The Whiskey 50

Prescott is somewhere worth visiting. I feel so lucky to travel around the US wearing my Red Ace kit, seeing sights and sounds that most people will never experience. The Whiskey 50, in Prescott, is something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. I have another post to write about the town and the experience, but I needed to write the race down, too.

A freak storm crossed the open Sonora desert on Saturday, stunning everyone. I watched the snow settle on the red dirt from the comfort of the house,  happy I had 24 hours until go time. I didn’t need to suffer – I didn’t want or need to battle the the conditions the amateur race dealt with. Call me soft if you want.

The start line. Everyone was looking at Sauser (the guy in the stripy jersey on the right).
I lined up a couple of rows off the front of the grid, the rainbow stripes of World Champ Christoph Sauser just in front of me. Such a superstar of cycling removed all the burden from my shoulders – I wasn’t here with expectations. All the eyes were on him. No-one expects me to do well, as most people still don’t know who I am. Confidence surged on this realisation.

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Like in 2012, the race started gently. I sat in the centre of the pack, protected on all sides. People posed for the cameras at the front; they wouldn’t be the ones fighting for positions at the end. The tarmac’d road rose steeply to meet the dirt. The jostling for position was intense but I was at ease; I slotted into the singletrack behind my teammate Sam. The familiarity of his riding relaxed me; we rode to the rhythm of the smooth and tacky trail ahead.

Descending the ripping fast trail before the first real climb

We started the steep singletrack climb onto the ridge. Riders concertina’d back and forth, the gaps stretching and coming back together. I had time to eat and drink, taking down half a bottle before I’d even started working hard. The hard-earned gravity pulled us back into the ponderosa and scrub oak lined valley; 2000 feet of elevation to be rid of. The turns had been sculpted smooth by yesterday’s rain. No effort was needed to navigate at warp speed. My bike effortlessly did what I told it to as I followed Sam and Ben Sonntag downwards.

The descent threw us onto a wide and rolling dirt road – 12 minutes of grinding. I sucked down a gel. Yuk. This is where the race should have started happening. Our train of riders had let a group off the front. I wasn’t sure how many were up there, but slowly the chase started. The pace picked up. We rounded the final steep corners to the first aid station, friendly volunteers waving bottles in our faces. I grabbed some water, then sucked down a gel. Yuk.

Nine miles of downhill on loose gravel road. The small washes where infrequent desert storms run across the road were damp. We cruised down the road, bullets of gravel thrown from tyres stung at my face. The group swelled. We rode slowly, no-one wanting to pull along a huge group. The tactics had changed. Riders who had chased hard to get into the group now dwelled, not sure what to do. I started eating. I managed to go through a whole packet of Clif Bar chews, 200 calories of processed sugar. We cruised into the feed zone en masse. The U-turn at the bottom gave me a chance to see Mrs. York, Deidre’s Mum. She had her work cut out. With 40 riders coming through all at once, she had to find three of us and hand us the right bottles. I got mine smoothly and was on my way.

The feed zone was chaos. 40 people trying to grab bottles without slowing down. I went to the front to stay safe.
We were half way through the race and the race hadn’t even started. I went to the front of the pack and turned the pace on a little, helped out by Rotem Ishay from Jamis and Spencer Paxson from Kona. I was wary of doing too much work on the front; wary of people tucked away keeping their powder dry. As the gradient kicked up, I closed every gap that appeared. No one attacked, but the pace ramped up. I finally looked back at the feed station two-thirds of the way up the climb; We had dropped all but five people.

The Skull Valley Climb. This is where is started to get hard

I sucked down a gel. Yuk. Barry Wicks set the pace  to the top of the climb, where we dived into singletrack. I upped the tempo just before the trail narrowed, but somehow still managed to be the last one into the woods. I sucked down my final gel on the top of the smooth trail. Yuk. We battled on the top of cramp hill, legs resisting each pedal stroke, each rider elbowing out the rest to get a better position for the last DH. I still got relegated to last onto the trail. I need to work on that.

The final sprint. I really need to learn how to sprint!

The finale: two miles of downhill road to the finish. I was accompanied by two team Kona riders, two from team Jamis, and a lone Scott rider who none of us knew. My brain hurt. My legs hurt. My back hurt. We rounded a corner that lead into an uphill with a minute left, I had nothing left, but I laid it all down, getting a small gap. I thought it would hold, until someone else attacked behind me. We were all together with one corner left. 35 mph on mountain bikes. The sprint was a mess. Bars been thrown side to side. It was slow motion. I came across the line 3rd of five in the sprint. 11th place. Mission accomplished.