Everyone has their favorite ride. Start in town, head through the neighborhood, cut through the back roads to the trail head, climb, climb, climb, and climb some more before taking the single track downhill from the overlook’s edge back into town. Wrap up the ride with huge grins, high fives, some KNUCKS! and stop off for a brew or a bite to eat … sometimes before you even change clothes and clean up.
That, in a nutshell, is Epic Ride’s Whiskey Off-Road, a 50 mile event in Northern Arizona. Starting from Whiskey Row in downtown Prescott, the event takes over the town square for three full days. Bands, brews, outdoor industry expo, and most importantly, 25- and 50 mile-races that see over 2000 athletes race the area’s best trails. The 50-mile course features the Skull Valley climb, with its 3000-foot gain over 12 miles.
Heading down to Prescott, Evelyn Dong and I loaded up the Backcountry.com Sprinter van and pushed through a Utah wind and dust storm with our GPS aimed at riding the Prospector trail system on our way down.
Once we’d knocked the car legs out of our … legs, Evelyn and I split up, she taking the Sprinter down for a road trip of her own while I unloaded the F8 for a day trip around the Grand Canyon, doing a little moto-camping along the way. Just me, my moto, my Jet Boil for coffee, and a sleeping bag. We’d re-group in Prescott the following evening … although under different circumstances, as Chloe and Evelyn had to rescue me from my Manly Motorcycle Trip thanks to a fortuitously timed rear flat just outside Sedona.
The pro rider meeting is a family reunion of sorts. Rider meetings bring together all of the pro athletes, people you bang bars with every week but rarely have an opportunity to see in street clothes and actually catch up with.
Townie bikes and Levis — one of the perks of racing while sleeping in your own bed.
In the twilight crit, more of a hill-climb circuit race, the rowdy crowd rewards showmanship and pure athletic effort. Backcountry.com’s Evelyn Dong went big with a solo effort and gave the crowd what it wanted: carnage. Taking the paved/paint strip/brick walkway transition on turn 1 a little too hot, she slid out on the pavement but fortunately came out with just a little road rash for her efforts. Even with arm bacon, you can’t dent Evelyn’s smile.
With a rider down, and home-team pride on the line, Chloe took the evening criterium honors with a tight sprint against Katerina Nash, making it her first win of the season.
True to the mountains, as quickly as we embrace fantastic weather, things take a turn for the worse. The Whiskey 50 amateur racers, lined up for a 50-mile race at 7:30 a.m., faced sideways blowing snow and rain. And that was in town, at 5700 feet; the high point of the course, at 7000 feet, was a near white-out. We keep it warm and cozy with endless coffee and garage tinkering, thankful we weren’t out there and worried about those who were. The storm broke after noon, and amateurs racing the 25-Proof, 25-mile race, were able to hit the trails.
Backcountry.com employee Daryl, making some final adjustments before setting off in the storm.
With the Backcountry.com expo next to the start/finish, racers fled to our tent to avoid the elements and stay dry before the start.
The trails were snow-free and conditions are probably the fastest they’ve ever been for the event. The Whiskey 50 is a unique event in that the men and women professional riders both compete on exactly the same course, and for the same prize list, including $6500 for first place. If racing at home and for the win in front of friends, family, and sponsors aren’t high enough stakes, a solid payday should push any competitor to dig deep and find a way to make it happen.
And that’s exactly what Prescott local Chloe Woodruff did. It was a battle fought throughout the entire course, through the twisty single- track uphills, fire-road descents, and the aforementioned Skull Valley climb, in which teammates Chloe and Evelyn took turns knocking out their competitors with relentless attacks. Yet it was only in the fleeting final seconds of the event that the outcome was decided. After almost four hours of racing, 50 miles and seven thousand feet of climbing, with just 100 meters to go, and the entire city of Prescott banging on the boards, ringing bells, and yelling at the tops of their lungs, Chloe entered the final straight with Erin Huck on her wheel, sprinting in her fastest gear. The outcome was in doubt until just moments before crossing the line.
Capping off one of the most celebrated victories for the Backcountry.com team, Evelyn Dong crossed the line just seconds after, grabbing third place for herself and making it a #goatworthy sandwich on the podium.
At the expo teardown, team rider TJ Woodruff realizes the display Enve M50 wheels are his actual team wheels. Score another win for the Woodruffs!