MISSOULA, Mont. -

Saturday afternoon at Marshall Mountain the best of the best mountain bike racers competed in the fourth annual Missoula XC.

In the elite men's raced Howard Grotts of Colorado had one thing on his mind, defend his title, and that's exactly what he did.

"It feels great," said Grotts.  "The crowd's always good here and the course suits me perfectly, so I'm glad that I could make it happen again."

For the second year in a row Grotts took first place in the elite men's race to win his second consecutive title.  Grotts and Stephen Ettinger were neck and neck for the first five laps of the grueling six lap race, but on the final lap Grotts not only took the lead for good, he won by 1 minute and 20 seconds.

"I think I might have it a little easier than a lot of guy's because I'm a small guy," said Grotts.  "But then I have to work harder on the descents, I don't carry as much momentum, but I take advantage of the climbs as well as I can. You always have to come as prepared as you did before, you can't ever expect to do well so I'm just glad I made it happen again and I'll approach it the same way next year."

There are many different aspects of the race that bring Grotts back to Missoula year after year, and not just to defend his title.

"Number one it's the atmosphere here," said Grotts.  "This really has the best atmosphere out of any of the U.S. races and it even rivals some of the World Cup races that we go to as far as the crowd support, and the course is great here too it suits me well."

There's no question the future of the sport is bright for Grotts, in three years of competing in the men's elite race he has one second place finish and two first place finishes.

"It's extremely satisfying because these guy's have been at it for years and I'm kind of just coming into the sport," said Grotts.  "It's good to see that I may be able to have a future in this mountain biking thing."