Rebecca’s Private Idaho: Queen’s Stage Race
Posted by Griffin Easter on September 18, 2023
I opened the front door and instantly felt a cold, heavy air surrounding me. Fall? I glanced at the thermometer and read 32ºF. I guess fall is here. I was happy, however, it was the start of Rebecca’s Private Idaho and I was back in Ketchum.
This would be my third year in the race. Three times for The Baked Potato, and twice for the Queen’s Stage Race. I had won the final day (The Baked Potato) twice and wondered if I could make it three this year. In all transparency, up until that weekend, my season had been quiet and uneventful from a results standpoint.
But the real reason I decided to come back for RPI was not for a repeat, it was to bring my brother Cullen to experience the magic Rebecca has created with her event. We have our own cycling-based non-profit foundation, Opicure, and I wanted him to see what the culmination of many years of hard work can look like. From the race to the atmosphere to the fundraising aspect. It is precisely what we dream of one day becoming.
With that being said, I’ll now jump into the racing…
Adventure Stage: Slightly different than the year before, we started at Baker Creek and headed up the Herriman Trail towards Galena Lodge. Instead of crossing over the highway we stayed on the western side and took the mountain bike trails in that zone. It wasn’t long before our group solidified. Alex Howes, Michael Van Den Ham and myself. Little did we know that would be the makeup for the rest of the week. Without discussion, we made an agreement that we would stick together to the line.
With less than a mile to go, Howes drifted to the back of our group, attacked, and came over the top. He misjudged a hard left turn and blew past. He slowed and chased back to our group. We continued to keep the pressure on but the finish loomed and tensions were high. Again Howes, from the front this time, attacked up and over a small bridge. Unluckily, he double unclipped from his pedals, almost crashing and losing his advantage. I snaked around him through the following right-hand turn with Van Den Ham close on my heels. I made a final dig and before anyone could make any further moves the finish line came. I hung on for the win.
Dollarhide Uphill TT: The top ten riders of the QSR started in reverse order at 10 second increments. For the first time ever in my cycling career, I was starting a TT last and in the lead of the race. I was nervous, even though I had raced plenty of big road races over the years. But, I was finally at the pointy end of a race this year competing for the win. Howes was sent off, Van Den Ham was sent off, it was almost my start. Before I rolled out Rebecca calmly leaned in and told me, “Go sub 21.”
With those short few words, a calm came over me and I was back in the flow state. I have experienced that moment a few times during my racing days, but for some reason when someone of high regard tells me what to do calmly, everything becomes clear and simple. I know the task at hand. It didn’t take me long to catch Van Den Ham and then shortly after Howes. From that point until the top, we were again a group of three. A mini TTT within a TT, alternative racing lol? In the middle Alex made a big move and I was worried I had gone too deep too soon. Fortunately, after what seemed far too long a time, he let up on the gas. In the final kilometer I dispatched Howes and just before the top Van Den Ham. I won stage 2.
The Baked Potato: My brother Cullen arrived the night before and was toeing the start line with me. I was leading the QSR and wanted to try and repeat for a third final-day victory. Up the infamous Trail Creek climb, we quickly whittled the field down to 5: Cullen Easter, Michael Van Den Ham, Alex Howes and Stephen Mull. We all did our fair share of the work. No one skipped turns, it was a well-oiled effort. At the far end aid station, we decided to stop and fill bottles. Unfortunately, that gave the chase group behind enough time to catch us and swelled the group to maybe 10-12 riders. The far end of the course usually experiences the most wind and this year the biggest difference was the looming Mordor clouds.
On a descent rolling back to the aid, Van Den Ham nuked a tailwind attack. It was a decisive move and whittled the group back down to 5 or 6 of us. The only obstacle left was “El Diablito”, a 4-5 mile additional climbing loop. The loop is rugged and houses many sharp obstacles. It is also where I have made my winning move to finish solo the previous two years. What was apparent since Stage 1, was that between Howes, Van Den Ham and myself, there was not much difference in fitness. I think everyone was aware this had been my zone of attack because I made my move and locked on my heels were Howes and Van den Ham.
I gave it everything I had, and so did Van Den Ham and Howes but nobody could get away and we exited together back onto Trail Creek. Michael made a few more attacks but all were answered. At that point, we knew it would come down to a three-up sprint. We neared the finish line and in one second of hesitation, Howes kicked and Van Den Ham followed. I was sitting third wheel and there was nothing I could do to try and catch up to pass either of them. Van Den Ham took the win, Howes was second and I took third. However, for the first time ever I won the overall at RPI QSR.
I love this weekend of racing. This year was a smaller field of the nation’s fastest gravel racers, but we still had a core group of fast guys. True, I fell short of the three-peat Baked Potato win, but I secured the overall victory. Cullen rode like a monster and finished 6th. An incredible ride seeing he had worked 4 overnight shifts at the hospital, drove up the day before and has a full-time job. It felt like the old days when he was shepherding Chris Horner up the steep mountains at Tour of Utah. I got to meet and hang with some of the sport’s coolest individuals doing good. Once again building my network of like-minded people who all share one common thread, the bike. I got the chance to hang out with the Queen of Pain, Rebecca Rusch. We, Cullen and myself, also got to see where an organization can go if the right people work together for a common goal.
I love this weekend and can’t wait to come back. It just keeps getting better and better. Thanks for an incredible week of bikes Rebecca and team.