WHISKEY OFF-ROAD: Married Tucson cyclists moved to Prescott to train for Sunday's Pro 50 Proof
Mountain bikers T.J. and Chloe Woodruff of Tucson were so dead set on making their way to Prescott to train for this year's Whiskey Off-Road 50-mile professional race that they moved here temporarily this winter.
The married couple has some friends who were looking for a short-term rental home in Tucson, so they rented them their place a few months ago and left shortly afterward for Prescott's cooler climes and mile-high training environment.
"That allowed us to get out of town and come up here," T.J. said last Tuesday from White Spar Campground, before embarking on a training ride with Chloe. "We knew that this race was going to be happening. This time of year the weather is more favorable here than in Tucson. And being here in advance, your body has a chance to adjust to the altitude."
The Woodruffs also knew that they would have several opportunities to race and practice on Prescott's accessible network of riding trails leading up to Sunday morning's running of the Whiskey.
"Maybe people in Prescott don't realize how much of an asset these trails are," Chloe said. "It is really such a great thing to have in your backyard."
Chloe, a successful eighth-year pro rider who's a member of the Crankbrothers Race Club, competes with fellow teammate Judy Freeman of Boulder, Colo.
Crankbrothers is a women's World Cup-caliber cross-country racing team that travels to races throughout the year, and Chloe's sponsors pay for most of her expenses.
"We (T.J. and I) came up here in part to prepare for the Whiskey. That certainly played a role," said Chloe, who grew up racing her twin sister to school on their bikes in Boulder, a competitive-cycling hotbed. "And then the other part is, we like Prescott. We're kind of getting a feel for the area, and the mountain biking here is phenomenal. It's a huge draw."
On Friday, Chloe placed third in the Whiskey's Pro Women's Fat Tire Criterium, which serves as a qualifier for today's ride.
This will be Chloe's first 50-mile race. Last year, she took fifth in the Crit but flatted in the Whiskey. She typically trains for shorter rides of 1-1/2 to 2 hours instead of 3-1/2 to 4 hours.
"I would love a top-three finish," she said earlier in the week of the Whiskey 50.
But it's clear that Chloe has much grander aspirations. Women's mountain biking will be a sport in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and Chloe wants to be on the U.S. team.
"On a smaller level this year, I'm going to a handful of World Cups," she said. "So I'll be racing internationally."
On the other hand, T.J., 30, owns a mountain bike-coaching business, Momentum Endurance, in Tucson and he primarily spends his own money to pay for race fees.
"For some people, such as Chloe, it's actually a profession," he said. "The majority of us, 90 percent of us, it's more we're 'paying to play,' and our sponsors help offset the cost."
T.J. and Chloe typically ride in 20-25 mountain bike races a year. The 2013 Whiskey's $40,000 total cash purse provides an incentive for T.J. to be in Prescott. He'd be proud to finish in the top 10 again, like he did two years ago.
T.J. coaches cyclists and writes training plans to help them prepare for races such as the Whiskey. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, he moved to Arizona so he could mentor cyclists year-round.
The Woodruffs plan to stay in Prescott through mid-July.
"We're excited to be here," Chloe said.
T.J., who started mountain biking at the age of 13 or 14 in his native Wisconsin, has ridden in the Whiskey pro race the past two years.
In 2011, he finished a respectable eighth. Last year he had a flat tire during the race, fixed it, and still crossed the line on Whiskey Row in 32nd. Albeit frustrating, the experience has motivated him.
"It's a challenge," said T.J., who enjoys the exploration and independence that biking has afforded him through the years. "The big thing is just having the right equipment before the race starts and choosing appropriate tires."
The type of tires that riders use in the Whiskey is more important than you might think, especially on a course laced with uphill climbs and jagged, protruding rocks on the Prescott National Forest.
T.J. said manufacturers make super-lightweight tires that go uphill faster. On the other hand, they don't provide as much protection against flats as the heavier, reinforced tires.
He prefers the lighter-weight tires and carbon-fiber bike frames and rims to reduce the amount of energy he expends on the climbs.
"That's kind of the gamble that we all take," he said. "You want to run the lightest, most minimal equipment. But there's a line where it's too light and then it just gets shredded by the rocks."
To prepare for Sunday's race, T.J. often rode the entire Whiskey route, but he also traversed a combination of trails that include portions of its course.
"That's so I can work on one piece at a time," he said, "or one section of the trail at a time."
Chloe and T.J. have worked out and completed several training rides here together. But that hasn't always been the case.
"Typically we don't train together that much," Chloe said, laughing. "He's my coach, so sometimes I don't want to have my coach critiquing me while I ride my bike."
Added T.J., "It's safer if we don't ride together."
T.J. said he wheels around on the Prescott trails six days a week, although some days are much longer than others.
In the preseason during the winter months, the couple conducts strength-training routines.
"But as you get closer to your higher priority races, your training resembles what the races require more and more and more," T.J. said.
For a race like the Whiskey, T.J. added that it's important to put in longer rides to prepare for the strenuous uphill climbs.
During those rides, he utilizes a small digital instrument attached to his handlebars that tabulates a rider's altitude as well as his heart rate, pedal-power output, speed, distance and cadence.
"It records basically all the metrics," T.J. said. "So then after your ride, this actually syncs with your computer so you can look at the graphs and really break down what your ride looks like."
For example, he kept the data he recorded of his ride in last year's Whiskey so he could train for Sunday's race.
Nevertheless, T.J. still understands that he'll need any advantage he can get this morning to be in contention.
"The competition is stiff," he said. "There will be numerous Olympians, national champions and plenty of really fast guys. I'm in a position where I'm kind of scrapping at the leftovers that those guys have. But it's good."