Gnarly storm unleashes high on Wheeler, testing racers at 12,000 feet
Swenson, Skarda stay perfect and inch closer to GC victories as bike racing’s essence shows through
By Devon O’Neil
BRECKENRIDGE — On a Wheeler stage that will live in Breck Epic lore, it paid to be fast Thursday. Rain, sleet, biting wind and all the earthbound challenges that such weather brings to alpine terrain pushed racers to the brink, breaking some, steeling others, yet seemingly having little effect on the sharp end of the field.
Keegan Swenson stayed perfect this week with another convincing victory. He broke from the pack about six miles into the 24-mile stage and rode alone to the finish, crossing in 2 hours 46 minutes 23 seconds—2:18 ahead of Luis Mejia, who finished second for the fifth straight day. Lachlan Morton was another 13 seconds back in third, after sprinting to the line ahead of Diyer Rincon.
Swenson’s GC lead stands at almost 12 minutes going into the final stage, the flattest and fastest of the race, with finish times typically under two hours.
The women’s GC is in a similar state of non-flux after Alexis Skarda won again to extend her overall lead to 22 minutes. Skarda dropped Evelyn Dong on the Peaks Trail climb from Frisco to Breckenridge after Dong caught her on the 3,200-foot descent from the Tenmile Range crest. Skarda’s time of 3:31 was three minutes faster than Dong and 19 quicker than third-place finisher Rose Grant. Afterward the three women hung around the finish replaying their adventure.
Grant: “Wow, that was so hard.”
Skarda: “I definitely ate a lot of mud and water.”
Dong: “I loved it.”
Skarda: “I tried to eat a piece of bacon [from the swine handup at mile 7], and I just chewed it and chewed it, and 10 minutes later I still had the whole thing in my mouth and was like, OK, this is not happening, so I spit it out.”
Dong: “There’s probably a marmot that was super psyched about that.”
RANDOM ACTS OF RADNESS
When Mother Nature decided to twist her knife, timing dictated that certain segments of the field endured a greater wrath than others. That’s when humanity stepped in. Not everyone who started the stage finished—more than 140 racers abandoned or were cut off due to time or safety—but those who did told stories of bike racing’s essence. One of them came from Mike Thompson, an Epic rookie from Louisville, Kentucky.
Thompson’s partner in the Duo 80-plus category dropped from the field early on, unbeknownst to Thompson. So Thompson continued riding, eventually coming upon a distraught competitor on the Tenmile crest at 12,400 feet. “He was sitting off the trail, crying and shivering,” Thompson said. “I was like, ‘Dude, you gotta get up and get off this mountain.’ The wind kicked up, sleet was coming in sideways. He just started shaking his head. I was like, ‘No, dude, you gotta get the fuck up.’” Thompson helped the man continue to a lower, safer place. He also gave some of his food to additional stragglers later. “Doing what people do,” he said.
Meanwhile, farther downhill on Miners Creek Road, another racer stopped to eat a gel when he noticed a lady sitting beside the road, “shaking, in rough shape,” he recalled. “She was like, ‘Don’t leave me!’ and asked if we could ride together because she hadn’t seen anyone else. So we rode for a while before mountain rescue showed up. We got in their ATV and they drove us down the mountain. I hugged her for 20 minutes to keep her warm. I also saw a guy with a flat on top of the range and gave him my pump. So I have no idea where my pump is.” The good Samaritan only wanted to be identified by his first name, Ben. “Anybody would’ve done it,” he said.
HOW’D IT GO TODAY? / HOW DO YOU FEEL?
After climbing 5,500 feet and cresting elevations of 12,300 feet three times—much of it while pushing their bikes—racers had plenty to reflect on.
“I feel absolutely terrible. That was the worst thing I’ve ever done.”
“Like shit. Complete shit. You’ve got hail hitting your face, so you can’t feel your friggin’ face. It was a mess. But that’s why we do this, right?”
“When it was sleeting, I almost curled up in the fetal position and sucked on my thumb.”
“Today was the coldest I’ve ever been.”
“The only thing you could do was keep going. I’m so proud of myself for getting through that.”
“The downhill was a creek. Water running down, mud splashing, people endoing right in front of me.”
“Just relieved, because that was brutal, man.”
“Today broke me.”
“Fantastic. That was the most epic stage ever. To have rain and sleet on Wheeler is, like, legendary.”
“Mother. Fucker. That was the hardest day of my life. The last little uphill crushed my soul.”
“Great. I’m not redlining, I’m out here to smile.”
“My grip got loose and I went to brake and it twisted, and I went over the bars. There was a nice click when my face hit the rock.”
“I’m glad it was raining because I couldn’t see my tears. You just had to close your eyes and ride by feel.”
GC margins grow during Queen Stage around 13,370-foot Mt. Guyot
Local riders making moves as race moves into second half
By Devon O’Neil
BRECKENRIDGE — Despite a bit of late-race drama Tuesday, the Breck Epic’s Queen Stage delivered one more reminder who the fastest racers in the field are. Keegan Swenson overcame a brief, unintended detour to pad his lead in the pro men’s field, while Alexis Skarda won the pro women’s race by her biggest margin this week.
Swenson rode off course just before the finish (the exact cause was unclear, but it required him to pedal about two additional miles), yet he still won by 53 seconds ahead of perennial runner-up Luis Mejia of Colombia. Swenson’s winning time of 3 hours 18 minutes leaves him almost eight minutes up in the overall standings. Lachlan Morton remains in third overall, 20 minutes back of Swenson.
