Last December Paul convinced us to return to Rebecca’s Private Idaho: Queen’s Stage Race. It was our first big gravel race in 2021, and we learned a ton. The hope was that we could apply some of what we learned to do better this year!
While we both fully recovered from COVID, thankfully, we had lost out on a LOT of training in July. That left us just 4 weeks to really train (which was not enough time). So we headed out to Idaho as better racers, but less fit than in 2021, to see what would happen.
We got into town on Wednesday and headed straight up to the start of Stage 1 to preview the beginning of the course, slightly changed from last year, and get in a little shakeout ride.
The course had a LOT of turns and Paul’s Garmin wasn’t loading correctly so it was up to me to navigate. We missed several turns and found ourselves getting in a little extra exploration (and very much hoping the course would be well marked for the next day).
We were back at the same Airbnb we loved so much last year, and spent Wednesday evening giving the bikes a tune up, getting some food, and organizing all the last details. We also made a new kitty friend!
Because of new permitting rules everyone was required to take a bus to the start at Galena Lodge on Thursday morning. We opted for a later roll out from the Baker Creek trailhead which allowed us to get a little extra rest. The morning was cold, but not nearly as bad as last year when temps were in the high 20s 🥶 We met up with our BaseCamp/Denver friend Michelle and her partner, and jumped on the bus. Bus logistics are complicated but the RPI team did a great job of keeping things running smoothly, and before long we were at Galena Lodge getting ready to go. I didn’t leave quite as much time as I would have liked to pre-ride the course, but I did get a short shakeout in before having to get to the start line. This first stage is 43miles, half on green and blue mountain biking trails and half on an out and back gravel trail. It was the hardest stage for me last year, and I was hoping to improve this year.
The sun was just coming up as we all rolled out led by Rebecca and a crew of para athletes (which was awesome). Paul, our friend TJ, and I all stayed pretty close together (mostly by luck) for the first several miles. I was feeling okay to start – not amazing but not bad – and hanging in the front third or so of the pack. Around mile 6 we hit an infamous, rocky, narrow climb that goes up above 20%. I picked a bad line and didn’t have the energy to both ride UP the hill and TURN into a better line. Subsequently I toppled over cutting up my knee and elbow. I was up and running with my bike real fast but it was a bit of a painful fall. It definitely shook my mood a bit and I found myself winded, in a bit of pain, and not enjoying the race very much at all. In fact, I’m pretty sure words “racing is stupid” actually came out of my mouth at least once.
Eventually I was able to get back on my bike and caught up with TJ and Paul and a small group as we continued on the mountain biking trails. The dappled sunlight made it hard to see rocks and sand, and I nearly lost my back wheel more than once. Eventually Paul got ahead of me on a downhill and I found myself solo through the 4 miles of flowing single track where it’s super hard to pass. I was feeling a little better but was still counting down the miles until we’d be out of the mountain bike section – I like riding that terrain but racing it feels hard and a bit scary. With a few miles left I found myself in a group of fast folks who were absolutely ripping along the trails. I hung on for a long time until I finally pulled over to let them go. I just didn’t feel confident in my ability to keep that speed safely, and I was burning out. I remember thinking “If I crash I can at least stop and rest…”, which is probably not a great head space to be in. Still, I was faster, stronger, and more confident in this section than last year, but I was hugely relived to make it down the final section of dirt trail and cross over to the gravel out and back section on Harriman Trail.
Paul was still up ahead but TJ had caught and passed me at the end of the mountain bike section. I was just behind him for a while but soon realized I was really, really tired as I slowly watched him pull away. I had been keeping up on my fueling (a mistake I learned from last year) but I was still feeling like I was bonking. But the first part of the trail is generally downhill so I pointed my wheel forward and tried to keep pedaling as best I could.
Just before the turn around point I saw Paul and TJ heading back, a nice boost! And I saw some friendly faces who were still heading to the turn around as I was riding back. But the headwind and uphill (even gently graded as it is) quickly started to take their toll. Like last year, I found myself slogging through this section feeling hot and tired. I felt like I was putting in a massive effort just to ride endurance. Just a few miles from the end a woman passed me and I had absolutely nothing in me to answer her. I was incredibly grateful to get to the finish line. I completed the stage in about the same time as 2021, but it was 2 miles longer this year so I took that as a win. I felt so bad I couldn’t eat for almost an hour. All I could do was drink glass after glass of liquid – recovery shake, iced tea, lemonade, and water. I finished the stage 15th among the women, and feeling kinda meh. But we spent some time hanging out with BaseCamp friends, enjoying the sunshine, and (eventually) getting some food which was all lovely.
