RPI: The Queen’s Stage Race

Okay, before I finish my ENTIRE season of races, I’m going to get this post in about our first time racing the Queen’s Stage Race at Rebecca’s Private Idaho. I’ve been putting it off because it was such a big event and I didn’t know how to quite sum it up. It’s gonna be a long one, but here goes:

DAY 0 – WEDNESDAY, Sept. 1st

A couple weeks before RPI we realized that it would be silly to try and drive the whole 11 hour trip on Wednesday and then start the race on Thursday. So on Tuesday afternoon we headed out and spent the night in Evanston, WY. We managed to get to Ketchum in the early afternoon, and headed straight towards the Day 1 course to do a shakeout ride and preview the second part of the course. Suffice it to say we were VERY glad we got 90min on the gravel. It was chunkier than expected, and it was nice to know that’s what the whole second half of the race would be like. It was also incredibly gorgeous:

Paul on the course! Thankful we got pictures today because I didn’t get ANY race day!

We were out longer than expected on the course, so we packed up quickly and headed back to check out our AirBnb (where happily we were able to wash the bikes in the parking lot, something we’d repeat each night we were there).

We had an awesome little spot in walking distance from all the events, and complete with a balcony. It was the perfect place! We made some quick dinner and headed out to the mandatory rider meeting where we got to meet up with a bunch of BaseCamp friends – the first time we’d all been together in person ? We also saw a couple Boulder cycle friends there too. So neat to get to go to another state but already know so many people. We got to hear from Rebecca Rusch (the “Rebecca” of Rebecca’s Private Idaho), and learned about some of the logistics for the weekend. And then from there we headed home to sort final gear and get to bed.

DAY 1 – THURSDAY, Sept 2nd

We were up bright and early Thursday morning. The three day stage race had its first stage starting at Galena Lodge, about 30min outside of town at 7,290ft, about 1,500ft higher than Ketchum. We opted to drive up (rather than take the shuttle), and while that allowed us to get a little extra sleep we still had to be out early. There was a fair bit of wildfire smoke in the air, not ideal, and it was COLD:

We got lucky to get parking very close to the lodge, but had about a 45min wait before everything got rolling (much of it spent trying to stay warm in gloves, hats, and puffy coats). We tried to get in a little warm up, but I can’t say it really did much. However, happily, the smoke was not as intense up high (thankfully, since there was talk of cancellation due to the levels lower down). And then, all of sudden, it was starting! We were lining up! It was game on! At Ned Gravel we started in the WAY back. Determined not to repeat that mistake, we lined up closer to the front.

Just after the start line – I’m in the yellow helmet, Paul in the red jersey

And then we were off! The first stage was the ‘mountain bike’ stage. It’s 43miles with the first half composed of single track/double track mountain biking trails, and the remaining half a loose gravel trail (out and back). I had been told there was some steep climbing at the start, but I was not prepared for the first couple of hills. True, steep climbing that had everyone I saw off their bikes and running up. My lungs were all kinds of NOT ready for that (too cold!) and frankly neither were my legs (also too cold). I watched two folks wipe out on the first descent and ultimately drew it back a little to avoid getting caught up in the crowd (and, let’s be honest, because I don’t have those kind of technical skills!).

I eventually found my groove and proceeded to cruise along. The sun came out before too long and it warmed up, which definitely helped. I got stuck behind someone in the best part of the single track (reminder for next year: ask to pass!) and Paul got ahead of me by a bit. But maybe ~20miles in I found myself getting tired. My lines were getting sloppy and I wasn’t as in control of the bike. I let several folks pass me. The final bit of technical trail was challenging downhill. I’d seen lots of wipe outs all day, so when I came across a guy on the side of the trail I assumed he was fine. I called out just to make sure: “All good?” and he responded back: “I don’t know”. Uh oh. That’s not the right answer. I jumped off my bike and ran back. He’d gone down hard and was clearly in pain with a possible broken clavicle. Thankfully we were super close to the main road, and I was able to ride down and alert the medics. We later found out he ended up in urgent care but was okay. Yikes.

The remaining gravel trail felt hard. I found a pretty good rhythm, but I was feeling pretty darn tired and slow. I DID get to go through a big creek crossing that came up to my waist, and that was actually kind of refreshing and fun. The out and back nature of course helped too – I saw Paul just ahead of me and several BaseCamp folks, and everyone was cheering each other on. The final 10 miles I only saw a handful of people, and eventually I made my way across the finish.

After rinsing the bike, but before rinsing myself ?

