Nearly every part of star Olympic mountain biker Howard Grotts is looking forward to competing in this week’s UCI Mountain Bike World Championships.
The highly technical course, at Smithfield Regional Park in Cairns, Australia, will be a challenge of mind and body.
Which leads to the one part that will not be thanking Grotts for the race experience — his separated right shoulder. The injury occurred at the start of August, resulting from a high-speed training crash on the Colorado Trail.
Grotts intends to compete hurt, hoping the brutal descents on the Cairns course will be manageable. He can compensate by adjusting his technique to help the pressure on his shoulder or by choosing a full-suspension over a hard-trail bike, like he did to win the Leadville Trail 100 race on Aug. 12.
He plans to ride in the team relay event on Sept. 6 and the men’s elite cross-country race on Sept. 9. The world championships also include racing in the non-Olympic downhill discipline, as well as at junior levels.
“As long as it (the shoulder) stays in place, it’s not going to impact my riding,” said Grotts, who competed in the Olympic Games Rio 2016. “You have to keep that way in the back of your mind, like if you crash, it’s going to pop out again. Obviously, I am going to keep myself in a place of not thinking about that. I am going to make my run at worlds, do the best I can, go for it, and have the best race I am capable of having. I’m excited about the course.”
Grotts is no stranger to international competition. After debuting at the junior world championships in 2011, the Durango, Colorado, native took the bronze medal in the U23 cross-country worlds championships in 2014. He finished 21st in the elite cross-country world championships in 2016. Meanwhile, in July, he won his third consecutive U.S. cross-country title.
Now he just has to fight through his injury.
Grotts, 24, has raced through injury before. He’s damaged his left shoulder, a few times, and kept going. This right shoulder separation is serious, possibly needing surgical repair. But he’s not looking for any sympathy.
“Everybody in this sport, at some point in their career, has to deal with injury,” Grotts said. “It’s the nature of competition. You’re pushing your body to the limit. Right now, I’m trying to stick to as a normal of a training program as possible.”
His overall focus remains the Tokyo Games in 2020, hoping to build on the lessons he learned in Rio. He was a DNF in the cross-country event, but said he had a positive experience in his first Olympics.
“There’s a lot of pressure at worlds, but even more at the Olympics,” he said.
“That was a huge experience to take in. I learned a lot. Every year I am just trying to progress, learn what it takes to get to the top. We’re all pushing each other right now, something I think is really strong about our U.S. team. We’re all working hard to get better every day.”
The American team has 44 riders competing at the worlds championships, and Grotts is excited to see the younger talents starting to emerge.
“I really think our relay team is strong, we have a pretty good shot at getting a medal,” Grotts said. “If every rider has a good, consistent, clean lap, we’re in it.
“We’ve got a lot of great riders to watch, the U23s have some stars, too. We’re starting to get some real depth on the U.S. team, on the men’s and women’s side. I think we can have a great worlds showing.”Joanne C. Gerstner has covered two Olympic Games and writes regularly for the New York Times and other outlets about sports. She has written for TeamUSA.org since 2009 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.