“I’m not doing any more work than I have to,” said Swenson, whose Santa Cruz team put burlier tires on his Blur CC for Tuesday’s rugged descents. “I didn’t attack [Mejia], he just fell off after Aid 3. So I was like, I’ll turn the screws just a hair and snap the elastic.”
Skarda, meanwhile, further separated herself in the GC standings with a time of 3:56 and a 6-minute advantage over Evelyn Dong, who remains in second overall, 8:35 back. Rose Grant took third and moved onto the GC podium heading into the week’s longest stage, Aqueduct.
The circumnavigation of 13,370-foot Mount Guyot takes riders over the Continental Divide twice, through two counties, and down some of the area’s sweetest singletrack for a total of 40 miles. It is typically one of two stages, along with Wheeler, in which locals improve their overall ranking. That didn’t happen with Breck’s Jarad Christianson, because he was already in first place in the men’s 30-plus category; but he tripled his winning margin from Stage 1. Christianson, 31, works 8-5 for a construction company and rides after work. He started entering local races four years ago. On Tuesday, he finished 15th overall, pros included, in the 387-rider Breck Epic (3:53—30 minutes faster than his 2019 time).
The only local ahead of Christianson, 17-year-old phenom Lasse Konecny, suffered what you might call a mining-town-only mechanical. An ancient, heavily rusted, 4-inch-long rectangular nail pierced his sidewall and exited his tread like an arrow through a banana late in the race. Konecny ran to the finish pushing his bike and losing minutes, but still finished ninth (3:39). He sits in 11th place overall, four minutes out of eighth.
Close to a dozen other locals are toeing the line this week, and not everyone is taking time off from work to compete. John Rauen, a 22-year-old who finished in 4:54, clocks in at an escape room from 3:30 to 10:30 p.m. every night between stages. The field is dotted with ski patrollers (Duke Barlow, Breck’s snow safety supervisor, finished in 4:51 on a recently replaced knee), massage therapists (Ro Mayberry took third in the Coed Duo division in 4:45), and government workers (Nicole Valentine, Summit County’s communications director, clinched the 3-day Open Women’s title in 5:27).
WHO NEEDS TWO GOOD ARMS?
One of the week’s most impressive sights was watching Robin Brown, a retired Las Vegas firefighter, navigate the high-speed technical descent from 12,000 feet with a prosthetic left arm. Brown and Mark Duncan, another Vegas firefighter, conquered the Queen in 6:07 and stand second in the Duo 100-plus class. Brown lost his forearm to a grain auger in Panhandle, Texas when he was 4, but he still played football, basketball, baseball, and golf growing up. He became a paramedic and captain in the Clark County Fire Department and has entered dozens of endurance races, but never the Breck Epic. Asked about riding the course with one hand, he said, “I don’t think anything of it.”
Another visiting racer, Sean Perry of Issiquah, Washington, has competed all week with a cast on his wrist. Perry suffered an intra articular fracture of his distal radius while training on the Miners Creek Trail three weeks ago—the most perilous descent in the race. It was his first ride in Colorado. “I thought there was no chance I would get to do the race,” he said. He finished the Guyot stage in 4:39.
HOW DO YOU FEEL?
We posed this question just below the summit of 12,046-foot French Pass, the Queen’s high point. As usual, sentiments varied.
“I’m not sitting in an office, so pretty damn good.”
“Can’t. Too much altitude.”
“Got a tail wind—what more can you ask for?”
“Like I look.”
“Literally could not be better.”
“I’ve got 20 pieces of metal in my elbow from Dirty Kanza. This is nothing.”
“As can be expected.”
“Fucking awesome, man.”
“Well, it depends. Are there Skittles up there?” Yes. “Fuck yeah. Then I feel amazeballs.”
Swenson picks up where he left off in Epic’s opening stage
2019 champ shows no ill effects after winning Leadville 100 on Saturday; Skarda takes lead among women
By Devon O’Neil
BRECKENRIDGE — Two years after the last Breck Epic was staged in Colorado’s singletrack kingdom, much of what we know about the world has changed dramatically. But a few things haven’t, foremost: Keegan Swenson is still the man to beat in Breckenridge. Swenson, the 27-year-old defending champion from Heber City, Utah, made a late pass Sunday to beat a familiar foe in Colombia’s Luis Mejia and start the six-stage Epic with a four-second victory. He completed the 36-mile course in 2 hours 44 minutes.
The duo distanced themselves early on from the rest of the field, with Mejia—still smarting from a series of flat tires that derailed his 2019 bid to challenge Swenson—turning the screws on America’s most versatile racer. Swenson had won the Leadville 100 the prior day in 6 hours 11 minutes, the eighth fastest time in that race’s history. He’d also defended his XC national title in July and narrowly missed qualifying for the Olympics. He showed little weariness Sunday morning, less than 24 hours after his Leadville win, as the Epic kicked off on perfectly tack-ified dirt thanks to a brief rain shower. Content to chase Mejia’s frequent uphill surges and set the pace on the descents, Swenson found himself trailing the 36-year-old Colombian on the final downhill, until they reached the mini freeride features on Barney Flow. There, Swenson saw a window.
“He wasn’t jumping the doubles and I started jumping the doubles and gained some time,” Swenson said. “Then I took one of the log skinnies and made the pass.”
