind her and heard her breathing and thought she was really digging deep. She turns into a cold-blooded killer on the bike."
Grant's first professional season culminated with a state championship Sept. 1 at Herron Park where she crushed the field to finish in 1 hour, 44 minutes and 35 seconds. Her nearest competitor was Lisa Curry of Bozeman, who trailed by 9 minutes and 10 seconds.
"Undoubtedly she's the fastest woman in Montana on a mountain bike," Parsons said. "Last year Lisa Curry was genuinely the fastest woman in Montana, but at this point Rose has passed her by quite a bit."
Grant raced mountain bikes as a child growing up in Darby, but she says she didn't recognize her natural talent and dropped the sport in favor of cross-country running when she moved to Florida to attend Pensacola Christian College. After graduating with a degree in elementary education, she moved to Maine with her husband, but she didn't resume her mountain biking career until several years later.
"The opportunity that's at your fingertips here, it just wasn't there," Grant said. "I didn't have the right connections, I didn't know where to go or I didn't have friends that were involved with it, so I was mainly a runner for all that time."
Grant moved to Kalispell in 2007 but didn't dust off her old bike until 2010 when she entered some local competitions, which rekindled her passion for racing. "I did a couple races at the mountain, just a couple little things, and I realized how much I loved it," she said.
Later that summer she was riding near Herron Park when Matt Butterfield of the Sportsman & Ski Haus team rode up behind her and struck up a conversation. Grant mentioned she was interested in riding competitively and Butterfield invited her to join the team on the spot.
"It usually takes people three years of asking and trying to get on, so it was a huge blessing to have him consider me, see my talent and invite me to ride that fast," Grant said. "Things just fell together. I had that opportunity and I walked through that door."
The next spring she purchased her USA Cycling license and joined the team as a Category 1 amateur mountain bike racer. It didn't take long for her to make an impression on her teammates.
"I could tell right away that she was a great rider," Parsons said. "One of the first times we went loose on a downhill I could hear her brakes chattering behind me and I thought not only is she fit, but she knows how to handle a bike."
While she had natural talent, Grant didn't know much about the intricacies of the sport, like plotting a race strategy and knowing when to fuel. Not that it mattered. Grant won all but one race she entered her first year, prompting her start taking the sport more seriously. With the help of Dustin Phillips, who worked for Hammer Nutrition and rode for the Sportsman & Ski Haus team, Grant developed a structured offseason training program combining plyometrics, cardio training and strength training.
"All these things were geared toward quick reflexes, power and strength, specifically for cycling," Grant said.
She also spent time running and skate-skiing until the weather warmed up, at which point she logged 12-16 hours a week on her bike.
Grant turned pro and entered her first professional race June 16 in Colorado Springs. Her goal was to finish in the top five, but she said she wasn't disappointed when she crossed the finish line sixth with a time of 1:45:39.
Three weeks later, she placed 13th at USA cycling's cross-country national championships in Sun Valley, Idaho. Georgia Gould of Fort Collins, Colo., who won the bronze medal at the Olympic games later in the summer, won the race.
"I wasn't disappointed, but I wasn't completely satisfied," Grant said. "It left me real hungry."
Grant took sixth again in her final national race of the season in Missoula.
"Sixth place is awesome," she said. "Some of the girls, I look at the list that I beat them and it's like, wow, I surprised myself."
One of those girls was Erin Huck, one of five elite-level women to represent the U.S. at the world championships in Austria. She finished 23 seconds behind Grant.
Though she didn't know it most of the season, Grant wasn't alone on her bike. Shortly before the national championships, she learned she was pregnant with her first child.
"I was totally shocked, but it's good because we've always wanted to have kids," Grant said.
She couldn't have timed it much better. She's due in early March, so she should be able to get back on her bike when the snow melts.
"I hope to continue to be active and stay in the best shape I can, and hopefully I'll bounce back fast," Grant said. "I still have a full season planned for next year."
When she's not training, Grant is often outdoors pursuing one of her many interests. She loves to go hunting with her husband in the fall, alpine skiing in the winter and camping and backpacking throughout the year, but even when she's having fun, she's always cognizant of her goal to land a spot on a national cycling team.
"The team will go out and all the guys will grab a beer or two, and she'll sit there sipping her water," Parsons said. "She takes it pretty seriously."
Riding for a national team, which would pay her a salary, would allow Grant to travel to more races. This year's cross-country nationals were within driving distance in Sun Valley, Idaho, but next year's nationals will be held in Pennsylvania, and Grant isn't sure she'll be able make the trip without the support of a national team.
"As doors continue to open, I'm going to continue to walk through them," she said. "I would love to do it for the next 10 years and be able to ride professionally."
Parsons said losing Grant to a national team would be bittersweet for the Sportsman & Ski Haus team. "We're all a little worried we're going to lose Rose to the big leagues," he said. "We'll be psyched to have helped her along the way, but we'll be sad to lose her on the team."
Next year, Grant's goal is to improve her results in national races as she narrows the experience gap between her and the other riders.
 

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