World cross-country champion Kate Courtney (Scott-SRAM) returned to the top step of the podium at the Whiskey Off-Road on Sunday in Prescott, Arizona. The 2017 winner rode solo to victory ahead of Chloe Woodruff (Stan’s-Pivot) who came from behind to take second, as she did last year. Former world champion Catharine Pendrel (Clif Pro Team) was third.

With less fireroad on the out-and-back to Skull Valley and more singletrack at the end of the revised 48-mile course, Courtney said she pushed as hard as she could to stay off the front on a hot, dusty day in the high desert.

“Definitely the course was harder,” she said. “I had no idea where anyone was. It was pretty hard to know the gap and how much longer, and so it really forced me to push the whole time, which was really great.”

After 13 miles, Courtney broke up the race as they dropped down the descent into Skull Valley, an out-and-back part of the course that becomes the day’s biggest climb at around 20 miles in. She was followed by Erin Huck (CZ Racing) and Woodruff.

However, the trio wasn’t willing to commit to the breakaway, allowing Pendrel and Batten to return to the group, aided by their teammate Katerina Nash.

“It was good because [the tactics] let me catch back on on the fireroad descent,” said Pendrel. “Kate, Erin, and Chloe got a small gap going into Skull, and me and Hayley bridged on the downhill and it went really slow for a while … but then it got hard.”

About three miles from the course’s high point at the Sierra Prieta summit, Courtney made her move. Woodruff was dropped, as was the Clif duo.

“[Courtney] is in a league of her own right now. I’d like to be able to climb with her — getting there!” said Woodruff with a laugh. “I definitely held it together when I got dropped off that group. I knew this year was going to be really different as far as how the course has changed.”

With about 20 miles to go, headed into the course’s new singletrack trails through Spence Basin, Courtney had about a 90-second lead on Huck with Batten and Pendrel chasing.

“Me and Hayley just rode together and had a good time,” the Canadian Pendrel said jokingly. “We made each other hurt in the best possible way!”

Ahead, things were not so happy-go-lucky for Huck, who continued to fade.

“In the last hour, we started reeling [Huck] in, we could see her every time right after the last feed zone she kind of washed out in the corner,” Pendrel added. The duo caught and passed Huck, who went on to finish fifth. However, Woodruff was storming back into the picture to spoil the party.

“I felt really confident that I could ride that last hour of trail — I felt like I had a couple of minutes I could reel back if I just kept it together,” Woodruff, a Prescott local said. “I just rode within myself and totally ripped the downhill and I had a blast out there.”

Batten also said the last bit of trails were fun to ride, but they were quite demanding.

“Energy-wise that descent is so technical you still have to have enough in your tank to stay focused and ride well,” she said.

The 20-year-old, who recently won the under-23 Pan Am Championships for cross-country mountain biking was thrilled at her result in her debut at Whiskey Off-Road, let alone any marathon-distance race.

“I was super-stoked,” Batten said. “It was totally a surprise. I just knew I needed to be patient because I’ve never done anything like this before, I’ve never raced this long. My teammates were amazing. I raced behind Katerina [Nash] for a while; she got us back to the lead group, and I just hung back and tried to save my energy for the end.”

Courtney also said she expected to race conservatively, but her raw power on the climb laid the race at her feet.

“I was kind of open to whatever the race brought,” she said. “I was prepared to be really patient. I thought it actually would stay together.

“When I attacked for the singletrack I ended up getting a gap and just kind of went with it.”

Courtney will shift gears and head to Europe in May for the World Cup season, leaving her Epic Rides Off-Road series lead open for challengers. This year, the series will be tabulated on points, not cumulative time, and the final race, Oz Trails Off-Road in Arkansas, will offer double points.

The 2018 series champion Evelyn Dong (Pivot-Stan’s) ended up 10th on Sunday at Whiskey Off-Road.

Top-10 results

1. Kate Courtney (Scott-SRAM), 03:46:44
2. Chloe Woodruff (Pivot-Stan’s), 03:49:54
3. Catharine Pendrel (Clif Pro Team), 03:50:14
4. Haley Batten (Clif Pro Team), 03:50:14
5. Erin Huck (CZ Racing), 03:51:43
6. Alexis Skarda, 03:59:16
7. Sofia Gomez Villafane (Pivot-Stan’s), 04:00:41
8. Katerina Nash (Clif Pro Team), 04:01:14
9. Rose Grant (Pivot-Stan’s), 04:02:36
10. Evelyn Dong (Pivot-Stan’s), 04:08:05

Full results >>