Longtime World Tour racer Lachlan Morton of Australia held third for much of the day until a sprint for the finish with Costa Rica’s Carlos Herrera saw Herrera edge him by a few thousandths.
SKARDA’S FAST START
Swenson wasn’t the only Santa Cruz Bicycles team member who enjoyed a happy Sunday. Breck Epic rookie Alexis Skarda of Grand Junction led from start to finish ahead of Epic veteran Evelyn Dong and a host of other challengers, winning by 25 seconds. Skarda said she concentrated on staying under her target heartrate of 170bpm to preserve energy for the subsequent stages. She’d trained for the Epic by riding—and winning—the Telluride 100 last month. She also finished second at XC nationals to 2021 Olympian Erin Huck, another Epic vet. Though Skarda won on the same bike as Swenson—a Blur CC—she rode a 100mm fork while he opted for the cushier 120mm.
Skarda and Dong figure to see more challenges later this week from five-time national marathon champ Rose Grant, who won Leadville on Saturday and finished TK SUNDAY.
“I figured if I didn’t go too crazy, I wouldn’t ruin it for the rest of the week,” Skarda said at the Carter Park finish. “But it’s tough when you’re feeling fresh to not go too hard.”
BIENVENIDO A LOS TICOS
Though the pandemic changed many racers’ plans, especially international competitors, plenty still braved the travel it took to get here. They include two dozen Costa Ricans from San José, who are riding in custom white jerseys this week. Due to a 9 p.m. curfew imposed in their country, riders couldn’t count on night miles to build their training base. Instead, they rose early—and often. Epic rookie Isaac Centeno, 26, trained six days a week for six months, starting at 5 a.m. “My friend Pablo told me to come because it’s his fourth time here,” Centeno said. “I just want to explore different landscapes and weather.”
STATS AND STUFF
Sunday’s opening stage saw 387 riders start. More than seven hours later, all but one crossed the finish. Pro racer Kyle Trudeau crashed hard coming down the notoriously tricky Grind into Indiana Creek, telling a teammate he thought he’d broken some ribs. He abandoned the race—but not until he’d finished a grueling climb to Boreas Pass Road. In all, the stage covered 36 miles and roughly 5,000 vertical feet. Full results can be found here:
HOW DO YOU FEEL?
Each day, we ask this very simple question at some point on course, usually at the top of a merciless climb. Today it was posed near the top of Little French.
“Legs don’t feel great, but it’s the first day, they’re not supposed to.”
“Like 50 cents.”
“Pretty good. Actually, great.”
“This is heinous. Wait, is this Heinous?” [Ed’s note: No. Heinous Hill will introduce itself in Stage 2.]
“Could be worse.”
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER
Millard Allen won the singlespeed division at Leadville on Saturday and stayed in the Cloud City for the awards Sunday morning, which meant he arrived late to start the Epic. He hopped on course at 10 a.m. and caught the sweep halfway up Pennsylvania Gulch, eventually finishing in 3:54 on a geared bike.
Stage 2 takes riders across multiple drainages highlighted by the locally famous West Ridge descent on the Colorado Trail. Real-time results can be found at itsyourrace.com.
Slated for August 14-19, 2022, 400 riders. In the words of race director Mike McCormack, “Sometimes bigger is better. We feel that in Epic’s case, better is better. There’s a balance we need to strike. To us, that means enough riders to create that special big race feel, but not so many that we experience crowding on course. We want our riders to experience the soulfulness of Summit County’s trail system and backcountry–that’s hard to do if you’re riding nose-to-tail all day.”
McCormack added, “Additionally, while our trail system holds up very well, fewer riders means less impact. We love our trails…we just don’t want to love them to death.”
Josie Fouts, Elite cyclist, is trailblazing her way to the Tokyo Olympics. While the US National Champion paracylist is relatively new to the sport, she has risen to the top of the field similarly to how she rides her bike-fast. Josie’s unconventional plan to prepare for the Olympics parallels her life. In fact, the Olympics aren’t even her end goal of the 2021 season!
Josie was recently featured in a Pearl Izumi docufilm-Go Josie. We had the opportunity to chat with Josie after the film was released.
What would you like the World to know about you? Can you explain your disability and how it affects your performance in everyday activities?
My name is Josie Fouts and I’m a self-proclaimed mad scientist single-handedly discovering the human body’s limitlessness as an elite paracyclist!
As a congenital amputee without a left hand, I’ve been adapting to a 2-handed world since birth. My life experiences have taught me that nothing is perfectly designed for anyone; there is no ‘one size fits all.’ The reality is that customizing everything — from bikes to healthcare — helps people reach their personal best faster!.
Can you share some details about the progression of adaptations made to your bike(s)?
BRAKES: I started off riding only using 1 brake because that’s how a stock bike is built, the rear brake on the ride side of the bars. Using a cable splitter, my brake system evolved into having 2 brakes, but at 50% power and without the ability to articulate if I wanted more of the front or rear. With the help of Shimano and creative thinking of another paracyclist, I now have the capacity to use hydraulic brakes either separately or together all with using one hand!
SHIFTING: I actually started racing on a bike with down-tube shifters which was quickly upgraded to a 1x system so I didn’t need a second shifter. Today, I use Shimano Di2 and its Full Syncro technology to change front chainrings easily!
