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New Trevails of An Aspiring Pro with Ernie Watenpaugh

Posted by: Shannon Boffeli |May 21, 2012 2:08 AM
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The Winds are Changing Course - The Whiskey 50 Report

 

Written by: Ernie Watenpaugh  

The steady headwind of misfortune that has been beating against my spring race season had seemed to subside this past month.  Weather, health, and training were all gaining some serious ground.  I was heading into the Whiskey 50 down in Prescott, Arizona, with the winds finally at my back, or so I thought.

The event kicked off Friday night with a fat-tire crit through the streets of downtown Prescott. A leg ripping double stage climb was backed by a scorching 40 mph downhill that brought you back to the base of the climb all in less than two minutes.  If the course wasn’t intimidating enough, the starting lineup damn sure was.  World Cup veterans Geoff Kabush and Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, four time X-Terra World Champion Conrad Stoltz, endurance specialists Carl Decker and Alex Grant, reigning Whiskey Champion Chris Sheppard, wild card German and Colombian unknowns, and almost every pro ranked in the top 50 in North America.  The crit was just a rude awakening as to what kind of heat these boys had brought to Whiskey Row.  The pace held absolutely no restraint, and I saw some of the strongest guys I know simply just drop out.  I held my own, and finished somewhere in the 20’s in an 80+ field. 

Saturday gave me a chance to sample the infamous Prescott singletrack.  With the amateurs racing the 50-mile course that day, I had to settle for some similar terrain to dial in the bike and skills. Halfway through the ride I noticed my front brake was starting to get squishy, and by the end I had no front brake at all.  Further inspection revealed the seals were blown out, and with no replacement to be found in town, anxiety took hold.  I finally hunted down a friend of mine by 7 pm Saturday night that ran the same brake set up, and he let me swap my front brake out with his.  I came through the minor afternoon turbulence unscathed, but it was just the front to the real storm. 

We rolled off Whiskey Row Sunday morning with a police escort through the streets of Prescott.  The ‘neutral’ start had over 80 men jockeying for a front position to ensure a good shot at the $15,000 purse.  Not even a mile in, I found myself next to a rider who was already squirming under the intensity.  He grabbed a bottle for a drink, and for some reason decided to take both hands off the bars. Seeing that I was only a couple of inches away from him, he immediately bumped into my shoulder, reached for his bars in a panic but grabbed mine instead, and pulled me into a tangled 20 mph wreck of bikes, profanity, and shredded lycra.  We both hopped back on our bikes, and through my shock and amazement realized both my bike and myself were ok.  I managed to catch back on and continued to work my way up till about the middle of the pack before we hit the trails, but I was in a far from ideal position. 

The first major descent dropped a couple thousand feet over steep loose granite with the occasional two-foot water bar just to spice things up.  The organizers had even brought in helicopter to film the pro race, specifically targeting this gnarly section.  I made it down in one piece, and as the road turned up again, I started gaining time and picking guys off one at a time.  The race then dog legged for the out and back section down to Skull Valley.  As the miles ticked by, a looming feeling began to develop as I realized I had to climb all the way backup.  I fueled up at the bottom and began a sequence of attacks to bridge up to, and then pass the various groups strung out along the climb.  By the top I had caught the tail end of the now dissolved lead group, and was told I was now 19th.  All that was left now was an eight-mile descent back to town, four of which were on pavement.  With the legs and confidence sky high, I began a serious push for the finish.  I let the wheels go a little too much and a rock slashed my rear tire.  The gash was too big to seal, so I hurriedly threw a tube in.  I was still in the top 30 by the time I got going again, but panic was starting to push out composure.  My focus waned and I got sloppy and flatted again.  Having no other spare, I rode the flat where I could until TJ Woodruff handed me his spare.   I babied the new tube and made it to within a hundred yards of the pavement before I flatted yet again.  A father and son saw my deflated spirits and tire and helped me with a third and final tube. I limped across the finish in 65th, almost 45 minutes past where I should have finished. 

Shredded shorts, hips covered in road rash, and a jersey stuffed with torn tubes and dreams.  My appearance matched my state of mind.  The winds of bad luck had landed some serious blows.

Like many cyclists, I am a man of numbers.  And in times like these, I find comfort in their reoccurrence and probability. For instance, there is a high probability I will not get taken out by an absent-minded rider, and there is a good chance I won’t flat.  Based on training data, structure, and how I was riding at the Whiskey, there is a high probability I am going to have a good race here shortly.  The winds are brutal out there right now, but they have to let up some time. 

Big thanks to Tokyo Joe’s, Larry Young at Trek Bikes, Gale Bernhardt, and Box Canyon Bikes for all the support.  You can also follow me on Twitter @earnestbuck.


Joni Knowles 05/06/2012 8:12 AM
Loved reading about your race. JONI
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