We then grabbed the shuttle back to Baker Creek and, after some confusion, eventually found our bikes back in Ketchum. The return to the Airbnb was very welcome. My hands were super tingly – something that rarely happens to me – and I felt hot and kind of queasy. We spent the afternoon generally chilling out and trying hard to recover before stage 2.
Thursday morning’s start was later (and didn’t involve buses!) so we were able to have a more leisurely morning. This stage was my favorite last year – a 20 mile neutral (untimed) roll out followed by a 4.5 mile uphill time trial, and then a 25mile neutral ride back to town. The day was sunny and warm, and I kept an easy pace on the way out. My stomach felt really out of sorts and I hadn’t slept well, so I worked on slowly eating and trying to shake off what I’d put my body through yesterday. I was a little worried I was just going to blow up (or throw up) half way through the time trial, but I still planned to give it my all.
We arrived near the very front of the group to watch the top 10 folks in the men’s, women’s, and non-binary categories take off. Every ~15 seconds one rider is released up the hill so you may catch (or be caught!) by other rides around you. Paul was right in front of me, and after cheering him on it was my turn. I had a decent start off the line, not too hard!, and tried to settle into a rhythm. I could see Paul up ahead and we both were passing the same riders. However, try as I might, I could not quite catch him. I could tell my power wasn’t as strong as it had been in 2021 and so I focused on trying to ride smart, pick good lines, pace well, and push with what I could.
Ultimately I made it to the top in just under 30 min which was faster than last year (though, I think there was a slight wind as my power was a few watts lower). I really gave it my all, totally spent as I crossed the line. But it was good enough for 8th place woman, and I still beat Paul (though, by less than a second!). At least this year there wasn’t wildfire smoke! We met up with my Ride Or Die teammate Taylor and slowly meandered back down the hill, cheering on the riders who were still going up, before cruising the 20 miles back to town. You can click on the pics below to see more detail:
I was excited to find that I was hungry when we got back to Ketchum. I’d been forcing down food and liquid since finishing Stage 1, but I hadn’t really wanted any of it. But finally I was hungry again, and I enjoyed a good lunch and some rest. And I was excited – tomorrow was a rest day!
Saturday I woke up in just enough time to get myself to the Chamois Butt’r shakeout ride. My favorite Chamois Butt’r folks weren’t here this year, but I met up with some of my BaseCamp crew and enjoyed a very chill early morning spin.
I met back up with Paul at the Airbnb and we headed off to go see the Expo. The folks at Kav were doing a scavenger hunt to win one of four custom 3D printed helmets, and we wanted to win! Although we failed to get a helmet, we did get to hang out with friends and have a little fun:
The rest of the evening was spent getting everything prepped for the third stage on Sunday. That would be 100 miles of gravel on what was shaping up to be one of the warmest days of the year in Ketchum (high 80s/low 90s on a very exposed course). This stage the QSR riders would be joined by hundreds of other riders – some doing the 100 mile Baked Potato course with us, others doing shorter course options. It’s fun to go from just having a group of 250 riders to a group of 1,000+ riders!
We got to bed relatively early, but neither of us slept well at all. However, we were lucky. There was a fire just down the way that destroyed several folks’ condos/apartments and caused a lot of stress and sadness for a lot of people.
Eventually morning came and we tried to shake off the bad night’s sleep with some cold brew. We got to the start at 7:15AM – plenty of time to line up, use the bathroom, and warm up a bit.
At 8AM we were off! It’s a neutral roll out for the first few miles, and we tried to keep ourselves near the front to benefit from the draft of the large group. When the neutral ended racers took off up Trail Creek – the big climb at the start of the course. I tried to keep a good pace up the climb – and I actually put out more power than I did last year. Had the summer gone differently I think I would have been able to hold one of the front groups. However, I could tell I wasn’t going to be able to hang on and so I settled in and found my own pace. I didn’t need a repeat of my blow up at Belgian Waffle the year before. I knew this particular course was a challenge, and that the heat later in the day was absolutely going to factor in. Paul, however, was feeling quite strong and passed me up the climb!
