Chris Sheppard (Rocky Mountain Bicycles) and Monique (Pua) Mata (Sho-Air/Specialized) won the Whiskey Off Road 50-Proof endurance race in Prescott, Arizona on Sunday.
Sheppard fought off Peter Glassford (Trek Canada MTB Team) and a powerful chase group containing former winner Jay Henry (Tokyo Joe's), Giant Bicycles star Carl Decker, and up and comer Colin Cares (Kenda/Felt) in a course-record shattering 3:05:07 victory. Mata shook off Kelli Emmett (Giant Bicycles) and overtook solo race leader Catharine Pendrel (Luna) within two miles of the finish for her win.
Both riders took home majority shares of a $20,000 purse for their efforts.
Sheppard doubles up his weekend winnings
The men's race kicked off at 8:30 a.m. and started aggressive with a small group forming in the first five miles. Then separations on some of the course's 25-miles of singletrack and fire road climbs began to sort out the final order.
"Peter (Glassford) and I separated ourselves on a super technical climbing section," eventual winner Sheppard said. "We were together on the downhill (to Skull Valley – a midway point in the race). When we hit the U-turn, we had about a minute and a half (on the chase) and we worked together up the climb."
Eventual runner-up Colin Cares was part of the chase. "We had a good group with Carl Decker, myself, and Jay Henry," Cares said.
Sheppard managed to free himself of Glassford. "About five miles from the top (of the 12 mile climb out of Skull Valley), Peter started to come a little unglued on some accelerations I did."
Sheppard knew a win was not assured though. "I just kept my pace steady (after that). There are great athletes here. I was running scared the whole time. I had no idea of how far I was ahead of second-place."
Cares said his group caught Glassford before the top of the final climb and the now four-man chase only settled the remaining podium spots on the final descent. "It all got decided just before the end."
Cares finished second to Sheppard. Henry finished third. Decker placed fourth. Bryan Alders (Epic Endurance Cycling team) came home fifth.
Mata strips Pendrel of victory moments from the finish line
The women's race left the start line 10 minutes behind the men and the field of 17, which contained such notable riders as 2010 Whiskey 50 winner Gretchen Reeves (Tokyo Joe's) and Rebecca Rusch (Specialized Bicycles). It immediately splintered.
"I was just me, Kelli (Emmett) and Pua (Mata) early," eventual second-place finisher Catharine Pendrel said after the race.
Those three riders stayed together until Pendrel managed to build a gap for what seemed to be destined to be her second runaway victory of the weekend.
"At the turnaround (the bottom of the Skull Valley descent), I could see that Kelli and Pua were pretty close. So I focused on climbing steady." But then Emmett bridged up. "I knew I had to kick," Pendrel said. "With a couple miles left on the climb, I really pushed hard to open a gap."
After losing contact with Pendrel, Emmett then faced a tough challenge from endurance specialist Mata. "I could see Kelli (up the trail) so I just kept closing the gap," Mata said. "And then there was one last nasty singletrack climb (called cramp Hill). I was on her wheel and decided to see what she had so I gunned it to the top. I turned around and had a gap."
Pendrel hit the final four-mile road descent into town still in the lead. "I didn't think anything of Catharine (after she got ahead of Kelli Emmett)," Mata said. "Then when I hit the road, someone said she was just in front of me."
"We were all probably within a minute of each other," Pendrel said. "And you know how it is - if you're a little sloppy in one corner, it's pretty easy for that to come back."
And come back it did. "We were on a long straightaway coming down towards the finish when I saw her with a police escort (150 meters ahead)," Mata said. "I just put my head down and was able to go by her. I turned around and I couldn't see her so I just kept pushing."
"I had no idea she was that close," Pendrel said, reflecting that maybe she had paid too dearly on the climbs to establish her lead. "It was a little heartbreaking,"
After Mata and Pendrel, Emmett, Gretchen Reeves (Tokyo Joe's) and Rusch rounded out the podium.
Is the Whiskey Off Road a model for the future success of US mountain biking?
Prescott, Arizona, served up an interesting and challenging race course for the first running of a strictly professional category event.
"It was really great course," said Catharine Pendrel. "It was interesting and fun and I enjoyed it. That last piece of singletrack was a hoot."
Chris Sheppard agreed. "The course is awesome. It reminds me of my hometown; Kamloops, British Columbia. It has identical loose over hard packed, rocky, technical trail."
But the Whiskey is trying to win more fans for the event than just racers in the pro ranks. "More than four years ago, I took a road trip through Colorado," said event promoter Todd Sadow of Epic Rides. "I rode a ton, partied and had a good time, and interacted with a lot of different people in the industry. I was asking what I could do to make (the Whiskey 50) bigger. We had to think of what we do to get more people to come to the event who are not just mountain biking."
Sadow says that feedback led him to add weekend music concerts first (a line-up of bands entertained the crowds during Saturday's amateur 50 and 25-mile events). "Then we added an expo. And finally, we added a cash purse."
Although the Whiskey 50 is an eight-year old event, 2011 was the first year that pros could earn a real cash prize, a purse Sadow says comes from his partnership with the city, a partner who he says sees the vision for what a weekend mountain biking festival can bring to their mid-size city economy.
"Conservatively, this event is bringing at least $2 million a year to this community," Sadow said. "Last year, most restaurateurs and bars had record weekends when we came to town. And the hotel occupancies were in the 97 to 99 percent range. "
The success of an event that feeds pros, is a great challenge to amateurs, and fosters a local economy is a model Sadow hopes can extend beyond the Whiskey 50. "I want this to be an epicenter event," he said. "But ultimately, we're attempting to build a model mountain biking event, one that could be replicated all over the country."
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Chris Sheppard (Rocky Mountain Bicycles)||3:05:07|
|2||Colin Cares (Kenda/Felt)||0:04:10|
|3||Jay Henry (Tokyo Joes's)||0:06:01|
|4||Carl Decker (Giant Bicycles)||0:08:07|
|5||Bryan Alders (Epic Endurance Cycling Team)||0:08:12|
|6||Peter Glassford (Trek Canada MTB Team)||0:08:39|
|7||Jake Wells (Dogma Athletica)||0:08:58|
|8||TJ Woodruff (Trek/Boulder)||0:10:35|
|9||Adam Snyder (Jamis)||0:11:41|
|10||Jeff Hererra (Bicycleworld.tv)||0:12:45|
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Monique (Pua) Mata (Sho-Air/Specialized)||3:30:12|
|2||Catharine Pendrel (Luna)||0:01:05|
|3||Kelli Emmett (Giant Bicycles)||0:01:23|
|4||Gretchen Reeves (Tokyo Joe's)||0:15:31|
|5||Rebecca Rusch (Specialized Bicycles)||0:17:42|
|6||Nina Baum (NoTubes Elite Women's team)||0:24:53|
|7||Sonya Looney (Topeak Ergon)||0:28:31|
|10||Zephanie Blasi (No Tubes Elite Women's Team)||0:42:44|
|13||Tonya R. Bray||1:02:19|