SRAM PR coordinator by day, shredder by night, Duncan Riffle was a man on a mission at the 2016 Grinduro. After a close second place to Barry Wicks in 2015, Riffle knew what to expect at the 2016 edition of the race, and was laser-focused to get on the top step of the podium.
Cyclocross Magazine’s Grinduro-racing John Proppe caught up with Riffle the week after the race to talk about his racing provenience, bike setup and how it felt to reach the top step of the podium after a long year of waiting.
Cyclocross Magazine: You took a close second at the 2015 Grinduro. What made the difference for you this year?
Duncan Riffle: Good question. I would say there is rarely one thing that does it over another. But this year I would say I—and really all of us—considering last year was the first year had a better understanding of what we would be up against.
“I can easily say that this year, over last, my fitness and strength is even better than it was and to be quite frank, I wanted to win this.”
CXM: Is there a specific kind of rider or racer that is well-suited for Grinduro? How do you feel you fit, or don’t fit, that mold?
DR: Sure, I would say there is, someone who can do-it-all really. You can’t be a slouch with power and fitness considering three of the stages are bleed-out-your-eyesballs-all-out pedalfests, one including a straight up six-minute hill climb, another a 12-minute gravel fire-road downhill sprint and third being a rolling road time trial.
Meanwhile you have 64 miles to cover and a final stage of downhill singletrack that could easily be a World Enduro stage that most of the competitors would complain about being too long and physical.
“I’d say I fit right in really, plus the fact that you can just keep going at your own pace and start the timed stages when you want suits me very well. I hate stopping.”
CXM: I could see how it might on the second and fourth stages, but with a road time trial and an uphill stage, do you feel your background as a former World Cup pro downhiller helped you at Grinduro?
DR: I have been racing bikes my whole life in some way or another. I haven’t raced a World Cup Downhill in over four years. That is an entirely different animal, as I am I nowadays. I would say my background in racing helped, but that’s a ghost I will likely never give up.
CXM: What sort of preparation did you do for the race? Any specific workouts or equipment tweaks?
DR: When not on the road for work with SRAM, I spend a majority of my days in the office in California. We get out on great lunch rides where I can collect my thoughts, or lose them, go as hard as I want, when I want. I left structured “training” back in my World Cup days.
I love riding my bike and hurting myself way too much for rest days and structure.I’m all about having fun and doing exactly what I feel like on any given day, I just make sure it hurts, a lot, so that I feel accomplished on that day, every day.
CXM: Which segments did you prefer? Why? Any you didn’t care for?
DR: I love them all honestly. I love climbing; I wish that one were longer to get a bigger separation on the field.
Stage two with the fast fire road downhill is great [See video of the segment here -Ed], brings me back to my younger years racing downhill, sprinting just to see how fast you can go and hold it as wide open as you can on corners.
Stage three on the time trial is my jam, I wish that one was an individual stage, There are way too many trailers and hitch-hikers on that one. I respect the tactics of racing (head-to-head) but I am born and bread an individual racer coming from downhill racing. A lot of people don’t know how to handle that, setting the pace for themselves, doing their own work and knowing how hard to push and when. I may not be the most fit amongst the best always, but I know I am willing to hurt longer.
“Stage three on the time trial is my jam, I wish that one was an individual stage, There are way too many trailers and hitch-hikers on that one.”
The final stage most would say suited me as a past World Cup downhiller, but lets be honest, I was on a drop bar ’cross bike and others were on rigid mountain bikes. I was out to make a point on that one. I wont lie.
The spirit of this event to me has always been [as it] was introduced to me as gravel road race, despite that final stage being quite favorable to a mountain bike.
CXM: I noticed that Wicks, Decker and Kabush took a long lunch—they passed me a bit back in the field on the climb up China Grade. How do tactics play into a race like Grinduro for the leaders—did you prefer being near the front?
DR: I love setting the pace for sure. But in this case, at Grinduro, it was and is, purely a matter of not stopping.
As mentioned before, I hate stopping, at any point, any ride. I like to just keep things moving and I know what makes me perform at my best and stopping to sit down for an hour to cram my word hole with food isn’t what I need. I was self sufficient, well prepared with nutrition and energy for the day. Plus, I was feeling good and wanted to get up to that final stage. I had beers waiting at the river on the other side of the mountain, that is always a motivating factor, always.
“I like to just keep things moving and I know what makes me perform at my best and stopping to sit down for an hour to cram my word hole with food isn’t what I need.”
CXM: You rode a Santa Cruz Stigmata – why that over something like a lightweight hardtail?
DR: The Santa Cruz Stigmata is definitely the weapon of choice for me at this event. I knew from day one that would be my winner. As I mentioned before, this event was introduced to me as a concept—a 70-plus mile gravel road race, and when I hear road, I think drop-bars.
With the introduction of our SRAM Red and Force hydraulic disc brakes as well as the SRAM CX1 group, anything is possible. The things these bikes can do with such efficiency and reliability is absolutely amazing. Plus it is way more dangerous and sketchy on the downhill descents with that bike—fun factor on a serious high.
CXM: How would you describe an event like Grinduro to someone who was considering attending?
DR: A 65-mile gravel road stage race with four timed segments covering a vastly diverse landscape where you can either go as hard as you want racing for the win, shelling yourself inside out, or hang back, party and ride with friends—new and old. [It’s] an event completely focused on highlighting the fun and camaraderie in cycling, road, gravel, mountain bike and everything in between. All run by amazing people and companies dedicated to provide an amazingly bitchin’ time on and off the bike.
CXM: Giro hypes up dialing in your party-to-race ratio. What’s your ratio? Did you get it right?
DR: I would say “we” hype up dialing in your party-to-race ratio. I am a solid 100% / 100% party to race ratio. Burning the candle at both ends. Party on, ever not.
CXM: Do you think the Grinduro format is going to grow in future, either with more events or more racers in Quincy?
DR: It’s the wave of the past and future. Honestly, when I attended this event last year it brought me back to events like the Chris King Trail Daze that were organized in Santa Barbara by Chris King, who was located there at the time, and dudes like my father and friends running Cielo Velo, a local Santa Barbara cycling clubs.
After being so focused on my Elite racing carrier for what seems like my whole life, events like this and the Downieville Classic, run by the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship as well, are true reminders for me of how much I love to ride my bike, the pure enjoyment, freedom and sense of accomplishment you can gain from being out on your bike all day, or even just an hour, completely setting me straight, righting my wrongs, factual or perceived, and bringing new energy to my soul. It’s a damn good time.
CXM: Thanks much for your time.
DR: Party on!