STUB ADAPTATIONS: My stubborn self started using nothing but an extra layer of bar tape on the tops of my bars on the left side. Anything was going to be better than nothing so I took baby steps first mounting a PVC pipe end to the bars using a shifter clamp. Then a fellow cyclist and UC San Diego graduate student evolved the cups using 3D printing. The biggest and most effective adaptation — both on and OFF the bike — is getting a cycling prosthetic from Hanger Clinic.
How are you preparing for the Tokyo Olympics? What event(s) will you be competing in and what are your goals?
My Tokyo preparations are unique: just like my bikes and my life experiences, my training is all about adapting! While most athletes dial in their training, recovery and nutrition routine at home, their performance suffers when they travel for competition. The way I see it, the more I train in uncontrolled environments with diverse foods, the better prepared I’ll be for anything unexpected life throws at me!
This means riding outside, not just in the city, but out in the natural elements where there is no air conditioning or space heater, no air or light pollution. Physically, my lungs work better, my circadian rhythm is cyclical with the sun, and thus, not only my training quality increases but I become my best self as humanly possible!
Nature and its natural elements also shape the mind. Everything natural is dynamic with undefinable shapes, infinite dimensions and different colors! No tree is perfectly horizontal, nor two trees are the exact same shape or color, but together, it’s picture perfect. When I’m out in nature and its beauty sets in, it transfers an unspeakable message to me: we are meant to be different and accepting our differences is most natural. With present-day social justices like Black Lives Matter and the Paralympic Movement, we as a culture are becoming a better, more natural, version of ourselves.
Further, riding on trails that ungulate teaches me that fitness, progress, and life are anything but straight forward! Everything has its ups and downs, its ebbs and flows. When I hit a rocky section, my brain can’t move fast enough to contemplate every bump and rock; I have to let the small ones go. This is a big cross over to living life: we must pick and choose our battles and what we fight for. That is why I have chosen to fight and advocate for Para-Mountain Biking to be a Paralympic Sport!
Do you feel that para-athletes have the same opportunities of competition as non-para-athletes? How would you change this?
There are definitely double standards for para- and non-para athletes. For example, the Olympics offers 4 disciplines for cycling — track, road, BMX, and MTB. But the Paralympics only offers 2 — track and road. I’m not certain why it’s set up this way, but I have a hunch, and it also may be the same reason why a handcyclist doesn’t have the same opportunities as a para-cyclist on a bicycle like myself.
The infrastructure, the industry and the idealized picture of a cyclist is limited and designed by a one-size-fits-all mindset. In a single word, it’s exclusive: The industry excludes different bodies and abilities from marketing > the consumers exclude different types of riders > para-categories are excluded from racing > demand for customizable bikes and parts are excluded from production > and the cycle repeats.
At this point in my life, I understand that life works in cycles and trying to stop or start a new one is difficult especially if it’s already set in motion (like why balancing is easier when you go faster!). My goal is to change the perspective of the cycling industry from exclusive to inclusive: First include para-athletes by sharing their stories, and films like ‘Go Josie’ > viewers will be inspired to believe in all abilities to ride bikes including themselves > more categories are included in racing (para, e-bikes, etc) > demand and supply includes bikes and parts for everyone > and the bicycle industry evolves, repeat.
Swiftwick, the performance sock brand working to empower adaptive athletes through partnership and innovative gear, has been a big supporter of the ‘Go Josie’ film. Swiftwick feels strongly that brand ambassadors should not be restricted to only able-bodied athletes, and they intentionally sponsor adaptive athletes and feature them in their marketing materials. Through these endeavors, we hope to inspire and motivate the next generation; it is Swiftwick’s way of living and breathing their mission through all that they do–empowering people to be their best self through the pursuit of adventure. (Editor’s Note: Swiftwick is proud to be the only athletic sock brand that currently makes both adaptive and non-adaptive socks. When they realized there was not an adequate sock on the market to support amputee athletes, they closely worked with the adaptive community to design the VALOR™ line: a collection of socks made for below-knee and above-knee amputees).
How has cycling changed your worldview?
Before cycling, I was a stubborn scientist that thought only linearly and didn’t understand why I burnt out every 2-4 years. Now I get it: I understand my own cycles (menstrual, circadic, sleep, etc), I think cyclically, and have found balance through cycling!
What’s your post-Olympics plan?
My plan after Tokyo is to set the first Para-FKT (Fastest Known Time) on the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park! Not only does this set the foundation for Para-Mountain Biking to be accepted as a Nationally-recognized sport, it mentally sets me up for success at Tokyo. As all competitive athletes know, finishing a race mentally and physically strong is about focusing past the finish line. Thus, the way I see it, the Tokyo Paralympic Games is the perfect way to get into shape to ride 100-miles on a mountain bike in 1 day, pivoting my perspective of Tokyo from the destination into part of my paracycling journey!
Haley Batten is the youngest US Mountain Bike racer on the 2021 Tokyo Olympics long-team, although she is by no means a long shot. In our interview, Haley shares how she arrived at the top of the sport, the importance of mentorship, and basically just a whole bunch of wisdom for such a young athlete. We are grateful to Haley for taking the time to be interviewed by us while she is preparing for the final Olympic qualifying event in a few short months.
MTB Race News: Briefly summarize your cycling resume.
4 x junior US national champion
2017 U23 US national Champion and fourth in U23 World Cup Overall
2019 U23 Pan American Continental champion
In 2019 I landed my first two U23 world cup podiums and World Cup win.
