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Groad Trip: Living the gravel (stage race) lifestyle at RPI

Singletrack, gravel roads, an uphill gravel TT (oh yeah!), hot springs, and an inclusive atmosphere? I was all in on Rebecca's Private Idaho.

For some time now, The Queen’s Stage Race, the crown jewel of Rebecca’s Private Idaho, has been on my bucket list. I’d heard from many that Ketchum, Idaho, boasts some spectacular mountains, trails, and is a fun town. I’ve said before that gravel plus stage racing is something I am very excited for and upon perusing the schedule I realized I couldn’t miss this lifestyle event.

The race is three stages over four days, providing a variety of racing and terrain and sufficient time to explore and enjoy Sun Valley. Alternately, participants may choose to join for a single day event with four distances to choose from. Inclusion is at the core of the event, with para-cyclist and trans/non-binary categories added this year. Stoke was high at awards for both over the week and it was so enjoyable to see fellow bike racers who’ve maybe never felt like they have a space in the traditional racing template to finally get the attention and accolades all their hard work deserves!

Me, women’s winner Rose Grant, paracyclist Dr Meg Fisher, and non-binary winner Apollo Leonard. (Photo: Linda Guerrette)

Stage 1: MTB me

It was a cross-country mountain bike race, no joke. We rallied along trails that are surely faster on a dual-suspension MTB, but given the rule that one must race all week on the same frame, everyone fit the biggest tires they could source in their gravel bikes and set off. The overall feeling was that we got away with something we shouldn’t have. It was fun to “underbike” these trails, pushing our bikes to the limits of what they were built for.

Personally I wanted to make a mark. Much like stage 1 of Oregon Trail, some riders think my roadie background means I’m a poor bike handler, and they view that as the place to put me on the back foot. So I like to take that as an auxiliary challenge and try to keep up with the dirt specialists.

The course was a hoot; with small jumps, berms, some rock gardens and serpentine singletrack. Local legend and two-time QRS winner Josh Berry was ripping the first half along with Giant teammate Tristan Uhl. They exited the toughest part of the course with 30 seconds on me and another 10 seconds to Colin Strickland.

The second half of the course was more straightforward and power based. I made a big effort to get to Josh before Colin could get to me and try and get some daylight between us. Josh and I pulled away and eventually I was able to gap him on the final climb back to the start for the stage win.

On the women’s side, Rose Grant made a statement on the MTB friendly course over my NorCal homie Moriah Wilson and a strong contingent of Liv MTB ladies.

Stage 2: Uphill TT & hot springs

This is *during* the stage, mind you. Just not the timed part.

This is the stage I was giddy for. The only uphill time trial in all of gravel — that I know of. Considering climbing has always been my bread and butter, I’d had this one dog-eared all season long. This is perhaps the most enjoyable day for all though, as all riders leisurely roll out for 20 miles and the communal vibe is at its peak. Upon reaching the final (and steepest) 4.5 miles, I shed layers, bottles, and saddle bag. I put in a solid 20-minute test at 9,000ft to nab the win and the course record. Moriah flew up the mountain, beating most of the pro men as well! That ride reversed the results over Rose from the day before, tying them on points, and setting up a final battle on the last day, winner take all.

On the descent we rolled by some hot springs literally on the side of the road. I’d say at least a third of the entire field ended up stashing bikes in bushes, stripping down to just cycling shorts and sports bras to have a communal soak and impromptu pool party before riding the final 10 miles to town.

Stage 2B: Good times in Sun Valley

The Be Good Foundation dinner party was that evening. The music was bumping, the donations were rolling in, and the food from Chef Biju was top notch. Given the next day was actually a rest day, I enjoyed myself perhaps a bit too much. I’m not sorry though; the conversations and festive atmosphere were just too good. Big Tall Wayne and myself ended closing down the place. Saturday morning was a bit rough but no matter; an easy spin with a local junior ripper as our tour guide and watching the downtown parade, Wagon Days, was on the agenda and we came back around just fine.

Stage 3: The Big Potato

(Photo: Linda Guerrette)

This race’s GC is decided by points, not by time. And some calculations had me realizing that I needed to stay within four placings of Colin Strickland to seal the overall. This is made more complicated by the fact that this day is also a prestigious one-day event, with a slew of fresh-legged pros coming in. Instead of a simple time-gap calculation, there were infinite possibilities of riders slotting between us even if they weren’t in the stage race and taking away my point buffer. If I had a mechanical, it wouldn’t be about limiting time lost, it would be about actually catching and passing riders.

A local rider took off fast and I could sense by his pedaling style he was very strong and had no intention of slowing down. I felt the best defense was offense and bridged up to him. I started to worry I was burning valuable energy, but given our pace I knew they had to be working pretty hard behind to come back to us. We collaborated and stayed two minutes ahead of the favorites for 60 miles.

We’d all agreed to grab water at the aid station at mile 60 and our gap was small enough that they arrived before I’d finished filling and the race was reset. It was an 8-man group with five of us in stage race contention. In the roughest section of the whole course the race exploded. By the time we exited with only one climb remaining, Griffin Easter was 25 seconds ahead of me and I was 10 seconds ahead of Colin.

I finally had some relief, knowing there weren’t enough places between us to lose the overall. Griffin wasn’t part of the stage race and he was flying. Given he’d just dropped me, I didn’t fancy my chances of getting back to him solo so I elected to wait a few seconds for Colin and hope we could team time trial to chase him back.

In the end he was just too strong though. Colin and I came to the line together and he beat me in the sprint — not a surprise there! Third on the day and sealed the overall GC, not too shabby. Colin ended up second with John Borstelmann, fresh off his Gravel Worlds win, in third.

Rose ended up besting Moriah to clinch the ladies title, with Serena Bishop-Gordon narrowly clinching the final podium spot over Lauren Cantwell.

Paydirt postponement

I now find myself with an unexpected breather before gearing up for Belgian Waffle Ride Cedar City. My personal event, Stetina’s Paydirt, was scheduled for this week but the disastrous Caldor Fire is still threatening parts of the route, the air is thick with smoke and our venue space in Carson City is serving as a large animal evacuation shelter. There was simply no way to move forward, and we elected to pull the pin two weeks early; we didn’t want to ask these stressed communities to attempt to host us when they need to focus on recovery.

By postponing preemptively we were able to save some costs and roll ALL registered riders over to our new springtime date of May 21, 2022. Fall races in the west coast are just too risky now, with climate change making fires or smoke too probable. I’d rather risk clearing a bit of snow on the highest parts of the trail. At two weeks before Unbound Gravel and under 100 miles, we’re a perfect final sharpening stone for those hoping for Unbound success while still keeping our own prestige with the women’s prize purse and alternative time bonus games. Registration is still open so if May 21 in the Sierra Nevada foothills fancies you, make some plans to join us!