The Epic Rides Series Whiskey Offroad features both amateur and professional events; with the pro riders required to participate in Friday Night’s downtown fat tire criterium format race in order to be eligible for the cash payout of Sunday’s marathon race. Friday’s crit is the perfect foil to the aptly named “epic” on Prescott Arizona’s back country singletrack. Blistering speed in an urban setting is a thrilling way to start the weekend’s events and provides amateur riders with a great chance to meet and mingle with their favorite pros. This years Whiskey is the biggest and perhaps most stacked race in the event’s 15 year history. Specialized’s Kate Courtney and Annika Langvad; fresh off a Cape Epic win are both present to challenge all comers as well as domestic pros like Chloe Woodruff (Stans/Pivot), Evelyn Dong (NoTubes), Erin Huck (CZ-Racing/ Scott), and many others.
The downtown crit is a testing grounds for the riders machines and each other. Riders must ride the same bike they choose to ride on the Epic course but are allowed to change to narrower rubber; to a minimum of 1.5 inches. A 20 minutes +2 laps of the course featured a short exit from the start in front of Prescott AZ’s courthouse, out and up into Prescott’s historic district. It then treats riders to a downhill followed by a substantial uphill roller which leads into a technical series of corners before putting riders into a crucial right hand corner and rocketing towards the finish. The word in the pits was getting down through the first technical corner after the hill first was the key to walking away with the win as the speeds were generally too fast and corners too quick in succession to make much movement in position after the hill.
The back side riser did indeed serve up the suffer for riders; creating seperations and a natural point of attack in each race. And separate it did. Both men’s and women’s races were blown to pieces on each of the hills before the descent down into the finish.
Current XC national champion Erin Huck attacked with 2 to go on the climb. It looked like she would sneak away until Stans-Pivot’s Chloe Woodruff would burst from the small group and reach back up to her. Kate Courtney was forced to leave her Cape-Epic partner Annika Langvad as this separation happened. All eyes were on Courtney/Langvad to continue their teamwork in the criterium but fitness or fatigue played their hand and the Specialized duo were riding each riding solo with 2 to go. Woodruff would bridge and then attack on the final climb to take the win in the women’s category. Woodruff took not only the win but also the El Yucateco hot sauce “Hot Lap” preem in a flyer on the first lap. Commanding performance in front of the Arizona crowd and causing major ruffles in the star studded cast ahead of Sunday’s Epic.
The men’s race was 90 deep with a remarkable mix of old talent such as Canadian Geoff Kabush (Maxxis/ Yeti Cycles), Keegan Swenson (Stans/ Pivot), Howard Grotts (Specialized), Bryan Matter, Yuki Ikeda (Canyon Factory), Ryan Standish, and many many more. The field was again sporting narrow tires on fat rims on a mix of hardtails and full suspension bikes. The First lap preem didnt entice the same action as it did in the women’s races; with more riders seeming to favor a long game for the crit action and their share of Sunday’s prize purse.
A blistering pace saw riders complete the lap in shy of 2 minutes. Spectators were forced to sprint across the infield to match the pace riders were moving through the course. As with the womens race the steep climb up to the high point of the course was the decider. A lead group of Keegan Swenson (Stans/Pivot) and US National XC champion Howard Grotts (Specialized) came to the front to sort out who brought the most rounds to the weekend’s shootout. Swenson and Grotts were quickly alone out front with a long chase line developing behind them at an increasing gap. Felt’s Nicola Rohrbach, Geoff Kabush (Yeti Cycles), and veteran american hammer Brian Matter were all on the hunt in the chase.
The gap continued to grow with each lap as Swenson and Grotts eyed each other. On the final lap Swenson pushed clear of the Specialized rider on the final ascent. No gifts and no sneaking away however as Grotts came rocketing back and flew through the final corners to take the win over Swenson.
It was an incredible scene as Prescott AZ’s party people roared and shouted the Epic Rides fat tire criterium. Riders will kick their legs up on Saturday while the 1500 amateur racers take over and prime the trails for Sunday’s “Epic” and the big money showdown Epic Rides has been known for.