By Brice Minnigh
Photos by Shawn McHugh
It was a record-setting weekend for the ninth-annual Whiskey Off-Road races in Prescott, Arizona, where several of the pro men shattered previous best times in a hard-fought battle for the lion's share of a $30,000 prize purse.
Canadian Olympic hopeful Geoff Kabush, riding for new team Scott-3 Rox Racing, decisively won the men's 50-mile Endurance XC race in a record time of just less than 2 hours and 55 minutes. His victory continues a winning streak that started over a week ago, when Kabush won the men's pro cross-country race at the Sea Otter Classic in Monterey, California. He also started the Whiskey Off-Road events with a win in the grueling Fat Tire Crit to qualify first for the crowning endurance XC event.
Crossing the finish line just over a minute later were Germany's Markus Bauer and Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski of Boulder, Colorado, who rode neck and neck with Kabush over much of the 50-mile course.
Five other pro men finished in less than three hours, marking the first time in the 50-mile race's history that any athlete has completed the hilly course in less than three hours. The other sub-three-hour finishers were Alex Grant, Hector Fernando Riveros, Barry Wicks, Carl Decker and Mitch Hoke.
In the pro women's 50-mile race, Monique 'Pua' Mata came from behind to beat Georgia Gould after the Fort Collins, Colorado-based Luna Chix rider flatted on the race's final stretch of rocky singletrack. Mata, of Yucaipa, California, had been held back on parts of the taxing 16-mile fireroad climb by issues with her chain. Mata's victory marks her second straight win of the women's pro 50-mile race.
Taking the third, fourth and fifth spots on the women's podium were Kelli Emmett, Allison Mann and Teal Stetson-Lee.
The $30,000 overall prize purse was split evenly between the men's and women's 50-mile winners, with Kabush and Mata each taking $5,000.
For the Whiskey Off-Road's increasingly popular amateur races--which feature 15-mile, 25-mile and 50-mile events--there were a record 1,750 riders registered. Though a road climb at the start and the exhausting fireroad climb in the middle of the 50-mile race helped to break up the crowd, there were still bottlenecks on several parts of the singletrack, as participants who were new to mountain biking rode slowly or walked the technical climbs and rocky descents.
Despite this logistical hiccup--which proved frustrating to some mountain bikers who were hard-pressed to pass novice riders on the narrow stretches of singletrack--the spirits of most competitors remained high and racers of all stripes were patient and understanding of each other.
The race organizer said there are plans to re-route the first singletrack climb for the 2013 races to help spread out the field and avoid bottlenecks on the trail.