It felt so good to be back at the Epic Rides series this weekend with the infamous Whiskey 50! The Epic Rides events have such a special atmosphere. Instead of manufacturing intensity through things like music, silence, or copious amounts of officials, they let the intensity come from the World Class race field, the hundreds of spectators lining the streets to view the race, and the tens of thousands of dollars on the line to be won.
Whiskey 50 Fat Tire Crit:
As always, the Epic Rides pro races start on Friday night with the Fat Tire Crit. All of the athletes descend on the downtown area to put on a show.
The Whiskey Fat Tire Crit is different than all of the other crits in the series. This crit is less than a 2-minute lap that features a 1-minute lung tearing climb. The lap is completed for 20 minutes plus 3 more torturous laps.
Last year, my limit was displayed immediately as we sprinted off of the line and I instantly found my sprint was no match for the pace of the event. This year, I was determined to find myself a place in the group.
There was a prime for the first lap (meaning a monetary prize for whomever crossed the line first after lap 1). That meant that the race would start fast and there would be no ‘pacing.’
They counted us down from 10 seconds and we exploded off of the start line. Almost immediately you could hear the gasping for air from all of the athletes. I was almost relieved to find that this year my initial pace was enough, and I crested the climb for the first time well within the lead group. That was a great victory for me, but short lived as before I knew it, we were sprinting up the climb again for lap 2.
In these types of races if you aren’t moving forward, then you are probably going backward. I kept fighting for position and pushing to gain spots until all of a sudden at the top of the climb on lap 2 I found myself on the front.
For the next couple of laps, it was a battle to find a right position within the pack. Eventually, on one of the descents I was gapped from the group but as we climbed the hill, I regained contact! That same thing happened a few times. I felt a bit of fear creep in knowing that every time I overextended myself to regain contact with the front gap, it was one less match I would have.
Finally, there was a lap where I could not gain contact. My legs were burning. My chest was on fire. My body put out warning signals and I did everything I could to ignore them and push onward. As the race continued more and more people got dropped from the group and I was within distance to close the gap. I was riding with one other girl and she had been drafting off of me for a few laps. I motioned for her to take her turn in the front, but she declined to move forward.
If I let her sit on my wheel and use less energy because of my draft she would surely outsprint me in the end, if I played games and forced her in front I lost my chance to bridge the gap to the next group, but had a shot at outsprinting her at the finish. I figured a bird in the hand is worth 2 in the bush. As we climbed the hill where all the spectators were cheering, I pulled to the side, slowed way down, and forced her to take her turn cutting the wind. It was a move that paid off. I was able to finish ahead of her and finish 13th in the crit on Friday night. An improvement from my result last year, but also a huge improvement in the way that I race.
Whiskey 50 Backcountry Race:
It’s amazing how 4 hours in the saddle can kind of all blur together. Hundreds of thoughts, decisions, efforts, all kind of roll into one as you suffer through mile after mile on the bike.
We started our traditional roll out through town and up the steep mountain roads. The pace ratcheted over and over as we just gradually turned the screw making it harder and harder up the climb. As we approached the singletrack trail I wondered why the pace felt so hard, then I looked down at the numbers and realized just how hard we were going.
The large group had already shattered, and we were cut into small groups setting out for the journey of the day. I had the best start of my Epic Rides career and was actually pleased with my positioning as I entered the trail.
The first 8 miles were all uphill. We were lifting our wheels up and over water bars and already gritting our teeth at the gradient and intensity of the race. As I crested the first climb, I could hear another racer coming up behind me, I put in one more dig and entered the descent ahead so I could ride my own pace.
I gained a small gap but then the true suffering began. The next few miles were a fire road climb, followed by a fire road descent, a complete U-turn and straight back up that same road. While many people had small groups I found myself with just one other racer as we started this famous climb back up the trail. We switched back and forth taking turns on the front. I could feel the pace decrease every time she would take a pull and I took this to mean she was suffering more. I stared to take longer pulls up front, a poor mistake. She attacked hard toward the top of the climb and I was left to suffer alone. I couldn’t see anyone ahead, and I couldn’t see anyone behind.
The sun was beating down on my back. It was hot. My back was seizing up and for the next few hours I told myself “you’re getting closer.”
While it is nice to have someone to race with and certainly helps, I think mental toughness is built riding alone. Those latter hours of the race are character defining as you mildly hallucinate thinking things like, “That’s the biggest turtle I’ve ever seen!!” And then realizing that of course it was just a large rock.
It makes rolling into town at the end so sweet. It feels blissful to cross the finish line and have the silence broken for the first time since the early morning as you are greeted by spectators, friends, and teammates. I finished 13th again on Sunday. Improvement once again, but I’m no where near being finished.
I have 4 more races, THIS WEEK! Stay tuned to hear about the Soldier Hollow Stage Race May 2-5.
Photos by: Bill Schieken (aka CX Hairs)