Just before taking first place in her class by more than six minutes at the Mountain Bike Cross-country National Championships in Sun Valley, Idaho, Rose Grant crashed.
Video of her ride shows the 28-year-old Kalispell cyclist descending a steep, technical, jagged pitch before the final stretch to the finish, when she loses her line and topples onto her left side and head, landing on rocks. She quickly climbed back on the bike and went on to win the Women’s Category 1 class, ages 25-29, coming in second overall in Women’s Category 1, ages 19-60+.
Grant learned later she had separated her shoulder in the crash, though you wouldn’t know it from the way she raised her arms over her head standing atop the podium. Back in the Flathead five days later, those arms still bear scrapes, bruises and cuts, but she is just thankful her injuries weren’t worse.
“It is getting better but it’s really slowly,” Grant said. “It’s much better than having a broken bone.”
Though it barely slowed her down, that crash represents one of the few setbacks Grant has faced since she began seriously mountain bike racing this season. Since buying her first USA Cycling license this year, she has won almost every race in her class she has entered, and may very well be the fastest female mountain biker in Montana. The win at Nationals only reinforced her growing reputation.
“I go there and I have no idea what to expect because I’ve never done anything like that before,” Grant said. “I certainly didn’t expect to come home with a stars-and-stripes jersey and a gold medal.”
Originally from Darby, Grant began mountain biking as a teenager competing in, “a few laid-back races.” Though she ran during college in Florida, she stopped mountain biking almost entirely. Then she rode the mountain biking leg of the Glacier Challenge a few years ago, and was reminded of how fun she found it. Riding her older brother’s 10-year-old bike, Grant competed in Whitefish Resort’s Thursday Night Race League three times last summer, in the sport and expert divisions. She won every race.
Being asked to join the Sportsman Ski Haus team for this season compelled Grant to begin training harder and overcome her relative inexperience. It was time to get serious.
“Then it’s like, well I’ve got to keep up with all these awesome dudes,” she recalled, adding that she felt embarrassed asking her teammates basic questions, like how to fuel or how to train.
Typically, mountain bike racers begin in the lower categories and work their way up, but Grant managed to skip over Category 3 to enter the Category 2 class at the Unravel the Scratchgravel race in Helena May 15 – which she won. The following weekend in Kalispell, Grant took first in the Pro/Cat 1 class of the Herron Hammer race. In June, the Disco Mountain Boogie at Discovery Ski area in Anaconda was significant in that it marked the first time Grant faced off against Lisa Curry, one of the best female riders in the state. Grant won by more than two minutes.
“She had a reputation for being the fastest female mountain biker in Montana,” Grant said. “When I beat her there that was kind of a big deal for me.”
Grant also placed high in several other races this summer, taking second among women in the Glacier Challenge and first in the team co-ed open class at the Furious 3 in Fernie, riding with Hammer Nutrition’s Dustin Phillips, by nearly two hours.
Even Grant finds herself startled at how well she has done so far.
“I just always expect these other girls to be better than me,” she said. “I surprise myself a lot when I finish first.”
Though she is quick to point out she puts in the hours on trails around the valley, including Pig Farm, Herron Park and Lone Pine State Park.
“I don’t want to say it comes across easy because I train hard and I work hard,” Grant said. “I’m aggressive and I can torture my body pretty well – push it definitely beyond a comfortable limit.”
She compares her bike training to training for a marathon, but in addition to fitness, mountain bike racing requires bike-handling skills, balance and fearlessness in a way road running simply doesn’t, and Grant can’t put her finger on how she has attained those qualities in such short time. Additionally, she is consistent, rarely having a bad day on the course.
“Once I get to the start line, I get really, really competitive and I want to win,” she said. “I don’t know what it is, but it is kind of funny.”
It helps, too, that she upgraded from her brother’s old bicycle to a Cannondale Flash.
“When I first started riding it, it felt like it had an engine on its own, compared to my old bike,” she said.
Once her shoulder heals, Grant is focused on finishing out the season and winning every race she can in Category 1. She is deeply grateful to her sponsors, Hammer Nutrition and Sportsman Ski Haus, and her husband, for the support she has received this season.
But if Grant continues to dominate Category 1, the obvious next step is to move up to the Pro/Expert class, which demands even more training time and dedication, and it’s not a decision she enters into lightly.
“Of course I want to go out and challenge myself,” she said. “I’m just not sure.”
Nor has she ever raced cyclocross, which she is considering. So for now, she will concentrate on the summer’s remaining races, and try not to over-think it, which has been working fine so far.
“I just go out there and ride and I do well and it’s awesome,” Grant said. “I am having one of the best summers of my life, for sure.”
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