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Christopher Blevins and Anna Yamauchi dominated the cow trails and hillsides around Bakersfield, California and won top honours in Rock Cobbler 10.0.
Blevins held off a late charge by last year’s winner Peter Stetina to record the best time across the 80-plus-mile route, crossing the finish in 4:32:37, four seconds ahead of Stetina. Lance Haidet finished third for the men.
Yamauchi was the top women’s finisher and 17th overall in the main field, completing the ride in 5:18:34. The 22-year-old was four minutes ahead of Anna Hicks, who was second in the women’s division and 19th overall. Last year’s unexpected champion at Big Sugar Gravel, Paige Onweller, crossed the finish line a little more than one hour later and claimed third.
The main event of the 10th edition of Rock Cobbler featured a gruelling 80-plus-mile (128km) route that topped out at 6,500 feet (2,000 metres) of elevation gain. This year’s multi-surface skirmish, which many riders described as “miles of shenanigans,” provided a mix of dirt roads, paved connections, cow trails, gully-washed basins, and super-steep climbs across the San Joaquin Valley of south-central California. A total of 530 riders completed the Cobbler this year, and combined with the shorter Pebble route, registrations eclipsed the 1,000 rider mark for the first time, an increase of 73%.
The top men’s pros led the first of four waves of start groups this year, which included Stetina, last year’s runner-up John Borstelmann and Blevins, who was fourth. A mountain bike world champion in short track cross-country, Blevins was at home on a course with plenty of single track, much of it worn down as cattle paths on severe off-cambered, slippery terrain.
Halfway through the adventure, Blevins surged across a sloppy section of the trail, and Stetina watched him sail away as he had to deal with chain issues from the mud and then stopped at an aid station to re-lube and fill a bottle. It was from that point Blevins took a two-minute lead which Stetina tried to claw back.
“It was like a one-on-one time trial for two and half hours. I began to chase and brought him back to three seconds by the end,” Stetina summed up about the second half of the ride.
“The end was excruciating because the last 10 miles are on pavement, and I was 30 seconds behind. And he could see me, and I could see him, so it was literally a pursuit. So, it was excruciating because you just get to within five seconds of him, and he’s just dangling there.”
One of the favourites, Borstelmann, suffered a crash around mile 10 and decided on a “joyride” as he finished more than one hour and 30 minutes back in 91st overall. He told Cyclingnews he was fine after the crash, but his bike did not escape injuries.
“My derailleur was pretty wonky, preventing me from effectively using four of my climbing gears. I struggled to maintain sight of the leaders for the next 20 miles or so before getting stuck in the mud and deciding to ride it in at my own pace, enjoying the wild course for what it should be: more of a joyride than a race,” the 32-year-old admitted, saying it was a great time, just not a competitive race for him.
“The cumulative effects of a heavy training load without a proper taper, combined with a debilitating bout of pollen allergies the last few days, kept my form from being as sharp as it needed to be to keep up with the leaders anyway. I stopped and spent 10-15 minutes cleaning the mud out of my bike and re-tuning my derailleur, and stopped again at every following aid station to refuel, chat up the volunteers, and participate in ‘shenanigans’.”
Leading the second wave of starters for women was Yamauchi, who, like Blevins, is an accomplished mountain bike rider and has a pair of silver medals from US Nationals in cross-country and downhill. At the Grasshopper series Low Gap opener in January, Yamauchi was the closest rider to women’s leader and 2018 MTB World Champion Kate Courtney but went off course and was disqualified for not correcting the error before the finish.
This time, Yamauchi finished a strong ride at the Cobbler and improved from her third-place finish last year to the top step for the women. She was followed on the podium by her Cal-Poly San Luis Obispo teammate, Hicks, who was a silver medalist in the road race at last year’s USA Cycling Collegiate Road Nationals.
The 2022, or 9.0 edition, gained a splash of fame for a bull that charged several competitors. This year there were no angry bulls, but there were close encounters with ranch animals and views of buffalo and coyotes, keeping the Cobbler quite unique.
“We’re in this ravine and came across a peloton of nearly 30 cattle, mothers and their calves. Because it’s a ravine, they had nowhere to go, so we basically herded them up this mountain pass, kind of like a walking pace. A few riders got shoulder checked, but nothing really dangerous. That’s the Rock Cobbler – it’s run-ups, it’s cattle, it’s shenanigans,” Stetina laughed.
“So Cobbler is hands down my favorite gravel course. It is absolutely wild and random and sporadic, and always engaging. It’s special because it’s not about the race against other people. It’s about the course. There’s always something to do, whether it’s a beer chug contest in the middle of the race, riding through someone’s house, or going up the steep walk up a mountainside. It’s always an adventure to complete it, which is super unique.”
|Pos.||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Anna Yamauchi (Specialized-ClifBar)||5:18:34|
|3||Paige Onweller (Trek Driftless-ABUS-HED-WTB)||0:21:25|
|4||Sarah Flamm (Planet Earth)||0:28:53|
|6||Leeann Folse (K_HL Cycling Team)||0:42:49|
|8||Paige Handy (Serious Cycling)||0:59:21|
|9||Claire Reinert (Gravelstoke)||1:18:17|
|10||Isabella Heinemann (Cal Poly Cycling)||1:27:25|
|Pos.||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Christopher Blevins (Specialized Factory Racing)||4:32:37|
|2||Peter Stetina (bull by the horns)||0:00:04|
|3||Lance Haidet (L39ION of Los Angeles)||0:11:24|
|5||Ian Loopez de San Roman (Mazda Lauf Factory Sportful)||0:15:27|
|6||Sam Coyle (Cal Poly SLO)||0:30:43|
|7||Dylan Pollard (Cal Poly Cycling)||0:30:47|
|9||Julien Bourdevaire (Ride Bike Bro)||0:30:48|
|10||Brent Franze (Team Dream Team-Fullerton Bicycles)||0:51:48|