2.5 hours of racing came down to inches, and Ruth was perfect in the clutch
Sprint finishes aren’t common in long-distance mountain biking and gravel races. The even so long and such a grind that the field of potential winners has often been winnowed away well before the finish line.
But when Ruth Edwards found herself heads up with Alexis Skarda in the closing meters of the Chequamegon 40, she knew exactly what to do. The former track and road cyclist has found herself in plenty of sprint situations before. In 2021, she performed a picture perfect bike throw to win Brabantse Pijl by perhaps the narrowest margin you will ever see.
She didn’t need an incredible bike throw to win in Chequamegon. Just an empty-the-tanks effort at the end of nearly two-and-a-half hours of racing.
“I kind of wanted her to lead it out, but she also wanted me to leave it out,” Edwards laughed. “I think I put it in a little bit too big of a gear. And then I was really bogged down at the end and she was coming up behind me really fast. But I got her by a little bit.”
The times on the official results sheet doesn’t show fractions of a second. Edwards and Skarda are listed P1 and P2 among the pro women with the exact same time: 2:25:34, roughly a minute-and-a-half ahead of third place Sofia Gomez Villafane.
Edwards is a racer through and through. Before taking up adventure races all across the U.S. in 2022, she was a pro road cyclist for eight years — three of them for Lidl-Trek. She was the team’s Swiss Army knife, capable of performing, and winning, in any type of race, from flat sprints to mountain top finishes.
I got to the top and it was just me and Alexis, and then I just was like, 'Come on Alexis, let's freaking go, let's do it.'
On Saturday, in the great wooded north of Wisconsin, her competitive instincts kicked in and she animated the race early and often.
“I was excited about coming to this one,” Edwards said. “It’s fun to hang out with Trek people, but also just fun to do a shorter, more dynamic race. That’s kind of my jam versus the 200-mile Unbound style of racing. It was pretty chill the first 15 Miles, not much happened, and I got a little bored. So I put in an attack on one of the gravelly roads.”
Edwards’ first attack didn’t stick, but her move on the 10-plus percent gradients of the Fire Tower climb, roughly 22 miles in, got away with only Skarda on her wheel. From there, the duo stayed away from a who’s-who of the fastest all-surface riders in the world.
“I was like, ‘Well, I either wait for somebody else to go hard, or I just go as hard as I can up this climb,’ which is what I chose to do,” Edwards said. “And then I got to the top and it was just me and Alexis, and then I just was like, ‘Come on Alexis, let’s freaking go, let’s do it.’ I might have sworn [laughs].
“But I was just excited. Like this is a fun way to race, we’re in a good position, I’m feeling good, and she’s really strong too. And we just worked together super well.”
Edwards was one of the fan favorite riders at the event on her Trek Supercaliber. The Wisconsin-based event enjoys a heavy Trek presence, taking place roughly 300 miles north of Trek Headquarters. She raced the event with fellow Trek athletes Kiel Reijnen and Paige Onweller, and helped lead a shakeout group ride on Friday from the Race Shop’s retro yellow camper van.
It's cool to be here when there's so many people around, and to be racing for Trek. I love my Supercal so much, so it was fun to do well on that bike.
The course and the atmosphere were exactly to Edwards’ liking. Her Supercaliber is tailor-built for Chequamegon’s steep climbs and tricky descents.
“It’s cool to be here when there’s so many people around, and to be racing for Trek. I love my Supercal so much, so it was fun to do well on that bike,” Edwards said. “This course is so up and down. It was a little bit muddy at times, but I decided to ride a really low profile tire in the XR1. So a really, really low tread tire, and it just worked super well for me. No mud was ever sticking to me. I just glided through the grass and the slick mud sections.”
Edwards has thrived on her Supercaliber this year. In August, she took second at the Leadville 100, and now sits third overall on the Lifetime Grand Prix standings. Most importantly, she’s racing with her signature flair again. Whether she’s taking on 12,000 feet of elevation gain at high altitude or sprinting like her life depends on it, Edwards is in her element.
“I think the races that excited me at the beginning of the year were the mountain bike-style ones, and I had a good race at Leadville,” Edwards said. “So to do well at this one, it gives me good confidence in myself that when I set out to pursue a goal, I can succeed.”