Silver medal in the 2019 World Championships Team Relay with team USA.
2020 Swiss Epic overall win with teammate Annika Langvad
4th U23 world Championships 2020
MTB Race News: When did you know/how did you decide to pursue mountain biking as a profession? Why and how did you choose to balance it with attending college?
Haley Batten: I can clearly remember the moment I decided that I wanted to compete in mountain biking at the Olympics. It was 2012 and I had just won my first national championship in Sun Valley, Idaho. The US Olympic team had recently been announced and they called the selected athletes onto the podium for photos. Todd Wells, Sam Schultz, Georgia Gould, and Lea Davison all stood up there, ready for London. Each one of them a humble, kind, and hard-working individual. I decided then, watching them stand on that stage, that I wanted to see what I could do in this sport. That year, for the first time, I watched the cross-country Olympic event on TV and I realized that the sport I loved was something that I could pursue at a high level. From a young age, I had the confidence and belief in myself that I had the ability to chase after any big dream. I think my parents instilled that in me and my bike helped me find the independence and passion to fuel my pursuits. Now, as we begin the 2021 season, I’m getting closer to making that vision my reality.
I couldn’t have predicted that both Georgia and Lea would become my teammates on the Luna Pro Team (Clif Pro Team) years later, when I began my professional career.
They would help guide and inspire me, along with the many other incredible women on that team including Catharine Pendrel and Katerina Nash that I am grateful to call my mentors and friends. I think that having the guidance of this team in my first years on the world cup stage were fundamental to the rider that I have become. I learned the ins and outs of travel and race preparation, as well as the type of environment that I need to be in the right mindset come race day. Plus, I was surrounded by an all-women’s team and THAT was empowering because it made professional cycling a feasible opportunity to me.
From a young age biking was something I absolutely loved. It gave me freedom, adventure, and adrenaline and it became an important part of my life early on. Although I always dreamed big and poured my energy into cycling, school, or anything that grabbed my attention, I don’t think racing professionally became my reality until I got on my first pro team. It wasn’t until then that I really started to bring my youthful joy for the sport and the career possibilities together. I had the support to begin to put the pieces together to not just dream, but do.
Although most of my energy and drive is pursuing professional cycling, attending university has created an important balance in my life. Not only has it connected me with a special community, but it has also helped me find my passions off the bike and reminds me that being a professional athlete is a unique opportunity. As an athlete, it is often easy to get caught up in the ‘biking bubble” where everyone shares a similar lifestyle. Stepping outside of that has allowed me to find perspective on racing and results, but also makes me appreciate the journey even more. I love learning and I think that challenging myself in new ways, while growing my knowledge base and skill-set is beneficial for being both human and athlete. Yes, it’s very hard to have a high workload for both school and training, but once I can embrace struggle as something that stimulates growth, I often surprise myself with what I am capable of. What I’ve learned is that it’s easy to work hard at something you enjoy. I study what I find meaningful, break up those study sessions with my favorite thing in the world… biking :), and surround myself with great people that will support me and smile through it all. And that, is my recipe for success!
At Quest University Canada, we have a Question as our major and build-your-own degree. My Question is “How can education be optimized to inspire?” I’m really interested in the research surrounding how people learn most effectively. In the future, I hope to help implement effective teaching and learning strategies into the educational system, so that more students can find meaning in their educational experience. I want to help inspire our youth to engage in their education, their own physical and mental health, and apply themselves to the environment and global issues!
MTB Race News: Tell us about your new 2021 team, Trinity racing. How will your bike be spec’d? Anything special/unique about your set-up?
Haley Batten: I am thrilled to be on Trinity this season. While I will continue to be on the same great equipment with Specialized bicycles and Sram components, the support behind the scenes will look a little different in 2021. The staff supporting the athletes on this team have experience helping young athletes make the leap into the elite field and I think this guidance and support is what I need to become the rider I hope to be. I’m happy to continue to be teammates with Christopher Blevins, a good friend of mine and my teammate during ourjunior years on the Whole Athlete development team, while also building new relationships with athletes from all over the world. Plus our bikes will be DIALED!! Last season Specialized launched the new S-works Epic and wow does this bike know how to go fast. It’s spec’d with a RockShox Sid SL fork and RockShox-Specialized rear shock, both with the BRAIN-controlled travel. This, along with my SRAM XX1 Eagle AXS, keeps my cockpit extremely clean. I believe this setup has been a game-changer for allowing me to keep my focus on the race moment, not on the buttons on my handlebar. I have also added the RockShox Reverb AXS dropper post for training and most racecourses. This is another game changer that has improved my riding position on the downhills and overall skill level. In addition, I run the Roval Control SL carbon wheels with 29mm rims and choose between the Specialized Renegade, Fast-Track, and Ground Control tires. All my bikes have the Specialized Women’s Power Pro saddle with Mimic and Wahoo Element Bolt head-unit. The final touch are my sparkling gold Crankbrothers Eggbeater 11 pedals. This bike is light and made for fast racing, but it’s also extremely capable! I’ve tested my limits on the Squamish trails and have been blown away with what this bike allowed me to ride. Having confidence in my equipment is really important to me and this bike can really do it all. Hands down the best xc bike I have ever raced on.
MTB Race News: You coach with Olympic Gold Medalist, Kristin Armstrong. What is your training plan like?
