© 2021 State Bicycle Co..
Words and Images by Addison Zawada
If you only want to hear of the racing skip to paragraph 9 (but you'll miss the fun). This will be long but worth the read, buckle up, hold on tight, we are going for a wild ride!
As I hit the smooth pavement again I spot Allison Tetrick from a far, I'm gaining ground and speed at a rate in which I'll sound approach the sound barrier. As I scream past her wheel I realize a very important fact as I can sense the finish line fast approaching, I'm on a single speed and the road is soon to flatten out. All of my speed gained from four miles of -6% grade would be soon wiped away by the nearly flat 8mile section of road that lay ahead.
As I wind down from my morning workouts a familiar face enters the room. I am currently inside of Red Bull North America HQ at the amazing Red Bull athlete only, state of the art gym. A gym that would rival that of the top Olympic training center's from around the world. This familiar face is one I have seen many times but not in the flesh. Rebecca Rusch is now standing in the same room as me and something about her just invigorates the air. She has an electric energy about her that just makes you want to do more with your life. We began talking about various things such as her new movie, “Blood Road” and various other cycling related things. Then she begins to inform me of a race she has held for many years but that this year will hold a new twist.
As I arrive in Phoenix after many hours I travel I am greeted by the Co-owner of State Bicycle Co. Himself, Mehdi Farsi. It truly says something of a company when the owner of a company takes time from his busy day to pick one up at the airport, one of the many reasons I stay loyal and truly believe in this brand. As we drive towards town we talk about many things, the most important being what the next week will hold for myself and my three Adventure Exploration Squad members, after all, we will be road tripping nearly 1,000 miles to race against the top gravel cyclist in the world.
The road trip begins later that night with Cody and Melissa Goodman rolling driver and co-driver while Alex Steadman and myself pile in the back, along with seven bikes, five suitcases, and enough gear to sink the titanic. We are piled into Cody's 94 Dodge B350 15 passenger van which has been converted to the ultimate road trip machine. The three rear rows of seats have been ripped out and replaced with a bed and ample floor space for our four SSCX machines. On the roof another three of the SBC Pulsar SSMTB's, a two-stroke generator, and enough locks to contain Hobbs aka Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. So now let's get to the good stuff, the racing.
After nearly three days on the road, over 900 miles, and plenty of good times, we have arrived in Ketchum, Idaho, the birth-place of Rebecca's Private Idaho, a 93 mile, 6,500 ft of elevation gain, and two peaks well over 8,000ft above sea-level. It's time to race and for a surprise turn of events Rebecca herself has invited not just myself but the entire gang of us to take part in this years trial run of the, first in North America, gravel stage race dubbed the “Queen's Stage Race”.
The first stage is simple and calm, 41 miles of a mixture of gravel, hike-a-bikes, and fresh cut single track, piece of cake! Not so fast cowboy, Ted King is standing next to you and accompanied by this year's Queen of Kanza, Allison Tetrick. Boom the gun goes off and we sprint towards the woods. Withing three minutes we are in the rough and riders are flailing already. Rough terrain leads many riders to an early hike-a-bike and immediate split in the field. Ted is already out front followed by three riders then myself. The pace holds high for as the gradient begins to steepen. I hold on for dear life but the pace is too high causing my legs to spin rapidly. My cadence is too high nearing 140 RPM's. I have a commanding gap on the rest of the field, sitting sixth overall and I decide to back off and save myself. The trails get good, fast, and wide open. The single tracks upgrade to nearly 20%, only for short burst, but they prove to be too much for my SS gearing. I have to hike-a-bike a few sections and it causes me to loose sometime. It's ok, I still haven't seen another rider in over an hour. Coming down the single track I pick up speed and carry it long into the back side of the course. Suddenly looking back as a rider comes speeding past followed by a group of 3. I jump hard and hold on for dear life. The finish line approaches and I'm spinning with everything have. With one last sprint and a nearing 180 RPM cadence, I two tire-slide the final corner taking one straight from the Tokyo Drift hand book and pass the group of riders on the outside. Boom, stage one is done and I secured a 5th place overall on the day. The stage is set for a long week of fast racing and battling with the top gravel racers in the world, all while aboard my humble SS CX machine.
Day two is set to be shorter and more difficult than the previous. An easy, cruisy, group ride for 20 miles out to the start of the stage. The timed stage is a 4.5 mile, 6% gradient, up hill time trial, my specialty. The group ride out was a leisurely 16ish mph but a steady climb all the way to the base of the stage. It was a good time to check out the competition as well as just make friends in general. Lot's of people were blown away that my team and I were all on SS bikes and about to take on this gruelling stage. A simple explanation of you don't need more than one gear to go up a hill fast surficed for most people, though they still believed it was a bit sadistic. And they are probably correct considering I would spend an est. 3.9 miles of the 4.4 mile course standing up because my gear was too heavy to sit down. Im following behind Chris whom placed in the top four yesterday so I knew I needed to hold tight on to his wheel if I were to maintain position in the overall standings. I went out too fast, shoot! By the time the first mile rolled by I was blown up more that a roll of fire crackers on the 4th of July, in Texas. Mile 2, time to try and recover. It doesn't work. I'm unable to control my breath as the gradient pitches steeper and steeper. By mile 3 I choose to just ignore the pain in hopes it would go away but it does no such thing. Mile 4, my head is pounding out of my head and my legs feel like they have been set a-flame. With just .4 miles to go my legs begin to give up, that is when I notice a rider coming up behind be like a freight train with no brakes. Closer and closer he gets. I can't let him pass me, I won't! The finish line appears as I nearly throw-up and my eyes begin to roll in the back of my head. It's over, I'm spent. We begin the long limp home. Hot spring 100 meters, the most welcomed sign I have seen in years. A quick timid stop at the hot springs turns into a 30 minute soak alternating from the HOT hot springs to the icy glacier water that flowed on the opposite sides of the rocks we planted our sore butts on. Soon joined by my teammates, Cody and Alex as well as my Red Bull comrade, back country extreme skier, Michelle Parker. We rejoice in the springs until we turned to prunes, or ice cubes, Im not sure what happened first.
