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Boulder cyclist denies Olympian an eighth GoPro Mountain Games XC mountain bike title with last-second move

Eric Brunner finally got the best of Howard Grotts to win the men's elite race and Erin Huck claimed the women's title one day after winning the short track event

Howard Grotts, a seven-time winner at the GoPro Mountain Games, leads Cobe Freeburn and Eric Brunner during the cross-country mountain bike competition on Saturday in Vail.
Ryan Sederquist/Vail Daily

Eric Brunner wouldn’t normally don a long-sleeve, all-black skin suit for a cross-country mountain bike race on a 70 degree, sunny summer day. But when the U.S. cyclocross champion woke up Saturday morning, he realized he’d forgotten a short-sleeve jersey.

“I was tearing through my bag,” he said. “It ended up working out.”

Brunner channeled his inner dark knight in the GoPro Mountain Games premiere cycling event, injecting a stealthy surge in the dimly-lit tunnel near the end of Saturday’s elite men’s cross-county race. The Boulder cyclist slithered around a Durango duo of Cobe Freeburn and Howard Grotts to pull off the victory, covering the 17.5-mile course in a time of 1 hour, 11 minutes, 48.9 seconds.



“I’m really happy with it,” said Brunner, who was third in 2022 and finished second to Grotts at the 2023 Bighorn Gravel. “Howie’s beaten me a lot of times, so it was nice to finally get him here.”

Grotts, a seven-time Mountain Games champion, was pleased with his third-place (1:11:51.5) effort as Freeburn (1:11:51.1) took the silver.

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“These guys are riding super strong, so I’ll take third,” the 2016 Olympian said.

Cyclists traverse Vail Mountain during the cross-country mountain bike race on the third day of the GoPro Mountain Games.
Logan Robertson/Courtesy photo

Each of the three 5.8-mile laps consisted of 1,370 feet of climb, but much of that was on the wide, gradual gravel of Gitalong and Mill Creek roads. Grotts said the course change made the race “more tactical.”

“We had a huge group for the first lap and that, in my experience, is super rare for the GoPro Mountain Games,” said Grotts. In the early stages, the top five consisted of Brunner, Grotts, Freeburn, Scott Funston and 17-year-old Ben Bravman.

“It was super fun just getting to push myself against these guys I usually don’t get to race,” Bravman said. The five-time national champion 鈥 twice in U15 mountain bike, twice in U17 mountain bike and once at U17 cyclocross 鈥 managed to stay with the elites until halfway through the final lap.

A biker descends a singletrack trail during the cross-country mountain bike race on Saturday in Vail.
Logan Robertson/Courtesy photo

“Then the legs were just kind of pooped,” the Golden cyclist said. Bravman let off the gas, allowing Funston to catch and ultimately pass him for fourth. Meanwhile, the top three played cat and mouse up each climb, separating themselves from the chasers with each pedal stroke.

“Those two were climbing stronger than I was,” Grotts said. At the high point of the course, the 31-year-old opened up a sprint to get to the singletrack, but it was Freeburn who got to Liondown trail first.

“On the A lap, Brunner and Howard were going really hard and I was suffering a lot,” said Freeburn, who took the win at the prestigious . “They kind of eased up near the top so I was able to get into the singletrack first.”

As the trio descended toward the base of Golden Peak, Brunner lurked behind Freeburn, waiting to pounce.

“I was trying to drop these guys on the climb, but I didn’t want to attack and go way into the red at the same time,” Brunner said. “So I just knew that probably the first person into the last corner 鈥斅燼nd the tunnel 鈥斅爓as going to be maybe the last opportunity to pass, but it was going to be difficult. But I was able to get around.”

“I was feeling good, and I wasn’t really expecting Brunner to pass there and he just sent it on the right side,” Freeburn said. “And it was dark and I was not really willing to push it too hard there. And then I came out on the last corner and couldn’t do anything.”

Grotts, who won his second eight-stage Cape Epic earlier this spring with partner Matthew Beers, will shift his focus back to the LifeTime Grand Prix 鈥 the premiere gravel series in the U.S. Freeburn is hoping to get into Steamboat Gravel in August and is training to peak at the Gravel World Championships in Belgium at the end of the season. Brunner said his main focus is U.S. mountain bike nationals this summer. Saturday was his first race in two months.

“Training has been good,” he said. “But you just never know until you get out and race.”

The men’s cross-country mountain bike elite podium.
Logan Robertson/Courtesy photo

Tokyo Olympian completes Mountain Games double

On the women’s side, Erin Huck completed her Mountain Games double, handily winning the cross-country race for a second-straight year, one day after taking the new short-track crown. She said she brought “low expectations” into the weekend since she’d been sick last week.

“But surprisingly, (I) feel pretty good,” the 2021 Olympian said. “So, I think maybe the forced rest was a good thing.”

The wife and mother made the Mountain Games into a multi-day family trip, thanks to the addition of the short track. She and her husband took turns racing and watching their 2-year-old.

“I just love short track and we don’t get an opportunity to race them,” the 42-year-old said, adding that her husband and son loved the spectator-friendly nature. “Our son was like, screaming out of excitement.”

Huck was happy for a trimmed down “simplified” course, given her health. She didn’t look the least bit ill, however, powering to an almost five minute margin of victory over runner-up Natasha Visnack (1:29:55) of Salida. Ellen Campbell took bronze and Natalie Dyksterhouse (1:31:53.6), 14-year-old Laura Carlin (1:32:33.7), and Minturn’s Haley Duymke (1:33:14.9) rounded out the $19,000 prize purse podium in fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively.

Huck, a first-year LifeTime Grand Prix competitor, said her main priority in the seven-race series is the Leadville 100. In her only other attempt at the legendary ultra, she placed fifth in 2022, though she was just four months postpartum at the time.

“I like that high-altitude climbing,” she said. “And today was a good check that things are going in the right direction.”


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