I was ecstatic to be done, but also a little worried. If I felt so rough today, how was I going to make it through more racing (with longer miles!)?! I also learned that Paul took a fall on the second part of the course. He was fine, but he scraped up his elbow quite nicely and was a bit sore. All in all, a good but tiring day. I finished 20th for women (out of 76) and that was just fine by me.

DAY 2 – FRIDAY, Sept. 3rd

Happily today started a bit later than Thursday. I was excited for this stage because it consisted of an uphill time trial. The format was fun – 20mile neutral ride to the start, a ~4mi uphill time trial, and then a neutral ride back (~50mile round trip). Paul started the day a bit tired, calling his time in bed “Paul’s Private Idaho”:

But we eventually got going and rolled out with the group. Once again we could tell we’d be contending with smoke. Not ideal for a TT, but we hoped it would dissipate as the day went on. The roll out was pretty fun, and gradually (sneakily) uphill. I tried to keep it nice and easy, opting to stay mostly in my endurance zone with a couple small efforts to wake up the legs. Even still, I ended up pretty close to the front of the line, which was ideal. The folks who finished top ten in day one got to go first, and then they released folks up the course in intervals of about 30sec. Paul was about 5 folks ahead of me, and I had two really nice people around me to chat with while we waited.

Things rolled pretty fast, and soon it was my turn! I tried to balance pushing hard with not blowing up. I was aiming to get in under 30min, so I had a rough idea of how to pace. I felt pretty strong in the first bit, and passed several folks on the way up. I started to hurt half way through, and was really pushing at the end. I probably had a little more to give, but I was pretty proud of the effort in the end. I finished in 30:05 (darn 5 second!) and 14th out of the 66 ladies who started that day.

The finish line arch!

My lungs weren’t wild about the air quality at the top, so I found Paul (who finished right behind me) and we headed back to town together.

The TT was an out and back, which meant as we headed down we got to cheer on the other racers heading up. That was pretty fun to see. And before long we were cruising back on the gravel roads towards Ketchum.

The views were excellent (even with the smoke) and we found ourselves alone for a lot of the ride. We apparently missed a dip in the local hot springs with other riders (whoops!) so we’ll have to catch that next time.

We spent the afternoon cleaning our bikes and relaxing before the Be Good Foundation fundraising party that evening. We got to enjoy some really tasty food and drink, hang out with the BaseCamp crew and some new friends.

The BaseCamp crew!

We also got to hear some really great talks from folks like Meg Fisher (Paralympic athlete and medal winner for Team USA) and Molly Cameron (pro cyclist and founder of RIDE). It was so fantastic to see RPI have non-binary/FTW and para cycling categories throughout the event. I could (and will) write a whole blog post on this, but suffice it to say that these categories are missing from way too many events, and it was really great to see this kind of representation throughout the event.

We stayed out until it got cold, and then headed back for hot tea and relaxing, for the next day was a REST day!

DAY 3 – SATURDAY, Sept. 4th

Today was the day the vast majority of RPI cyclists came into town, since Sunday was the big event. It kicked off with a no-drop fun ride on the shortest Sunday course (called the Tater Tot). It was super chill and a ton of fun (but also, VERY cold ? at the start). The Chamois Butt’r team was out in force bringing all the fun, along with other sponsors and vendors.

Molly Cameron on the Chamois Butt’r tricycle and (retired) pro cyclist Phil Gaimon

The BaseCamp crew generally stuck together on the shakeout ride, and enjoyed the easy pedaling. Back in town we got to go check out the expo and have some fun:

I even got to pedal the Chamois Butt’r tricycle, which is actually WAY harder than it looks (but also SO FUN).

With BaseCamper Steven catching a ride on the back

We spent the rest of the day laying low and taking it easy. Tomorrow was going to be a big day, and we wanted to be rested.

DAY 4 – SUNDAY, Sept. 5th

Finally, the last day of racing! Today everyone who had participated in the Queen’s Stage Race would ride the Baked Potato 100mi course, but we’d be joined by several hundred other people also riding the Baked Potato or one of two other shorter courses. This is what most people were here for! In fact, just doing the Baked Potato course is what Paul and I originally were doing until a couple weeks before the event when we got bumped off the waitlist for the QSR!

Unfortunately, the day started off a bit bumpy for Paul. He’d slept poorly, and was considering not even racing. Happily he did eventually decide to join in, and after some coffee was doing a bit better. We got to the start early, time to hit the port-a-potties and warm up a little. That also helped us be nearer to the front for the start.

The pros got to kick off the ride, and then we were all off! Paul, BaseCamper TJ, and I rolled out together on the neutral start through town. But before long we hit the big climb of the event, and we were off. I was excited to start with a climb, and Paul and I had pre-ridden this part of the course when we did our road trip back in June. I didn’t feel like my power was really great, but I was steadily pacing folks and holding my own. Before long I crested the top, passed the first aid station, and was heading down.