I caught Paul at the top (he stopped for a bathroom break) and passed him on the downhill. I was briefly alone until he and a small group of folks came up behind me and I jumped into their pace line. Our group eventually caught a larger group in front of us, and we had a SOLID train that was rolling fast. I managed to stay with groups all the way to the mile 40 aid station. Last year I fell off the back around mile 28 at a turn around point when my group splintered a bit. The group splintered a bit there this year as well, but I was ready for it and pushed hard to hang on. I decided to skip the mile 40 aid station this year as I had enough fuel and liquid. The group broke up and I went off on my own to complete a ~20 mile loop before I’d return back to the same aid station.
I was solo in this section last year, having ridden off the front of the group I was with, and had actually enjoyed it. This year the wind was strong, and I found myself tiring quickly. I could have used a couple folks to trade pulls with. Instead I put my head down and rode, knowing I wasn’t putting out the power I managed last year but still keeping as steady of a pace as I could. I didn’t pass or get passed by anyone for almost 12 miles. Finally, a couple riders caught up to me and passed me as we turned out of the worst of the wind.
Although I was hurting a bit, it was hard to complain about the views! And after turning out of the direct headwind I got a little energy back as we picked up the pace back to the aid station. It was there that Paul caught back up to me (having stopped for a bit at mile 40) and we refilled our bottles. The water was tepid and I would have paid for some ice. Still, I dumped a couple bottles of water on me, grabbed a snack, and jumped back on the bike.
We found a small group to ride with, but I think folks were tired. We had some steady folks taking pulls, but also a couple guys who were surging off the front and riding erratically. We mostly stayed together until the final aid station at mile 75 (4:45 min in). I hadn’t planned to stop there, but I really needed even MORE water. And, thank goodness, this aid station had ice. I stuck ice down my jersey, in my pockets, in my bottles, and literally pedaled away holding a large chunk of ice in my hand.
We had lost our group but found a solo rider, Laura King, and the three of us teamed up together for a bit. Eventually the heat caught up to Paul (and Laura and I weren’t doing much for him in terms of drafting) and he dropped off the bike.
And then we reached El Diablito – or the 5 mile section of double/single track just before the final climb. I hadn’t been looking forward to this section, but my year of gravel riding/racing had prepared me a bit better. I caught up to a group of four guys on the double track, and managed to successfully ride the single track without any issues (having had to run up a small section last year). But my hands were aching (wrong gloves) and I was very happy to get through the rocky bit and back to the gravel with no punctures.
The final climb was slow – I could only get out endurance power – but I knew I wasn’t the only one hurting. A couple guys tried to jump on my wheel but couldn’t hang on. The descent down the gravel was fast, but when you hit the pavement again you’re still a few miles from the finish. It’s rolling, and the head wind was SO strong. I was pedaling hard and felt like I was barely moving. I was passed by one guy and couldn’t even begin to grab his wheel. So I went solo all the way to finish.
My time of 6:26 was slower than last year’s, but still good enough for 9th woman in the QSR, 12th woman overall, and a bolo tie. I was hot and tired, but in pretty good spirits overall. Paul finished shortly behind me, but in slightly less good spirits. I tried to take a video of him bunny hopping through the finish line, but I failed to actually hit record 🤦♀️
The heat had taken him down, and he was very done. He sat and chilled out in a little patch of shade, but ultimately headed back to the Airbnb pretty soon after to rest, cool off, and get some food and fluids.
I spent a few enjoyable hours at the festival – hanging out with BaseCamp crew, Taylor, and some other friends. Eventually I headed back for a good shower, and then joined Paul to meet up with T.J. and his wife for pizza! However, I made the mistake of ordering a slightly more adventurous pizza, and paid for that with a stomach ache for about 45min before we finally headed to bed. Oops!
The next morning we woke up to very smoky skies and ash on the car. The wind had changed and fires had grown nearby. We would not have been able to race in those conditions. So we grabbed some coffees and treats from Hailey Coffee Co and started our 12 hour drive back to Boulder.
It was a pretty wild weekend overall. In the end I finished 10th in the QSR GC which I’m happy with, especially given where my fitness was. Paul finished 36th, which was a nice bump from last year. I would absolutely recommend this race to gravel cyclists both new and experienced, though I’d add the caveat that both the QSR and the Baked Potato are harder courses than you’d assume if you were to just look at the course profiles. However, the weekend is put together with a lot of love and care. The race has done a lot to support both non-binary and para cyclists, and also acts as a fundraiser for the Be Good Foundation. It’s both a great race, and a race you can feel great about supporting. For a sneak peek of what the whole thing looks like check out THIS video!