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Photo: Brenda Ernst

Epic Rides: Gomez Villafane takes Oz Trails and series title

It was a lucrative weekend for Sofia Gomez Villafane, who won the fat tire crit and the backcountry race, en route to winning the Epic Rides series overall.

It seemed like Sofia Gomez Villafane’s (Stan’s-Pivot) smile couldn’t get any bigger after her first place finish at the Oz Trails Off-Road fat tire crit Friday night, but on Sunday morning, she proved she could beam even brighter. In a photo finish, Gomez Villafane sprinted across the finish line of the 50 mile backcountry race just seconds before her competitors, sweeping the podium at the Epic Rides racing weekend.

Her victory on Sunday won her the Epic Rides series overall.

“I knew I was in good form to come in for this weekend,” Gomez Villafane told VeloNews. “It was my first fat tire crit win, and I woke up that day saying I’m gonna win tonight and to actually have it happen was really cool.”

Gomez Villafane finished one second ahead of teammate Rose Grant, whose presence on her heels came as no surprise. Kate Courtney, the reigning World Cup champion, was a close third.

The front group of pro women stayed together for much of the race. Photo: Brenda Ernst

“There was a point when Kate and I were off the front and a little past feed zone three, and there she was,” said Gomez Villafane. “I know Rose so well now and how she races, and she really comes alive in the last hour of these races. So I was thrilled to see here there, and we went one two.”

Courtney (Scott-SRAM), who sat in second for most of the race, sprinted to the photo finish in third. The trio also shared the podium for the overall Epic Rides race series, with Gomez Villafane nudging out Grant for the overall series win, and Courtney taking third. It was a lucrative weekend for Gomez Villafane – the Oz Trails Off-Road pays out $60,000 to the top twelve finishers in both male and female categories in the backcountry race, so the Stan’s-Pivot rider took home $10,000 plus an additional $2,500 for the series win and $600 from the fat tire crit.

For riders who raced in last year’s inaugural Oz Trails Off-Road, this edition would prove to have much better course conditions, despite the 12 inches of rain that northwest Arkansas received in the days prior to the race. Nevertheless, some riders were still plagued by punctures.

“I had a few . . . mishaps,” said 2018 race winner Erin Huck (Construction Zone Racing-Scott) who finished this year in 6th. After stopping at the first feed zone at mile 15 to adjust a loose cleat, Huck decided to make a move, only to be foiled by some trailside déjà vu.

“So I stopped, fixed my cleat, chased back on, and decided to attack going into the singletrack,” Huck said. “I was leading the group and then I got a nice sidewall tear. It was the exact same as last year – same spot, same sidewall tear.”

The mechanical set Huck back four minutes from the lead group, but it didn’t set back her spirits.

“It was actually more fun this time,” Huck admitted. “Not quite as wet, and I had more people to ride with. I caught up to Catharine Pendrel (CLIF Pro Team) who also got a flat early on and we were able to ride together for a bit which was really fun.”

The final race of the 2019 Epic Rides series had a big payday. Photo: Brenda Ernst

Pendrel, who like Gomez Villafane, Grant, Huck, and Chloe Woodruff (Stan’s-Pivot), competed in the four-day Epic Israel stage race less than a month before Oz Trails, also found it hard to gain the group after a puncture eight minutes in but made the most of the late season event.

“For the end of the season, I was like ‘oh this is kind of zen, just riding in the woods by myself,’” Pendrel said. “But then when you actually catch people that starts getting harder because then you need to go out of your own rhythm for a bit. I did what I could with the day. The Canadian rider finished 7th.

In this stacked field of women racers, many of whom had trotted the globe from Israel to Japan before this event, it wasn’t just Epic series champion Gomez Villafane smiling and laughing at the finish of the Oz Trails Off-Road.

“I would say there’s that end of season vibe, especially for those of us that have been on the road for a while,” said Huck. We’re just here to have fun. So Catherine had that mentality, I know Kate and Chloe had that mentality, I had it, too, of ‘Let’s just have some fun out there.’”

Oz Trails Backcountry Race, Pro Women

  1. Sofia Gomze Villafane, Stans Pivot-Maxxis, 3:51:18
  2. Rose Grant, Stans Pivot-Maxxis, 3:51:19
  3. Kate Courtney, Scott-SRAM, 3:51:19
  4. Crystal Anthony, Liv Racing, 3:51:20
  5. Hannah Finchamp, Clif Pro Team, 3:51:37
  6. Erin Huck, CZRacing, 3:57:52
  7. Catharine Pendrel, Clif Pro Team, 3:59:06
  8. Evelyn Dong, Pivot-Stan’s, 4:01:45
  9. Kaysee Armstrong, Liv Cycling, 4:04:31
  10. Jenn Jackson, AWI-Norco, 4:05:54