As I sit and write this, my brain is still fried and body still smashed from this weekend’s Epic Rides Whiskey 50 Offroad. So let me preface this blog post with an apology for the quality of writing and depth of thought - most of my brain cells are not online at the moment, but I hope you’ll still enjoy the anecdotes from the weekend of racing!
After last week’s impromptu stage race in Arkansas (see my previous post), Lespy and I headed back to Arizona for Whiskey. We made a brief stop in Tucson, where after over a month of being lost in the black hole of mis-shipped items, my gravel bike was finally located! We had basically given up hope that my new Hakka would ever be found (and our sponsors rallied HARD to get me a replacement), as UPS had declared it lost, but last week I received an Instagram DM from someone in Tucson who had received a shipment meant for me. My faith in humanity has been reaffirmed (as this person chose to contact me instead of selling the bike or claiming it as their own), and this honestly felt like a real high five from the universe. I share this story to a) spread some good news/mojo and b) remind you all to periodically check your Instagram DM message requests!
But I digress. After a quick two days in Tucson (including a speed workout that absolutely kicked my butt), we came up to Prescott, AZ. Prescott sits at about 1650m above sea level, so it’s both cooler and has more trees/vegetation than Tucson. But, it also has way less oxygen. For two sea level athletes (we joke that Lespy was basically born underwater, and myself not much higher than the boat dock), this has a significant impact. We came up here to race our first-ever Epic Rides event. We were both very excited to take in the vibe and participate in what has become an iconic fixture of the North American mountain biking scene. The weekend did not disappoint!
There were two events this weekend: the Fat Tire Crit on Friday night, and the Backcountry 50 mile early on Saturday morning (i.e. today, and thus my brain’s refusal to do thinking properly right now). The Fat Tire Crit is similar to a short track in format (i.e. 20 min +3 laps), but is a wild beast of its own. The course was only about one kilometre long and was entirely on pavement in the downtown core. Four right hand corners and one left, two beastly hills separated by the briefest of downs (~30 sec at 12-15% for the first, and ~20 sec and 9-10% for the second), and - get this - we do it on 40c slick tires. It’s heavily spectated, bordered by beer gardens and hay bale crash mats, and just a general rowdy time.
The crit ended up being quite tactical and very on/off. It was basically just “sprint up the hills, attempt to recover, and do it again” for what ended up being 13 laps. Early in the race - on lap three, actually - Alexis Skarda took off a little on the climb and got a small gap. I looked down at my computer and saw we were only a handful of minutes into the race and I thought, “that’s too early, we don’t need to chase that down. She’ll come back”. Well… famous last words, and she proved me wrong! Before we knew it, Alexis had a massive gap and the rest of us were racing for second. I spent a lot of time driving the climb either on the front or as second wheel. With two laps to go, I went all in to try to get away on the climb (it felt like a major effort to me, but at 26 minutes into the race, it probably just looked like a sad attempt to marginally accelerate haha), but it just wasn’t enough to get away. It did whittle our chase group down to just four riders heading into the final lap, but it didn’t get me a gap. Oh well - you’ve got to try or you never know! On the final lap, it was full gas on both stages of the climb. Evelyn and Katerina had played their cards well, this being the first time they stuck their noses out (those women are seriously intelligent racers) and they absolutely lit Sofia and I up. Sofia and I crested the hills together, we swapped lead once or twice, and she got me heading into the finish straight. 5th for me, and a fun night of racing!
You can see here ^ the profile of the Fat Tire Crit... with my attempt to hit it highlighted. Went one lap too early!
I should mention that this race was at 5:15pm, so we finished just before 6. The Backcountry 50 Mile started the next morning at 7:10am, so we were looking at a very tight turnaround. Because of this, some of the women decided not to really “race” the fat tire crit (you have to start it or face a time penalty for Saturday, but there’s no saying you have to finish it). To each her own, but my opinion is if there’s a race, I’m doing it. In this post-pandemic era, if a race organizer goes to the effort of making a race opportunity for us, I’m going all-in!
As it turns out, post-fat-tire-crit sleeps are equally as horrendous as post-short-track sleeps. Meaning, after such an intense effort so late in the evening, it’s incredibly difficult to fall and stay asleep. I think I finally fell asleep around 11:30 or midnight, and that 4:45am wake up for the backcountry came WAY too early. But, pretty much everybody was in the same boat!
The 50 mile this morning was… hard. It had about 2100m of climbing, heavily front-loaded, and like I mentioned earlier, was all between 1650 and 2150m above sea level. Oooof. Right from the first 30 minutes, I knew I was in trouble. Basically, I died a very prolonged and slow death from start to finish (BUT at least the second half of the race was loaded with fun single track!). Legs did not have it today, brain was hard to coax into race mode, and breathing was much more difficult than I would have liked it to be (haha). When you’re racing unadapted at altitude, you have to be very mindful of your pace; anaerobic efforts are more costly (it’s harder to recover), fuelling is a bit trickier because your metabolism is pushed even more towards carbohydrate utilization than it would be at sea level, and there are all sorts of other things happening with respiration rate/hydration/etc. I had to accept that I was pretty empty and commit to riding a steady pace in order to make it to the finish line. It’s hard for the ego to watch the front ride away from you, but “know thyself” is one of the most important commandments in endurance racing. I definitely made the day harder for myself by royally messing up my feeding (I ran dry from hour 2.25-3.5, at which time I came to the final feed zone and declared to Drew “I’m dead” with all the melodrama I could muster - lol) and not eating after the 1hr45 mark (I’m normally VERY good at consumption on the bike, but was just feeling so sick from the altitude), but these are all good lessons to take forward to the gravel races.
I know I wasn’t alone in my pain out there, as I passed both Hannah and Sofia in the first half and could tell that we were three of Struggle City’s most reluctant residents. Kudos, gals, for not giving up and suffering it through to the end. I managed to cross the line fifth, which I will gladly and humbly accept (I’m honestly not sure how I got to the finish haha). But crossing the line, you’re reminded how much bigger this sport is than yourself; how, sure, the pro racing is cool… but what’s really amazing is seeing over 2000 people participating in a race to challenge themselves, grow, and have a ton of fun. There is magic at work here. So… a HUGE thank you to Epic Rides for still existing and persisting through the last few years to put on this event. I’m so glad we got to experience it!
There are few finish lines I've ever been so relieved to see! Phew, that was a HARD day.
Lespy had a great weekend, as well, once again proving that he's Mr. Consistent this year. A 3rd place in today's 50 mile, and a top 10 in the Fat Tire Crit after taking the first lap prime. Our equipment was - yet again - flawless. We raced Maxxis Velocitas in 40c for the Fat Tire Crit, and both opted for Aspens today. Fun fact - with the temperature difference from the start of the race to the end (i.e. from 7am to 11am), my tire pressure went up 4 psi. That's a HUGE difference, but somehow I managed to wrangle the trails!
That’s all I can come up with for now. It was a fun time, and I highly recommend you put this event on your “to ride” list. Lespy and I fly to Germany on Monday for World Cups 2 and 3 (back to XCO now!), before we head home and into the final Unbound prep. Have a good Sunday, folks. Hope it includes a bike ride!