To my surprise, I found myself passing guys as we flew downhill. I usually can’t hang on the downhills, so I was excited to see my (relative) comfort with this particular type of gravel let me up the speed. However, I found myself at a long straightaway at the bottom all alone. Thankfully, about 5min later, a group of guys came flying alongside and yelled at me to hop in. And then I was in their pace line, and we were absolutely cooking! Gravel flying, steady pacing, and just hauling down. I was worried I might be burning too many matches too early on, but I decided to hang on. And I took my turn at the front too, pushing well over threshold to hold the pace steady and then working to get solid recovery in the back.

We flew through the second aid station together, but I eventually lost the group in a tight gravel/dirt turn around. Despite solid efforts to catch back up, there’s really no catching a fast past group when you’re by yourself. Heading onward I eventually found a fellow solo rider, and the two of us took turns pulling for several miles. It was a bit of slow going, but having someone else to draft off of for a bit was a nice respite.

Eventually we were caught by a small group, and we worked together to hit the third aid station. It was there I took my first break, pausing to grab more water, take off my gloves and arm warmers, and throw back a gel. Then it was off for a 25mi loop that would bring us back to this same point. I started off with a group, but eventually realized I was faster than them and cruised out front on my own. I put my head down to be more aero ?‍♀️ and just charged forward on my own for several miles. I could see other riders way off in the distance, and I just worked to slowly catch up to them (and then pass them!). Eventually, about 2/3 of the way through, I found another guy who was pacing about my speed. We jumped in together and traded pulls for about 3-4miles until we were nearly back to the aid station. I’d been worried that loop would feel really tough, but it was one of my favorite parts of the day. And now I was just 35 miles from the finish and heading back the way I’d come.

However, the way back was SLOW going. I was alone for the stretch between aid station 3/4 and the 5th aid station. I felt slow, although not too bad, and could tell the wind was picking up. At the 5th aid station I found 3 folks willing to trade pulls, and we formed a somewhat slow pace line. However, it was better than battling into the wind alone.

At mile 81 there is a 5mile section called El Diablito. A bit of single track that Paul and I pre-rode back in June. I thought I was ready for it, and I was not ? I led into the section and despite feeling like I was barely moving no one wanted to switch to pull. It was rocky and uphill, and I was definitely hitting a low point. I kept moving through, but at the first steep hill I stopped to let the three guys behind me pass. I didn’t want to be navigating technical terrain on tired legs with people right on my wheel. Plus, a mile or so later I caught them all again so it worked out. Although it felt like a bit of a slog, eventually I made it through and back onto the main course.

That put me back at the hill from the beginning, and I started my slow ascent up. I knew I wouldn’t be in podium contention, but I also knew that the top group of riders would receive a “bolo tie” – essentially showing they were ‘fast’ riders. At that point I was 100% riding for a bolo. When I saw the final aid station at the top of the hill I knew I just needed to hang on for the finish.

From there it was a somewhat loose gravel downhill (slightly scary because of tired legs) back to the pavement. My chain was squeaking, my legs were screaming, and I was pushing hard to get to the finish. Right near the end I was caught by three guys, and I joined their pace line for the final half mile or so to the “official” timed finish (about 2miles out of town).

I flew across the line and was greeted by my very own bolo (and legs that were absolutely shaking from the effort).

The actual finish was in town, but the organizers didn’t want folks going full speed through town so it was a neutral ride for the final couple miles. I cruised into the finish line party on tired legs ready to celebrate!

Not long after I finish I found Paul and several other BaseCampers. We enjoyed lots of wet wipes and recovery drinks before changing into more comfortable clothings and getting some lunch!

I was really proud of my race, and so happy to have gotten to race as hard as I could (no mechanicals, no major illness, etc). I finished in 6 hours and 14min – 14th out of the QSR women, and 16th out of all the women racing that day. After everything was totaled, I landed in 13th out of the 42 women who ultimately completed every stage of the QSR. My original goal had been top ten, but after seeing the caliber of women racers (several pros and elites, plus just really strong ladies!) I was quite happy with that finish.

All in all it was a whirlwind of an event. There were definitely some low moments, but all in all I had a blast. I’d like to think I’d do it again next year, but we’ll see 🙂 Thankful to have gotten to participate in this one!

Author: cartwheelsandcake

Cyclist, climber, hiker, trail runner, back country skier, dabbling mountaineer Lover of cake, chocolate, brownies, and sweets. Excellent napper.

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