Stage two was followed up with a VIP party in which there were booze, babes, dudes, dogs, bidding wars, and the opportunity to catch the true inspiration and compassion of Rebecca Rusch. The night is long and many new faces showed light as the night rolled by, after all, tomorrow was the big day. The invite only stage race was now combining with the 5th year running Private Idaho event. Nearly 900 riders would show up between now and 7:00am the following morning.
The Big Potato,nIt's near freezing outside, well almost. The temperature reads just above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Im currently in arm warmers, knee warmers, and a thermal vest. I know I will have to ditch the majority of these clothes before starting the ride as the temperature is predicted to hit the low 90's today. Call ups commence and I am in the lucky group that get's to start in the front row, along side me are stars such as Ted and Allison as mentioned previously, as well as Jay Petervary, Chris Ganter, Lura Spencer, and Kathryn Curi. Stacked field needless to say. Again linign up on my trusty, dusty State Bicycle Thunderbird SSCX bike. I bumped up the ration today from a 44/20 to a 44/19 for a little more top end speed as I knew there was only one major climb in the ride. The unfortunate side for me was the big climb was a no joke climb and started right away. The race started essentially at the base of a mountain and went straight up it. We climbed 2,000 vertical ft in the first 10 miles and 70 percent of that was in the final 4 of said miles. It was steep and my legs were tired. It took everything I had to make it to the top of that climb without loosing too much time on the leaders, after all, Im fighting for overall position in the stage race. Cresting the hill I stuck my head down and tried to regain as much energy as possible. No luck as a group screams by with nothing but a, “big group coming in, hop on.” I sprinted with everything I had to latch on to that group. Spinning at 170ish RPMs is not anything unusual for me, not even that hard, that is, until I try to maintain it for 10 miles of constant downhill. I hold on racing downhill avg about 30mph. This goes on for a few miles until it rolls to a flat. That took a lot out of me and I'm honestly not sure how much I have left. We are just shy of 30 miles in and I'm roasted already. I continue with this group as far as I can even taking some heavy pulls on the up hills. I can maintain 16/17mph all day on the this bike weather it's uphill or flat but the downhills and high cadence hurt very quickly. Mile 45 rolls around and we begin the lollypop end of the course. The terrain begins to roll up and down while simultaneously getting rougher and rockier. The views are unimaginable but it is hard to take it all in while fighting to hold onto the geared riders. I decide to fall off and finally let the group go and to begin to race my own race. I know I will go back up that 10 miles of downhill eventually and I will likely be faster than these riders there. I ride consistent and steady for the remainder of the lollypop. As we double back on to the stick of the lolly there is an aid station which I had passed up earlier. Now was the time to restock. I am nearly out of food and water with a little less than half of the race to go. It's a quick stop grabbing a few GU's and a fill of my Camelbak. With a high-five and “howdy-ho” from the one and only Queen herself, I was off. It's flat for a few miles which is not preferable to my gearing but not a huge deficit either. Riders pass, I pass riders, it's a constant yo-yo effect due to my speedy uphills and mediocre flat terrain speeds. These legs begin to show fatigue but I keep myself calm and attempt not to panic. As much fun as this ride is, it still has a start and finish line which all means it is in fact, a race. And I'm not one to take competition lightly. I know I need to just make it to the top of the climb and it will be all better. The Wiings team are patiently waiting with cold Red Bull in hand, plus it's all down hill after that. With one final steep pitch and a bit of self motivation I crest the hill. Snag some wings in passing and begin my pursuit to catch and pass as many riders as physically possible on the downhill. I commit completely, zero brakes are touched between the top of the hill and where it begins to flatten out. Even one foot out, old-skool, flat track style turn was had. It wasn't safe, it was extremely pretty, and exceptionally scary, but I was committed. I roll on to the asphalt and begin to pick up more speed. I can finally sit on my top tube to achieve ultimate aero position, the Peter Sagan “super tuck”. 30Mph goes by, 35, 40mph goes by as I reach my highest speed of the day at 41.5mph. All this while sitting upon a 1 1/2” diameter piece of metal and wearing little more than my weekend birthday suit. There she is, Allison Tetrick. Im gaining ground and fast. I race past just as it rolls into a flat. I begin to slow as her and a comrade pass back. I tuck onto the pair of them and hold on as long as possible. She is absolutely ripping the pace keeping it near 30mph or more. I fall off with 2 miles to go and try to maintain as much speed as possible. I see the line, give it one last 200rpm sprint and coast gently through the finish line with a sigh of relief. The day is done and the race weekend has come to a close. 4Hrs and 59minutes, 90.4 miles at an avg of 18.2mph. We crested over an 8,000ft pass twice and I learned a new meaning to the term “spin to win”.
This event is recommended. I have raced all of the world with thousands of different people. No where in the world have I felt more at home than in Ketchum, Idaho. The city feels alive, the people feel warm, the scenery is mind boggling, and the race is legendary. Ill spare you the details for the road trip home because I know I've wasted enough of your time. Im glad I got to experience this event and it will be on my schedule for many years to come.