2022 Epic Rides Whiskey 50

The Whiskey 50 is something special. I raced my first Whiskey in 2018 and had a very humbling experience. In 2019, I raced slightly better. After a couple year hiatus, I didn’t quite know what to think leading into my 3rd Whiskey. I always learn so much at Whiskey that the rest of the season starts to fall into place. Regardless, leading into the race I felt excited for possibility and really enjoyed seeing the trails from a new perspective. It’s remarkable the difference three years can make.

Fat Tire Crit

One thing I remembered for sure what how hard that Fat Tire Crit hurts sprinting up the Union Street climb, over, and over, and over. The burn in your legs and lungs from that event isn’t quite like any other. After being sick all week last week as well, I knew that the lung burn would be a little less welcome from my body than usual, but with the roaring crowds there’s absolutely no room to hold back.

We are required to race the exact same set up on our bikes for the Friday night crit as for the Saturday morning backcountry event so I lined up on my Pivot Mach 4SL with DT Swiss XRC 1200 Wheels. The only change you can make from Friday night to Saturday morning are your tires so I ran the 40c Kenda 4Titude Pro tires Friday night for a fast and furious crit.

Photo: Bill Schieken

With a prime lap one, the race started all out! Over and over we climbed the 30-40 second steep hill and then descended the corners at 30 mph to lap the course around 2 minutes. Three laps in, one of the women attacked off the front. Her attack was so strong, then I thought for sure it was a bluff and I think everyone else in the group did too. Lap after lap we attacked the climb, but recovered through the descent and never quite seemed to get organized to reel the leader back in. With several laps to go, it was apparent that it would be a race for 2nd. Toward the top of each climb, I thought I would get popped, yet over and over I seemed to stand and find another gear and more heart to pour onto those streets.

Calculating the time, I came around the corner thinking we would be seeing 3 or 4 laps to go, hoping that it would be 3! Then the lap card turned over and we saw 5 laps to go. Again, I pulled deep into myself and found more matches to burn. In the chase group, it came down the final lap in a close race. I was forced to settle for 6th, just off of the podium, but I had such a blast duking it out the whole race in contention. Immediately all eyes turned to Sunday.

Photo: Bill Schieken

Backcountry Race:

With about a 12 hour turn-around from the crit to the backcountry race, good support and organization is key. We quickly put on my 2.4 Kenda Rush tires for Saturday and dinner was already made, so I ate dinner as I double and triple checked my carbohydrates from The Feed and looked at the course one final time on my Stages Dash. With a 4 am wake up call the next day, I had every thing laid out so that foggy, tired, racer brain couldn’t forget anything. I folded my Voler Velocity suit, smiley face facing up to greet me in the wee hours in the morning.

Then I tried to go to sleep. A rough cough kept me up for a few hours, likely a result of my illness last week and the dry air of Prescott. Regardless, when the alarm went off at 4 am. I felt excited for the day ahead.

At 7 am we rolled off the line in downtown Prescott and I couldn’t help but smile as we paraded out of town with cheers coming from the lawns of many local’s houses. As per usual, the pace began to rachet as we got closer and closer to the singletrack. Suddenly, I look inventory of the group and discovered that we had already reduced down to 7. I entered the singletrack with the group and kind of chuckled within myself. I had never made that selection in the race before, and now, 6 miles in, the whole race would be full of new experiences being the group.

Photo: Bill Schieken

Despite being in the group, I settled into my own pace and just ensured that I made it to the top of the first climb in the group. About an hour into the race we made it to the top of the first climb and I was pleased to make the selection again. Then we began arguablely the most technical descent of the race. I felt calm and collected as we descended the loose descent. There were parts with loose shale rock several inches thick, but letting my bike lead the way, navigating the terrain felt like a breeze. A couple of the girls went down, but no one was hurt and they were able to quickly gather themselves and the group stayed together.

As we entered the next climb, we stayed on the throttle and I found myself desperately seeking some rhythm. The steep and slippery hills, saw a few women putting a foot down and when I was a casualty in the chain reaction, I couldn’t find the legs to close the small gap that occurred as I tried to clip back in and find some momentum on the climb. I chased to gain the wheel, but with the flat terrain and long Skull Valley descent coming up, I knew chasing back onto a group was a tall ask. About 2 hours into the race I found myself in no man’s land, but remained determined. As I entered the singletrack with 2 hours to the finish I was craning my neck to see around every corner looking for signs of the next woman ahead. I was receiving reports that I was making up time, and I spent hours on the hunt. Despite putting time back into the woman ahead, I ran out of time to make the catch. I rolled back into downtown in 7th. I’m happy to have secured a top 10 in The Whiskey 50, a race that has historically given me a lot of grief, but remains on my list of events to master. One step closer, but with podium always being the goal, still improvements to be made. Continual striving for improvement, is after all one of my favorite parts of this sport.

Photo: Bill Schieken

The After Party:

Once the dust settled, we all descended back to Whiskey Row one more time for the after party where we got to exchange battle stories from out on course and in the pits. I love hearing all of the perspectives of the race from amateurs, pros, spectators, mechanics, and support staff alike. Huge thanks to Epic Rides for creating an environment where we all get to interact and find unique bonding over mile after mile in the Prescott National Forest. Cheers!

Now a quick turnaround to do laundry, back my bags, and fly to Germany for my first World Cup of the season!


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