Behind The Bars: Solving
the Puzzler -- A Hat Trick!
Written by: Evan Plews
returned to my "normal" early season race schedule this year with a
trip back to El Paso for the Puzzler 50 miler. Some of you remember that I
raced here in both 2010 and 2011 and returned victorious both times. Last year
this particular weekend was complicated and while I had intended to return, I
had to cancel my trip at the last minute. This time I started planning last
fall and included the Puzzler in my four race sample of the TMBRA Marathon
was my fifth season that began with a race in Texas. I visited Terlingua twice
for Mas O Menos several years ago and the common themes have always been the
same: new friends, great weather, awesome trails and kind hospitality. This
trip was no different as I arrived to El Paso with smooth, trouble free travel
Friday evening. My new friends picked me up from the motel and delivered me to
the venue in time to register and get some riding in.
year was already a little different with the new Puzzler Trail Run taking place
Saturday. I have always said that this is the toughest marathon mountain bike
race I've done so watching these folks completely half and full marathon
courses on foot was super cool and impressive! I have a new goal too: run and
trail marathon someday!
course has evolved each year of the Puzzler and this time was no different. I
cruised out for a trip around the first loop and sampled some of the newest
trail and it didn't disappoint! Stoked for the race I rode back to the hotel to
get rested up and ready to battle the rocks of the Franklin Mountains.
a variety of out of state and local competition lined up and licking their
chops I was excited but also a little fearful of what was coming. These trails
are brutalizing: full of every imaginable type of rock and sharp organic object
the race can be over for any number of reasons at any moment. The first loop
consisted of a bit of fast double track, a relatively smooth singletrack
climb/descent then a long double track descent/traverse through a minefield of
rocks and washes back to the venue. I took the initiative but settled into
third position on the climb. As soon as the trail tilted back down I was able
to move back to the front.
continued to set the pace through the beginning of the second loop. I noticed
that only one rider was able to match my pace through the twisty but flat and
smooth "cow trails". This gave me confidence because clearly I was
fastest on the descents and close to the best on the flatter technical
sections. However, I had to remain concerned because 30+ miles of disaster
filled trail lay directly ahead!
soon as we began the long climb to Mundy's Gap and over the Franklin Mountains,
the riders pushed the pace and began to open a gap. I settled into a manageable
pace eyeballing their hard tails in anticipation of the coming descent. This is
one of the most treacherous sections of knar I've ever raced down and while I
had lost a couple minutes to the leading riders over the top, my Ibis was ready
to soar and it was all I could do to hold things back as we dropped in. By the
time we hit the cannonball alley at the bottom they had nearly relinquished
their lead and I back into second place as we reached the first feed zone.
the backside (west) of the mountains doesn't have huge climbs it is a series of
relentless short climbs in and out of countless arroyos and some of the most
unforgiving rockiness imaginable. With my steed devouring this garbage
insatiably, I again moved to the front and again only one (different) rider
could follow. This continued to the base of the switchback singletrack climb
back over the mountains when he unleashed a vicious attack and left me
chuckling. Not so much at him because I know he is a local and had some kind of
plan, but rather because there was no way I was going to flush my legs with
nearly 20 miles to go.
I managed the gap over the top and dropped in to the Sotol Trail which could be
my most "respected" trail anywhere. This ribbon of nasty was
apparently scratched out using the IMBA handbook with beautiful bench cut and
grade reversals. However, this is El Paso and while the trail concept is perfect,
the geology and flora and have conspired to make it as rough as it gets! With
an abyss only interrupted by spiny things to the left, and a wall to right, the
only option is the relentless cobbles and drops directly ahead. Just one
switchback in, the leader was off his bike. I asked if he was OK and after
getting an affirmative answer I refocused and plunged onward.
few quick glances behind told me he was likely done and I finished the second
loop with a seemingly comfortable gap. "Comfortable" is a relative
term because I still had 15 miles of some of the toughest mountain bike racing
on the planet still on my plate. Lady luck was on my side though and with my
bike and Kenda tires begging for more, the miles flew by with comparative ease.
I only began to savor the taste of another Puzzler solution as I sped back down
the cow trails toward the finish at Bowen Round House!
am not sure if I will ever solve this puzzle again but if I do, it will be same
as always: with strong legs, mad skills and even more good fortune!
1. Evan Plews - Ibis/REALL
2. Jonathan Davis - Trek Colorado
3. David Vaughn - Ziavello
1. Alison Kinsler - NoTubes
Wilson - NoTubes
Liebling - Chamois Butter
1. Matt Barkley - Orange Seal
2. Anthony Petta - Bicycle Company
3. Mark Challoner - M&M Cycling