Haley Batten: It has been such an honor to have Kristin Armstrong on my team. Not only is she one of the most successful cyclists in the world, but she is also an incredible mom, coach, and entrepreneur. What she has taught me goes far beyond the workouts she loads to training-peaks, including a mental-toughness, confidence, and perspective that has allowed me to train and prepare for racing at a new level. Our perspective is QUALITY not quantity. I train smart, rest smart, and race smart. Our plans are very focused for the races we want to perform well at and we prioritize the training that will help us get there. With Strava and social media it is becoming more and more common for people to compare their numbers (power, hours, distance, elevation) to others. Although this can definitely be a great motivator and way to create community, it’s important to keep in mind your unique circumstances and what your goals are!! Kristin and I don’t add extra hours that, although they may feel like extra-credit, are really a distraction from what we want to prioritize. Every season I take about a month off the bike and during this time I prioritize my school work, add a variety of sports into my routine, and ride with friends and family I don’t usually get to. This is SO crucial for bringing a fresh and excited mindset back onto the bike when it’s time to get back to training. Kristin’s training approach also focuses on making the process FUN!!! Pursuing mountain biking professionally is something I am so grateful to do, so every day I’m out on my bike I enjoy it. Some days are hard, that is no doubt, but even the hardest days are what make the outcome that much more rewarding.
MTB Race News: What is your biggest strength as a MTB racer?
Haley Batten: What is so cool about MTB is that there is endless room for progression, from technical skill or physical strength to your mindset. No doubt, growing up in Park City with the incredible Utah cycling community really helped me advance quickly and grow to love the sport. I did a lot of racing and group rides with my friends (mostly guys) and I think this really helped me develop my skills early on. Moving to Squamish, BC for university was a whole different level of technical riding!! I’ve SO enjoyed being there in the winter to ride and train, although it does get a little wild out in those woods! I’ve always loved the adrenaline and technical riding aspect of mountain biking, so I think that has allowed me to excel on the more technical courses. This is why I’m not much of a roadie! I love the trails too much! Overall, I think I have a range of skill sets and I try to use that to my advantage. I don’t often consider one race course being better for me than another and I train to perform at any World Cup that is thrown my way. What I have found to be helpful is that I am a very adaptable and positive person, not much can “phase” me. When it comes down to it, you can train as much as you want, but all the travel and chaos of racing at such a high level needs to be enjoyable, not stressful! I focus on the things that I can do to help me perform, since the things that are out of my control aren’t worth worrying about. Although it’s easy to get caught up with how someone else is riding, or what the weather is, or if the airline lost my baggage, it really doesn’t do me much good! So I try to put my energy and focus on the aspects of racing that fuel my passion and prepare me for the incredible journey ahead!
MTB Race News: There are currently six US women on the long list for the Tokyo Olympics. Kate Courtney has already qualified for the team. How will the remaining two spots be determined? Do you have a game plan to make the team?
Haley Batten: The second world cup race in Nove Mesto na Morave, Czech Republic will be our final qualifying event. Until then, it’s all about dotting my i’s and crossing my t’s to make sure I am the best rider that I can be on that day and the events prior. I am confident that I have what it takes to perform during my first year in the elite category. My eyes are also on 2024, so I think doing everything that I can to be at the start line in Tokyo is a huge step for my career. I am confident that there is a good chance one of us can meet the second spot through the selection criteria, but after that it will come to discretionary selection. We have a talented group of US women working for those slots and I think it will be a thrilling year to be a part of!
MTB Race News: Can you tell us a bit about Outride? How are you involved?
Haley Batten: Outride is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to improving the lives of youth through school-based cycling programs and grants. Their programs are evidence-based with the goal of improving social, emotional, physical, and cognitive health of young students. The Outride mission is to make these benefits accessible and sustainable!! Bikes are such an incredible vehicle to empower individuals, beyond the race-course. What Outride stands for aligns with many of my values and working with them has allowed me to speak out about what I value. All that Outride does is supported by research and has had a positive impact on so many children, schools, and communities. I have witnessed the power of the bike first-hand and I’m glad that I can share this journey with Outride to help make the benefits accessible to more people! As an ambassador I work to spread the word about Outride to get more cycling programs into schools. I have not yet been able to get involved with a school visit or more hands-on work as a result of Covid-19, but I am so looking forward to when that becomes a possibility again!
The 2021 Race season was in full swing last weekend with The Cactus Cup stage race hosting most of the US’s 2021 Olympic hopefuls in Phoenix, AZ. The race format included a Time Trial, 40-mile XC race, and Enduro. Sofia Gomez Villafane (Clif Bar) who has spent the winter training in Tucson rode away with the overall after taking the lead in the 40-mile XC stage. The young Kelsey Urban had an impressive weekend with her consistency paying off for a 2nd overall. Erin Huck, Rose Grant, and Hannah Finchamp rounded out the women’s GC podium. The desert got the best of Savilla Blunk, winner of the TT, and Haley Batten, winner of the Enduro, who both ran into mechanical issues during the XC race costing them spots on the GC podium.
