PRESCOTT — With last year’s champion electing not to compete in 2018 and its runner-up riding the 30 Proof instead, Brian Gordon, 28, of Santa Cruz, California, took advantage, winning the Whiskey Off-Road 50 Proof (Mile) Amateur Mountain Bike Race in 3 hours, 16 minutes and 33 seconds Saturday.
On a pleasant, sunny spring day with temperatures in the 70s and a light wind blowing, Gordon outraced runner-up Adam Wadsworth, 35, of Mesa by less than a minute (3:17:16) without defending champion Jason Tullous of Tucson in the mix. The revamped course began downtown on Whiskey Row and eventually traversed several hilly climbs on the Prescott National Forest, the most brutal in Skull Valley, before returning to Montezuma Street.
“I’ve wanted to come to it [Whiskey] for like five years now,” said Gordon, a competitive racer for the past seven years who works as a project manager for Specialized Racing’s cross-country mountain bike division, a Whiskey Off-Road sponsor. “So, it was a cool work trip.”
This year, riders had the option of bypassing so-called “Cramp Hill,” the steep ascent out of Skull Valley. Nevertheless, the Whiskey 50 remained difficult, said Wadsworth, who races 10 to 15 times per year, although he hadn’t raced the 50 until Saturday. Riders were still cramping.
“You little twerp!” Wadsworth, an accountant, said jokingly to Gordon after crossing the finish line. “You blew me apart on the climb.”
Gordon said he, Wadsworth and another cyclist rode down Skull Valley together, and climbed back out with a favorable wind.
“I was basically falling apart that whole time,” Gordon added. “Once we got to the feed zone, there was a big gap. I was in fourth. I suffered it out up the climb, put it in my power zones and held it. Once we started going on the downhills, I started feeling a little bit better.”
Wadsworth said the opening climb was long and that it “naturally separated the field.”
“We had a group of probably 10 climbers,” he added. “By the time we got to the bottom of the Jeep road, there was about five of us. And we stayed all the way together until the second half coming up Skull Valley, where it really pitches up, and then it just blew apart. It was a great race all the way through, a race of attrition.”
Among a field of 326 riders, Jared Becker, 31, snared third place in 3:18:28, followed closely by Eric Chizum, 38, of Hailey, Idaho, in fourth (3:18:29). A pair of Prescott riders finished fifth and sixth, respectively, including Trevor Olson, 44, in 3:18:46 and Junior Male division rider Grayson Hughes, 18, in 3:19:48.
Olson, a plumber, said he enjoys the Whiskey 50. However, he wasn’t completely thrilled with the new course because “we have much better single-track to offer here.”
“That ride to Skull Valley and back — it really isn’t a mountain bike trail,” Olson added. “It’s a road, and it feels like we should be on more of the local trails for a better flavor of what’s here.”
The 5-foot-11, 135-pound Hughes, in his first year racing the Whiskey 50 after competing for the past two years in the Whiskey 30, took the lead on the big descent to begin the race until a group of four rode down into Skull Valley.
“We got to about mile 8 of the climb, and that’s where it gets really steep,” said Hughes, who’s raced for the past 4-1/2 years and eventually wants to race professionally. “All three of the guys that I was with attacked, and so I just went with them. It hurt all the way up to Sierra Prieta. And, from there, everybody was hurting so bad you just had to keep it together to go down the descent and stick with people toward the finish.”
Travis Waldron of Mesa, 43, who claimed sixth place in 2017 and third in 2016 despite suffering flat tires both times, had a lead in Saturday’s race until he endured a mechanical problem halfway down the Skull Valley descent.
“He would’ve probably won if he didn’t mechanical,” Gordon said.
Added Wadsworth, “He was the favorite, for sure. He had a minute gap on me when I had a minute gap on him. He was riding away, and he had a mechanical.”
The 2018 Whiskey 50 course is slightly shorter than last year’s, which translated into about a half an hour shaved off the total time needed to complete it. Many cyclists still seemed to enjoy it, though.
“Honestly, you couldn’t ask for better conditions — the temperature, the crowds, the sponsors, the spectators,” Wadsworth said. “This race is just getting bigger and bigger, and it’s so special.”
Doug Cook is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier. Follow him on Twitter at @dougout_dc. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 928-445-3333, ext. 2039.