The Whiskey Off-Road in Prescott, AZ is the first of the ever growing and popular four event Epic Rides Series in 2018. The Epic Rides events aren’t your modern manufactured XC races; every location is located in a real mountain bike destination on real mountain bike trails. Big loops, long courses, and lots of singletrack just like how it used to be “back in the day” when I started racing XC in the 90s. When Whiskey Off-Road arrives in Prescott it is no secret to the locals and everyone knows something is going on. We are not a side-show staged on the edge of town in a dirt parking lot; the event and expo take over the entire downtown square for three days with concerts and festivities for everyone to participate in. As a “Pro” racer it is fun to be at an event with some excitement and it doesn’t hurt that Epic Rides really takes care of the racers and rewards us with some serious cash prize money. I first heard rumours of the Whisky Off-Road and came to check it out in 2012 for the first time. Racing the course blind on my first attempt I was lucky enough to win and returned to win a second time and take home the big over-sized cheque again in 2013. I’ve got to know Prescott well and I’ve been looking to find the winning recipe ever since. Regardless I always have a great time and come home with some good memories. This is how this year’s event unfolded. Wednesday, April 25th:
The Epic Rides courses are run on massive loops so I like to arrive early to preride a few sections and scope out the conditions. After Sea Otter I’m travelling from Truckee, CA and it is an early 5:15am alarm to fly down from Reno to Phoenix. My friend Barry Wicks and the Kona Adventure Team are a little nuts and are bike packing from the airport to Prescott over two days in 90F plus heat. I’m shuttling their extra luggage so I stop by their hotel and wish them luck. Next up I hit Cartel Coffee. I’m a coffee snob so I’ve been holding out all day for a good cappuccino and pick up some beans for the week. Whiskey Off-Road is also a special time for me as it is one of the few times I get to hang out with my dog Tallulah; she lives in Fountain Hills now so I swing by and pick her up on the way. She is a Weim, twelve years old now, and has one eye after being bit by a rattlesnake a few years back. Not sure how many more times I’ll see her so I cherish the time together. I roll into Prescott mid-afternoon, check into my little rental cottage, and build my Yeti SB100 bike. I squeeze in a quick spin to check out the new singletrack finish on the course, eat a quick dinner at The Raven, a local favourite restaurant, then some grab some groceries and I’m all settled in. Thursday, April 26th:
The Epic Rides events are busy weekends with lots of amateur racing going on as well; Thursday is the last chance to get in a decent ride on course. After a quick dog walk in the morning with Tallulah I meet up with young Canadians Evan Guthrie and Quinn Moberg to ride part of the 50mile course. This year it is loose! Past years we’ve seen a lot or rain and even snow but the creeks are bone dry and the trails are dusty, loose, and traction is hard to find. The elevation in Prescott is over 5000ft and we top out on course at over 7000ft; none of us has spent much time at altitude this year and are definitely feeling it. Quinn has never raced here before so I try to give him an idea of what to expect and how the race will shake down. The rest of the day I enjoy relaxing with my dog and get organized for the weekend. Friday, April 27th:
Friday is hurry up and wait all day for the painful and hilly evening Fat Tire Crit. In the afternoon Epic Rides has a mandatory pro meeting where we get all the details and rules for the weekend; it’s pretty simple and the underlying main rule is “don’t be a dick”. The riders also get welcomed by the mayor of Prescott who is trying to attract more young people, like local hero and Stan’s-Pivot pro Chloe Woodruff, to this rapidly expanding mountain bike hotspot which is adding trails at an impressive rate. I later bump into an elderly lady at the grocery store who is trying to welcome me to town as well; not once but twice she looks me up and down and calls me a “pretty boy” and seemingly wants to add me to her grocery list. Later for the Fat Tire Crit I mount up some 40c Maxxis ReFuse slicks and get ready for some pain up the steep pavement hill we climb fourteen times in front of the excited crowds. I don’t have the horsepower to go with an early move by climbing sensations Howard Grotts and Keegan Swenson but I enjoy the tactics of these events as I can use all my experience and savvy to be competitive. I gradually move my way through the chase as the laps wind down and conjure up an attack to snag the third spot on the podium. Along with fellow “Master” racer Brian Matter just behind me in 4th we are keeping the spirit of Steve Tilford alive and keeping the young guns honest. The weekend is off to a good start!Saturday, April 28th:
Saturdays at Epic Rides are the big amateur races and nice break for the pros to regroup, enjoy the expo and atmosphere downtown, as well as make sure everything is set and tuned up for Sunday’s big showdown. After coffee and a dog walk I head downtown to swap out my slicks for some 2.25 Aspen EXO TR tires. I’m known to take some risks but with the series overall to think about and some rocky descents these tires are my go to and I’ll race them most of the season. With the super loose and dusty conditions, as well as no major hits on course, it is hard to push the suspension hard in Prescott. I soften up my suspension with Chris at Fox and drop the pressure in my SC34 and rear shock a couple psi to help with traction. To help with grip on the loose stuff I run relatively low 20/21psi front/rear in my tires on race day. Running a privateer program means I also have to search out some favors for bottle hand-ups. Luckily, I have some friends and Kenny at NoTubes who is always helping everyone out connects me with the staff on the Stans-Pivot team. The nice thing about mountain biking and these events is that everyone is friendly and willing to help a hand. After running a few more errands I rest up watching some Supercross action, have some dinner, and then get ready for an early alarm. Sunday, April 29th:
A 5:30am alarm gives me enough time to get Tallulah out for a good walk, have some coffee and food, get organized and make it downtown for the 8:30am shotgun start. Guns are popular in Arizona so the races in Prescott are started by the local gun club firing off their shotguns. Grotts and Swenson showed their form in the Fat Tire Crit so my plan is to do everything I can to stick with them to Skull Valley and the brutal 11mile fire road climb in the middle of the race. I feel quite comfortable in the first half of the race and wind helps keep the group a big larger than normal. Grotts is always happy to ride hard on the front and does the lion share of the work; he still has enough horsepower to shred the group as the climb steepens. I go to my limit and have to just settle into a rhythm as shrapnel starts flying. I lose a couple minutes by the summit but I’m pretty happy with the effort. Reviewing my Stages Power file, I averaged 356W for 54 minutes on the Skull Valley climb which included a bit of messing about; the normalized power for the entire three-hour race was about the same at 355W. Pretty solid numbers for me considering the altitude which drops the power numbers by about 10%. The reward after the big Skull Valley climb is almost 30min of descending where my slightly bigger body type and a little more “down-country” bike set-up was more at home. I let it go, pick off a few spots, and I was pretty happy to finish off in 4th at the finish. Maybe Howie paid for his early efforts, but Keegan caught him on the descent and took the sprint finish followed shortly by the Swiss powerhouse Nicola Rohrbach. Nice to have some international flavour and kind of cool to have current Marathon World Champ Annika Langvad at the event taking the women’s win as well. I used to be jealous racing in European World Cups when a lot of racers were able to make it home to their own bed after a race, so I’m psyched to be able to do the same now in North America. After receiving my over-sized cheque, I get cleaned up, pack my bike, sadly say goodbye to Tallulah, and I make it back to Truckee base camp around midnight. Waking up Monday morning to a home-made cappuccino is priceless.
The Epic Rides series keeps getting bigger and better with rumours of more events coming. Really looking forward to the next event in Grand Junction and thanks to the organizers, sponsors, and riders for supporting the series. Keep riding until the fun stops and I’ll see you soon.
GeoffWords by Geoff Kabush / Photos by Brenda Ernst
MENTIONS: @gkabush @yeticycles @epic-rides