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Epic Rides: Frischknecht wins Oz Trails Off-road

Andri Frischknecht, son of mountain bike legend Thomas Frischknecht, won Sunday's Oz Trails Off-road round of the Epic Rides series in Bentonville, Arkansas.

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It was a weekend of firsts for Swiss rider Andri Frischknecht at this weekend’s Oz Trails Off-Road round of the Epic Rides series, held in Bentonville, Arkansas.

It was his first time lining up for an Epic Rides Off-Road Series race, first time in Arkansas, and a first step on the podium. None of the newness deterred Frischknecht—son of mountain bike legend Thomas Frischknecht—from racing aggressively. In fact, he attacked from the gun to win.

“I enjoyed the riding on these trails,” Frischknecht said. “It’s not like marathon in Switzerland where you have a lot of gravel roads. It’s mostly trail riding and that’s what I like. These trails, they’re not going to surprise you. You can ride the trail if you’ve never done it before.”

For the first half of the race, Frischknecht stayed on the wheel of last year’s Oz Trails winner Keegan Swenson (Stan’s-Pivot), but when Swenson suffered a flat on the technical section of Oz Trails called “The Ledges,” Frischknecht made his move.

“I knew I had to be in the front so if someone does make a mistake I’m able to react and that’s exactly what I did,” he said. “I tried to push hard in the technical sections so that’s what I did so I made it up there. I was alone after that and I just kept pushing and I made it to the finish.”

The course included plenty of rocks and roots. Photo: Brenda Ernst

Frischknecht crossed the line almost two minutes ahead of Swenson who said he “was able to put my head down and go deep to try and catch these guys right before we got onto singletrack again.” Frischknecht’s efforts paid handsomely: Sunday’s race paid him $10,000 in prize cash to the winner.

The course is known for its dearth of passing opportunities and abundance of singletrack.

“It’s a lot different than the other Epic rides,” said Russell Finsterwald (CLIF Pro Team). “It’s fun, it’s more like a race of attrition out there where there’s a group of 15 and slowly guys hop off so it’s kinda using your matches in the right spot. There’s not a lot of places to pass and not a lot of separation so you’re just kinda waiting for the elastic to snap and that’s how you create the separation.”

Finsterwald finished 4th, one second behind CLIF Pro teammate Ben Sonntag, and one step up from his fifth place podium at last year’s event. The fourth-place finish was good enough to win the overall Epic Rides series for Finsterwald.

Payson McElveen (Orange Seal-TREK), another veteran of the Oz Trails Off-Road, reflected that the better course conditions this year didn’t necessarily guarantee a better result.

“Last year I had some of the best legs of my career but zero luck. I did the last 45 minutes on a rim, it was kinda a nightmare,” he told us. “This year, I punctured in the first couple miles but it gradually sealed so I had good luck, but I just had really flat legs. Honestly, I had a frustrating day. This was the sort of course that really suits me, and I had pretty good form coming in just didn’t have the legs on the day. I kept my head in the game and ended up with a decent enough result.” McElveen finished 6th (his dad, Mike McElveen, nabbed a “better result than me!” with a 5th place finish in the Men’s master category at Saturday’s amateur race).

Peter Disera (Norco Factory Team) who won Friday’s fat tire crit race, also spent much of Sunday trying to make up for bad luck.

“I spent more or less three quarters of the race in 20th,” he said. “A few flats helped me gain a few spots, a few passes. I started slowly picking people off. I probably picked half dozen people off throughout the race, and in The Ledges I got another half dozen and then all of a sudden I was in contention. And then it took me another 20 minutes until we got to the golf course section to reel in Russ and Ben. And then when I caught them I was feeling really good, and I was like ‘let’s dig back Finsty, we can do this.’”

The final race of the 2019 Epic Rides series paid handsomely. Photo: Brenda Ernst

Disera felt good until the end, which comes in the form of an abrupt climb up a downhill flow trail, and finished the day in 5th.

Many of the riders reflected on the challenge of such a tough course at the end of a full season of racing; however, the Bentonville course and community, as well as the caliber of the Epic Rides race series, are a strong pull.

“It’s really cool to have a quintessential series in North America again,” said McElveen. “One that rewards the pro riders for hard work financially is really nice and also just a really healthy ecosystem with the strong amateur contingent and the expo – it really has all facets that are important to have at these series.”

Oz Trails Backcountry Race, Pro Men

  1. Andri Frischkncecht, Scott-SRAM, 3:14:59
  2. Keegan Swenson, Stans Pivot/Maxxis, 3:16:17
  3. Ben Sonntag, Clif Pro Team, 3:16:18
  4. Russell Finsterwald, Clif Pro Team, 3:16:19
  5. Peter Disera, Norco Factory Team, 3:16:33
  6. Payson McElveen, Orange Seal, 3:20:32
  7. Georwill Perez Roman, Trek Puerto Rico, 3:21:37
  8. Geoff Kabush, Yetti-Maxxis, 3:22:29
  9. Quinton Disera, Norco Factory, 3:22:42
  10. Kyle Trudeau, CZracing, 3:23:31