BENTONVILLE, Arkansas (VN) — Riding on a borrowed wheel and a prayer, Erin Huck (Construction Zone) chased down two-time world champion Catharine Pendrel to win the Oz Trails Off-Road Sunday in Bentonville, Arkansas. Pendrel’s Clif Bar teammate Katerina Nash was third in the final race of the Epic Rides Series.
Late in the 50-mile race, after stopping three times due to punctures, Huck found herself stopped trailside with friend and “unofficial” teammate Chloe Woodruff (Stan’s-Pivot). Woodruff gave Huck her wheel and a chance to challenge Pendrel for the $10,000 prize on offer to the winner in what was arguably the richest mountain bike race in American history.
“That was awesome, I almost started crying,” Huck said of Woodruff’s unexpected aid.
When the flat tires started, Huck already looked to be well on her way to victory, off the front of an early group of about seven riders after two hours of racing.
As was the case in the men’s race, the sharp flint rocks on the Back 40 trail caused chaos. By the second aid station, 30 miles in, the chase group behind Huck was down to just Pendrel, fellow Canadian Jenn Jackson (AWI Racing), and Sofia Gomez-Villafane (Stan’s-Pivot).
They passed Huck fixing a flat on the side of the trail, and eventually Pendrel was alone after Jackson and Gomez-Villafane also flatted.
Having seen the prevalence of punctures in the amateur race on Saturday, Pendrel took a conservative approach both in her tire pressure choice and riding style.
“I think I settled in too much, too steady, and I needed to pick it up a little bit, but at the same time I kept air in my tires,” said Pendrel. “It’s really that toss-up.”
She seemed to be in the clear, heading into the final few miles alone.
However, Huck was charging hard from behind, riding a borrowed wheel. Woodruff didn’t think she had the form to win, so she gave her wheel away.
“Erin [Huck] had a pretty good gap on us she was on fire, and I had a front flat she had a rear flat. We could have both sat there and thrown tubes in and neither of us would have been in contention for the win,” said Woodruff.
Although Epic Rides Series rules prohibit outside aid beyond hydration and nutrition, riders are allowed to provide technical assistance to each other within the race.
Pendrel couldn’t respond when Huck caught her in the very end of the rainy race and ended up second, just seven seconds behind.
The race for the overall series title was similarly dramatic. Evelyn Dong (Spry-Stan’s No Tubes) started the race with a healthy lead of almost 15 minutes on Crystal Anthony (Liv).
Anthony came home fifth after a smooth race — no flats, only one crash. “That’s definitely my type of course,” she said, comparing it to the riding in New England, where she is from.
She wasn’t racing with the overall in mind, though.
“I didn’t know,” said Anthony. “I just wanted to give it everything and rode my own race.”
After two flats, Dong was on the back foot, well behind Anthony.
“I was trying not to [think about the overall],” Dong said. “I had a dud CO2. One of the ladies in the back, she gave me a pump, which was great. The pump, you know it’s great, it’s reliable, it just takes time.”
She had resigned herself to losing the overall title but pushed hard to the end.
“I had no idea. I thought I was going for third honestly,” Dong added. “I gave it everything, but I thought third is probably the best I can ask for.”
Her efforts paid off and Dong finished ninth, 7:34 behind Anthony to clinch the title. Orange Seal’s Amy Beisel ended the series in third behind Anthony.