Sofia Gome Villafane 3:16:49
Kelsey Urban 3:17:48
Erin Huck 3:18:21
Rose Grant 3:20:55
Hannah Finchamp 3:20:58
Ruth Holcomb 3:23:30
Ruby Ryan 3:23:50
Gwendalyn Gibson 3:27:09
Amy Chandos 3:29:21
Alisha Welsh 3:32:48
In the men’s race, Keegan Swenson (Santa Cruz) took the overall by only 18 seconds over Riley Amos. Cole Paton, Kyle Trudeau, and Daxton Mock wrapped up the GC top 5 with less than two-minutes separating first through fifth.
Keegan Swenson (Santa Cruz) 2:53:47
Riley Amos 2:54:06
Cole Paton 2:54:15
Kyle Trudeau 2:55:30
Daxton Mock 2:55:30
Tobin Ortenblad 2:55:41
Russell Finsterwald 2:56:02
Alex Wild 2:57:07
Tydeman Newman 2:59:49
Paul Fabian 3:3494
True Grit Epic St. George, UT
This weekend was supposed to be the True Grit Epic which includes racer’s choice of a gravel ride, gravel race, or 100 or 50-mile mountain bike race on classic Southern Utah trails. Racers could also choose to participate in the Extreme Grit Gravel/MTB stage race that combines all three stages over three days. Sadly the weather had a different plan. Unseasonal cold, snow, and rain forced race promoters to cancel the mountain bike portion of the race.
Southeast Gravel: Gravel Battle of Sumter Forest Clinton, SC
Gravel Battle of Sumter Forest is the first race of a six race gravel series promoted by the popular Southeast Gravel. Liv Factory racer, Kaysee Armstrong bested Laura King by a mere 12 seconds over 75 miles of racing. Armstrong’s winning time was 3:24:38. Tere Casas, Marjie Bemis, and Elizabeth Mccalley completed the top-5.
Kaysee Armstrong 3:24:38
Laura King 3:24:51
Tere Casas 3:35:54
Marjie Bemis 3:36:04
Elizabeth Mccalley 3:36:07
Annie Rambotham 3:36:08
Ava Sykes 3:38:22
Kim Pettit 3:41:58
Simone Berger 3:41:58
Rhylee Wittrock 3:45:23
Sierra Sims 3:45:27
Scott McGill took the men’s race followed by a sprint finish among Drew Dillman, Issac Bryant, Tim Coffey, and Michael Bissette. Former ProTour road racer, Bobby Julich, who was also in the sprint, placed 7th.
Scott McGill 3:11:54
Drew Dillman 3:12:00
Issac Bryant 3:12:03
Tim Coffey 3:12:07
Michael Bissette 3:12:08
Heath Dotson 3:12:09
Bobby Julich 3:12:10
Matt Moosa 3:12:19
John Croom 3:12:27
Parker Kyzer 3:13:55
Stay tuned as MTBracenews.com continues to bring coverage of some of the most exciting events.
In 2018 Kaitlyn Boyle was on top of the World. Literally. In February she set a course record at 24-Hours in the Old Pueblo (18laps, 300miles) and then went on to be 2018 24-Hour World Champion in Wembo, Scotland. Two short months later, on Christmas Eve, the champion ultra-endurance racer’s life took an abrupt turn when she was involved in a single-vehicle car crash on icy roads in Teton Valley, Idaho.
This was the beginning of a long road of recovery and an uncertain path back to ultra-endurance stardom. Almost two years later, after countless hours rehabbing injuries and regaining fitness, Kaitlyn set out to attempt a FKT (fastest known time) on the Kokopelli trail, a 142-mile rugged mixed terrain trail near Moab, UT. Spoiler: Kait’s finishing time was 13 hours 7 minutes. She shaved 25 minutes off Rebecca Rusch’s long-standing FKT.
Can you share a little background on your accident and rehab?
In October 2018 I won the 24-hour World Championships, capping off the strongest race season of my career. Two months later, on Christmas Eve, I was in a car accident that landed me in the ICU with a shattered pelvis and sacrum, ruptured bladder, and broken fibula.
For a long 16 hours I wondered if I’d ever walk, let along race bikes again. I was so lucky to learn that I would in fact have a chance for a full recovery, which started off with 5 weeks in a wheelchair and 6 weeks on crutches, all wearing an external fixator to stabilize my pelvis.
Months 3-6 I regained a lot of my strength, endurance and mobility and could ride my bike, start training, and go bikepacking. The final few percent has been an elusive target…I’ve been slowly retraining and rehabbing all my connective tissue as my body learns to ride far and fast with a fused sacrum. I probably won’t ever feel the way I felt pre-accident, so now it’s just a matter of working on small gains in strength and mobility as I work towards racing multi-day ultras again.
How did you choose the Kokopelli trail for your FKT? Had you ever ridden the entire 142-mile route before?
I’ve had a long and speckled history with Kokopelli. The trail was the first route I bikepacked, in 2011. I rode it in 3 days, and used a 45L alpine climbing pack to carry my stuff. I had no idea bikepacking or bikepacking bags were a thing. Although I don’t recommend anyone ride with all their stuff on their back, the experience provided enough joy and wonder to hook me. In that way, Kokopelli Trail arguably changed the course of my life as after that ride, bikepacking became my primary focus for outdoor adventures. 5 or 6 years later I returned with a few ultra-races under my belt, hoping to test myself to the challenge of riding the route in one go, as fast as I could. Rebecca Rusch held the record and I didn’t consider myself anywhere near capable of beating it, but I was curious to see what would happen. Despite a few attempts over the following years, including one final one a month after 2018 24-hr Worlds, I never pulled together a complete FKT attempt. In that way, I had unmet goals on Kokopelli, and it would be an opportunity to resume where I left off and achieve a dream I’d had and not met prior to my accident.
