Mountain Bike Racing
Team Scott Rages at the Whiskey 50
Geoff Kabush and Lesley Paterson reel in one of XC racing’s largest prize purses.
This past weekend, an estimated 6,000 to 8,000 spectators and racers flocked to Prescott’s historic town square for a vibrant three-day festival, and the start of one of the largest cross-country competitions in America.
The event boasted dozens of bike vendors, live music, shorter-distance races and the opportunity to compete against some of the world’s best racers as they battled for the winner’s share of the $40,000 prize purse—with an equal payout for both male and female pro categories.
Geoff Kabush, fresh from a short-track win at the Sea Otter Classic, claimed top honors, making it two years in a row. The Canadian traded pulls with Specialized's Todd Wells
the majority of the race with Sho-Air Cannondale's Jeremiah Bishop and Max Plaxton on their tail. By the time the duo reached the base of the 12-mile-long Skull Valley climb, Kabush and Wells had pried open their lead to a minute. On the final descent into town, Kabush jumped and opened up a small gap on Wells, who eventually finished seventh after flatting.
"I was running scared the whole way to the line,” Kabush said.
Lesley Paterson, who also rides for Scott, took first in the pro women’s field.
"It was my first time [racing the Whiskey], so I didn't know what to expect,” said the 32-year-old Scottish Xterra World Champion. “I was pretty nervous, to be honest. My tactic was to really go for it on the hill, where I knew my fitness could play a role and then hold on through the technical sections.”
The Skull Valley ascent decided the outcome. Paterson made her move, passing Katerina Nash and Kelli Emmett (who finished second and third) on her way to the top the climb, and the top of the podium.
"I'm an aggressive racer, so I just went for it," said Paterson.
Kabush and Paterson earned $6,500 for their victories, one of the highest cash payouts among cross-country races.
That lucrative payday helps attract elite cyclists. But leading up to this year’s race, a rule prohibiting pros from competing in events such as the Whiskey that are not sanctioned by USA Cycling
or the UCI (the sport’s governing body) was placed under the microscope. Several top riders were unsure whether they would compete.
Fortunately, race organizer Todd Sadow said the “forbidden race” rule didn't deter many of the sport’s top pros from entering the unsanctioned 50-mile race. On the contrary, the race saw a small boost in the entries this year, including several pros who signed up after the USAC said it would not enforce the rule this year.
"We picked up another 10 pros who were in limbo and weren't sure if they were going to race," Sadow said.
Looking to the future, Sadow’s already thinking about how the rule might affect not only his company’s events, but also the health of the sport.
“We can’t just all say, 'Well, we got off the hook for this year.' That wasn't a long-term solution,” he said. “Now we have to come together, we have to show compromise, we have to work together.”
With the ongoing popularity of his events, including the Whiskey Off-Road and Tucson's 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo, Sadow is moving forward. His company, Epic Rides, plans to announce more events for 2014 that will replicate the Whiskey’s successful formula.
"It's about pros having a platform to be pros," Sadow said while cheering on his nephew in the kid's race. "To be legitimate pro mountain bikers."
Women’s winner and 2011 Xterra World Champ Lesley Paterson is a new force in mountain bike racing.
For 10 years, Prescott, Arizona, a high-desert town known for its old west charm has opened its saloon doors for something completely different: the Whiskey Off-Road 50.