Race Report; White Mountains Epic Series…50 mile MTB race, Arizona.
UC Result; Podium 4th position
By Simon Planken
The Epic Race Series is a fantastic set of MTB events that are spread out over the year and across many states. These draw big crowds – and some have a full PRO peloton too. The rides are normally 50 mile epics…that take in some great singletrack!
Last weekend (Oct 5th) was the White Mountains AZ Race - a 50 mile circuit that was mainly singletrack. I’d never raced here before and was looking forward to seeing the White Mountain-scape. My wife was racing too so we got there the night before and camped…almost got some sleep too!
My race division was huge. 48 riders in the mens’ masters 50m. (There were 900 riders total…these are big events!). I had not had any time to pre-ride so was going in blind…the course was relatively gentle – only 3800 feet of elevation. Won’t be so bad!!!
Thing is….it starts at 7100 feet. And goes up to about 8400…. hmmm. Maybe I should have borrowed Ken’s elevation tent the week before….
The line up was huge. They had bundled all the 50 and 35 mile riders together…and…those that had a season pass to the series were given a front corral spot. The race started at 7.15 am. A mass start and I struggled to weave through about 50 up-front riders as quick as I could before we hit singletrack (ST). My heart rate instantly went to lactic threshold (LT). Oooff…..
The ST weaved through an initial forest section…with ample sprinkling of sharp rocks. This was a volcanic area and the mix of volcanic debris and pine forests was unusual…folks were flatting already….I passed a large number here. Then, a well-timed fire road section…I burst forward to join a fast group…not sure how many were ahead at this point. One by one I picked them off. For some reason, my HR was staying just below LT and I felt great! Wish I could feel like this every race!
I managed to get to the front of the group and lost them on a sharp climb. This was about 16 miles in. Then I hit the first downhill! This was fun! Tight twisty ST through the trees. Similar to Big-Bear…I was flying, HR was coming down, temperature was perfect now at about 65 oF. This was going to be a good race and I was starting to think of…. BAM!!!!!!!!
What the hell was that. I’m in the air!... My bike SLAMS into a downed tree. It was across the trail and I didn’t see it due to the shadows and dappled light. A small section had been cut out to get a bike through. Didn’t see that either….crap…I’m still in the air…!
Luckily, I was airborne for so long I had time to choreograph my landing. Normally I land like a sack of potatoes and hurt my wrists. This time I told myself “No! Tuck and roll”. I hit the trail on my right arm, then shoulder and went into a fast roll. Then another roll. Not sure what happened after that, but I landed in some ferns (luckily) and stopped to take stock. My right knee hurt badly, but other than that I was OK. Adrenaline was on my side at this point…
I looked up the trail. No…further up the trail….there she was. My bike was a crumpled mess. The bars were fully 180. I was expecting to have a broken rim. I hit this tree hard. But no! Bike was fine! I recently upgraded to SRAM’S wireless AXS system (highly recommended!). How was that?…quick check. Yep that was fine too! The rear derailleur automatically locks itself down in a crash and is actually built tougher than a standard one with a shorter cage.
So I was still in this….. At this point the fast group I had chased and passed caught me…and past me. They all asked if I was OK. I was still going over myself and let them go…and I took a couple of mins for my knee to calm down. Then I forced myself back on the saddle…quick bike check…and back on the ST downhills. Albeit a bit slower!
After about 10 mins, I felt fully back in the game. I could occasionally see the group again…and chased them down over the next 10 miles.
At mile 26 ish, we hit a FAST downhill fire road. Super smooth. I doubled down and caught the last guy. Drafted for a while, then made my way through this pack (about 8) and took the lead…I led this group to the next ST climb…and was surprised when I dropped them almost immediately. Think they all burned up on that fire road trying to catch their prior leader. I found myself alone for the next 10 ish miles.….
At mile 36, I noted on the ride profile there was a near vertical section. Wasn’t sure what this was. Then I started uphill…and noticed two things.
Next was a fun fast downhill….and the rest of the 12 miles were quite flat. I picked up pace…and then ran into the 35 mile group. This wasn’t too bad…I picked them all off and they all let me pass. Mile 49. I can see the finish… OK - full on sprint…. almost there! Wait…why are we going this way?
I didn’t realize but this race was 53 miles, with an extra “squiggle” at the end. Ouch. I burned myself to early! But so did others! The last mile was a fireroad...I caught dozens. Not sure how many were in my group. But I kept my pace as fast as I could. There it was; Maxxis finish line with crowds. One more sprint. I catch 2 guys 10 yard from the finish line. Done!
My Garmin says 4 hrs 12 mins (moving time). Average speed 12.5. That’ll do!
I grab a free beer, an orange and go chill and wait for my wife (Chi). She comes in with a grimace; “what the hell was that finish! 50 miles I signed up for!” I chuckled as I knew how she felt!
We both podiumed. The trophies were carved bears in tree trunks…they gave me a grumpy looking one! My 4th place was 1 min behind 3rd…next time! 5th place was a min behind me.
Overall a great race, very well organized. Next year I hope to do either the Carson City (Tahoe) or the Grand Junction (CO) races. Who’s in!!!