Additionally, Kokopelli was the perfect length for my first ultra back from my accident. It was just long enough to be an ultra – it’s one full day. But it wasn’t any longer. I wanted to do a race that would challenge my body in many of the ways ultras do so I could see what would happen, without the commitment or risk of racing for 24, 48, etc hours. In that way, it was a test, a stepping stone towards longer races in the future.
How do you approach a FKT attempt?
I approach it like any other race in how I prepare physically and mentally but the technical preparation is a bit more involved. Because they are self-supported races I spend more time studying the route. From the route and past FKT attempts I can anticipate splits and use those to plan my pacing, nutrition needs, hydration needs, and the plan for how much I’ll carry and when/where I can refill. I’m also more particular about making sure my bike and clothing choices are dialed and won’t fail me, and I bring stuff to field repair whatever is possible. Basically, I think of everything that could reasonably go wrong and try to plan a solution for it, or control the controllable.
Beyond that I write mantras on my handlebars to motivate and ground me in my effort (Note: Kait’s mantras for the Kokopelli FKT were: “I’m Kait” and “Break it down” to help keep her grounded in the present while believing in herself) and then once it’s game time I ride my own ride and try to be in the present as much as possible.
I noticed you chose to ride your Pivot Mach4. Why did you choose this bike?
Because it’s the fastest bike that can take on any terrain. 😉
Some people debate if a hardtail or full suspension is the bike to ride on Kokopelli, after all it is mostly road. But, a lot of the road is rough, ledgy and chunky 4×4 road and the final 15 miles are fairly technical slickrock style singletrack. While I might climb a little faster on my Pivot Les (a hardtail), I gain so much speed on descents and, most importantly, my fatigue is hugely reduced. Being able to fully enjoy every rock, ledge, and rut in the final 15 miles and be able to ride it all smoothly is a testament to that bike.
What was your bike set-up? What tires did you choose and why? What was your suspension set-up?
I rode my Pivot Mach 4SL with an MRP Ribbon fork at 120mm, the new Industry Nine Ultralite Carbon 280 24h wheels with Hydra MTN hubs, Shimano XTR drivetrain and brakes, and a 9Point8 Fall Line R dropper post. I ran Maxxis 2.4 Aspen, they are super fast rolling, which is ideal for all the road, but the 2.4 width provides just a bit more traction on slickrock and a bit more float in sand (of which there can be a lot!).
Anything special on your bike build worth mentioning?
This was my first opportunity to race the Mach 4SL in an ultra. I’d used it in some shorter races but not yet in anything long (it was released in late Spring 2019). It was incredible to feel how fast and smooth it really is. Also, the MRP forks are made in Grand Junction, Colorado which is just down the road from the Kokopelli Trail finish. It was fun to be out there knowing that fork was crushing on home soil.
How do you successfully fuel for a 13+hour self-supported race effort? What are your tricks for carrying all of the water and fuel necessary for this monumental effort?
I use grams of carbs to hold me accountable to consuming enough fuel to keep my tank full and stomach happy. I know I personally race ultras well on 60 grams of carbs/hour, so I plan food around that. For a pretty fast paced ultra like Kokopelli with little opportunity for recovery while riding, I stuck to a lot of simple fuels by GU – chews, Summit Tea Roctane, and Cola Me Happy gels to be specific. I supplemented those with a few gf chocolate chip cookies, small gf blueberry muffins, and a couple Joje bars. These whole foods keep my food diverse to keep me interested enough in eating. I put about 2000 calories in the Mag Tank 2000 (hence the name), and then the overflow thousand I stuffed into the pockets on my Patagonia Slope Runner vest.
For water I used the bladder in my vest and two 24oz water bottles to carry my water and I refilled in a creek and the Colorado River along the way. (Kait uses aquamuira to treat her water; it’s a liquid chemical treatment and is faster than filtering).
How do you stay comfortable in the saddle for such a long effort?
Well first, I don’t wear chamois. (Kait reports that her ideal cycling short would be chamois-free, breathable, and seamless). I learned early on that a breathable and unpadded short with the right saddle is the best strategy to having a happy butt for continuous hours or days in the saddle. I wear running or tri tights and use the Ergon SR Pro Women’s saddle and Ergon GA3 grips.
What did Hank do while you were racing? (Hank is Kait’s beloved dog)
Hank served stress relief for my partner, Will! He did run with me to the start line in the dark at 4am, which was pretty adorable because he just trotted out in front of me in my beam of light, down the dirt road for about a ¼ mile, as if he was going to pace me for all of Kokopelli. Beyond that he kept Will company as he drove our truck to meet me at the finish and they went for their own MTB ride to distract them from checking trackleaders.
They were both at the finish line, which was a first for us and that meant the world to me.
Anything else you would like to share?
I was pretty stunned that I set an FKT. It was such a milestone in my journey, and has given me a lot of hope. It also felt incredibly vulnerable to set a big goal after such a long recovery and show up committed, all in and with an invitation for the world to watch me race for a Kokopelli FKT alongside Lael Wilcox and Kurt Refsnider. I share this because for anyone reading, regardless of what their source of doubt, nerves or fear is, it’s always worth showing up, day after day to try your best and believe in what you can do.