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Gravel

Preview: Rebecca’s Private Idaho

Deep pro fields, fun and varied courses, and a good cause highlight RPI's 10th year anniversary.

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The Rebecca’s Private Idaho gravel event kicks off on Thursday in Idaho’s Sawtooth range, and this year the race has plenty to celebrate.

RPI turns 10 this year, and years of experience have made it a not-to-miss event on the gravel calendar. From the festival-like atmosphere to the myriad race distances to the stunning Sun Valley scenery, RPI blends bikes with late-summer celebration.

(Photo: Wyatt Caldwell)

1,800 riders are set to descend on the Sun Valley/Ketchum area, which has long been event founder Rebecca Rusch‘s backyard. When she founded the event in 2012 Rusch said that she wanted “everyone to feel like a local.”

“You’re my guest, and you’re invited here,” Rusch told VeloNews in 2020.

In addition to the three-stage Queen’s Stage Race, riders can choose between three single-day route options ranging from 20 to 102 miles. In 2021, the race debuted non-binary and para categories across all race distances.

The course

The marquee event at RPI is the three-stage Queen’s Stage Race. Each day of racing is decidedly different from the others, which gives riders from all backgrounds a chance for the overall title.

Of note: the same bike must be used on all stages. Wheel/tire changes are allowed.

Rusch calls stage 1 the “Galena & Harriman Trail Adventure day,” but let’s not be glib: riders call it the mountain bike stage.

Stats alone belie the nature of the stage: at 43.3 miles and 3,711 feet of climbing, it doesn’t sound like much to write home about. However, at 40 percent singletrack, day one is for the mountain bikers (although, what gravel race isn’t at this point?).

Rebecca's Private Idaho
(Photo: Adventure Scout Media)

The first 15 miles of stage 1 take riders on a MTB flow-fest through bermy turns, while also keeping them on alert with an occasional rock garden, tight trees, and chunder. They then transition to the Harriman Trail, a non-motorized gravel path that is less technical but no less challenging.

The stage has an uphill finish.

Each stage of RPI is so different it’s hard to pick favorites. However, riders say that stage 2’s uphill dirt time trial is a strong contender.

After a neutral 20-mile rollout (!), riders line up for the ITT in order of arrival. A staggered start of 30 seconds sends riders uphill on the only timed segment of the day — a 4.5 mile uphill TT.

A neutral ride back to town is not timed but is required.

A “rest day” falls on Saturday, between stages 2 and 3. Rusch will lead a casual ride that day, or riders can indulge in some of Sun Valley’s endless options for recreating. However, with the queen’s stage of the Queen’s Stage following on Sunday, most riders try and take it easy.

Sunday’s final stage is one for the endurance junkies: the ‘Baked Potato’ course is 102 miles with 5,295 feet of climbing. Ninety percent of the route is on gravel roads. Stage race riders will join hundreds of others — with fresh legs — who are racing the century by itself. Highlights of the stage include the monster Trail Creek Summit climb, riding through the mountain-fringed Copper Basin, and the 2,000-foot descent back to the finisher party.

The riders

Last year, Pete Stetina and Rose Grant won the overall titles after three days of racing. Kaysee Armstrong is the only rider to have doubled up on overall wins at RPI; however, the MTB pro from Tennessee is sidelined by injury right now.

Neither Stetina nor Grant are on the 2022 start list.

This year’s start list is deep across the men’s and women’s fields, and it will be interesting to see who is benefitting from racing every week versus those who have rested in between RPI and say, SBT GRVL and Gravel Worlds.

(Photo: Wyatt Caldwell)

Many of the women to watch are RPI first-timers, which will makes things interesting. These include Emma Grant, who just placed second at the infamously difficult Wasatch All-Road; Whitney Allison, who’s been resting up since her second place at SBT GRVL; and Canadian mountain biker Haley Smith, who is storming the Life Time Grand Prix series.

However, with experience the best teacher, RPI veterans and Bend, Oregon locals Sarah Max and Serena Bishop Gordon come in as strong favorites.

In the para category, Meg Fisher is the reigning champion and a three-time Queen’s Stage Race finisher.

The men’s field is flush with riders from a diverse racing background and also contains a nice mix of RPI vets/newbies.

Payson McElveen and Andrew L’Esperance stand out as two mountain biker favorites — McElveen is even riding his full squish Allied BC40 (with different wheels and tires set-ups for each stage) at RPI.

Griffin Easter, who won the Baked Potato stage last year, and John Borstelmann, who placed third overall in the Queen’s Stage race will both be back for the full three days this year, in flying form, no less.

Adam Roberge and Brennan Wertz are also riders to watch, as are neo gravel pros Innokenty Zavyalov, and ABUS’ Marc and Nathan Spratt.

The cause

RPI is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the Be Good Foundation, an organization Rusch founded to channel funds toward people and organizations using bicycles as an agent of social and environmental change.

In 2021, the organization provided $176,146 to 26 separate entities working on a wide range of issues, from increasing the availability of bicycles in Africa to advocating for the protection and restoration of public lands globally.

There are various ways riders can contribute to the Be Good cause all weekend, including an auction with cool prizes, the Be Good Foundation Party on Friday evening, and the Sierra Nevada Be Good Happy Hour on Saturday afternoon.

(Photo: Wyatt Caldwell)

Ted King is also lending a hand in the efforts. Similar to his fundraising stunt at The Last Best Ride two weeks ago, King will start the Baked Potato ride (stage 3) 10 minutes after the mass start. Apparel-maker Velocio — both King and Rusch are sponsored athletes — will donate $1 for every person he passes.

The brand will also provide a 30-percent discount coupon to anyone who donates to King’s fundraising page, as well as six coupons, each good for a $500 Velocio shopping spree, to the top three fundraisers, as well as three chosen randomly.