Rapha Prestige | Ozark Plateau
The Rapha Prestige always presents a grueling challenge, with some years topping distances of 200km. Besides the distance, the ride has a history of combing paved and unpaved sections of road; culminating into a challenging team endeavor. Cyclists from all over the globe fill the team roster spots looking forward to the challenge; and this year was no different with the Ozark Plateau rendition.
After surveying the Visit Bentonville Racing team to find out who was crazy enough to willingly sign up for a day of suffering, we narrowed it down to a few guys who were interested. Myself, Luke Hall, and Olivier Lavigueur composed the VBR teammates and our fourth rider was Sam Pickman, director of Engineering at HIA Velo. I was feeling great about our team. I did wonder if I would be the weakest link but I knew regardless of how long it took us to finish we could fill the hours with laughable conversation.
Ozark Plateau started in downtown Bentonville and proceeded to cover 118 miles of rolling Ozark goodness, 12ish miles of which took place on our iconic gravel roads. The route proceeded east tagging popular spots like Whitney Mountain and Indian Creek before wrapping around and through Eureka Springs. From there it would take hwy 127 South to Clifty before weaving back West along hwy 12 past Beaver Lake. The debate of the Prestige was which bike (gravel or road) and what tire size to run. Rapha printed out that they recommended people run ‘new’ 25c tires, but most of our riders opted for the larger 28c width.
Total climbing: 8524 ft
One aspect of the Prestige that I enjoyed was that it was not just a ride where you smash it and then go home. There were two (pre-ride, post-ride) parties, allowing cyclists from around the globe to mingle and network. I met several Rapha employees including the Founder Simon Mottram; along with Lance Armstrong and ‘Big George’ Hincapie who were in town to ride with Steuart and Tom Walton.
After I had my fill of beer and tacos from Friday night’s party at 8th Street Market, I went home early to double check my bike set up and make sure I was prepared for the next day. The morning came early; as my teammates and I had decided to grab breakfast beforehand in hopes top out our calories for the day. Our start time was 9:06, separated by 2 minutes from the teams before and after us. We set off on course planning to start slow. That plan quickly faded as we launched into the first section of gravel near Sugar Creek. I was always told that riding quick through gravel was best because it allowed you to sort of float over all of the crap instead of bouncing around between it, but that plan failed quick as I pinch flatted 1 mile into the first section.
One thing I didn’t know was that 2 of my fellow teammates were like NASCAR pit crew at tire changing…Olivier and Sam had my flat fixed faster than I could blink and we were off again, for about 3 pedal strokes anyway. Sam realized after he had assisted me with my flat that his front had gone flat. Back off the bike.
While Sam and Oli were changing flat #2, I gazed down the fog filled gravel road anticipating when I’d see Lance and George (the group behind us) ripping up the riser. Sure enough, about that moment I see both ex pro’s opening a gap to Stu and Tom up the incline. Lance asked us if we had everything we needed, a funny gesture as I knew he had no intention of stopping. Tom laughed at us and told us to catch up so we could ride together.
We got rolling again and off of the gravel, only to stop once more fixing my rear tire again, flat #3. This was setting up to be a long day as we had traveled about 10 miles in the first hour. Past the second section of gravel we were sure we had finally gotten our tires to hold air, and we leap frogged Lance and George once more as they had flat troubles of their own.
Our team hadn’t spoken a lick about strategy for pacing or who should do what work, but I was willing and worked for several hours knowing I had a good base in my legs. We made it through the first checkpoint atop Whitney Mt. and were on our way north to the one lane bridge crossing at Beaver. The sun was out and wind fairly calm; we were really enjoying ourselves. Sam had never ridden in this area and found several of his favorite roads along this section.
We sailed through Beaver and South past Eureka, before we stopped in Clifty at a gas station about mile 80. Here we purchased a family sized bag of potato chips, a couple of Cokes and chatted with a few other groups that pulled in just after us. As we were setting up to leave we saw Lance and George riding tempo past the gas station, opting not to stop. I yelled at Luke to hurry up if we wanted to chase onto their train. We got on the road, and I knew if we went steady we could catch them in a bit as they weren’t out of sight. Sam and Oli decided to make the bridge short and pinned us back to their group of 4.
It was pretty memorable to be trading pulls with Lance and George as we rode for about 15 miles with them. We made our way on to a pretty gnarly gravel descent towards War Eagle Mill. Lance went full gas into the downhill giving me flashbacks of his 2003 TDF when he straight lined the switchback descent avoiding a crash. I guess the speed at which he hit the gravel ended up costing him because he flatted shortly after.
We decided to push on just the four of us and made our way towards Prairie Creek. Another flat #4, and a bit of bonking at this point we were really feeling the day. Olivier and Sam had the best legs at this point and made sure we got home. We chatted the rest of the way in about recovery food and the party which was set for the remainder of the evening.
Ropeswing catered the after party and we took advantage of the delicious food they had prepared. Barbeque and beer sure does the trick for tired legs and salty faces. Live music was set up and plenty of shade could be found under the trees in the field behind 21C. I enjoyed hearing the people from out of town describe the landscape and events of the day. Everyone was in awe of the riding we have here. I was proud to showcase our state, and even more thrilled to hear the verbal confirmation from people who ride in places like Portland, Seattle, Boulder and other great cycling destinations. I’d say the Ozarks did the Prestige justice!
Thanks to the team at Rapha who worked hard at putting on the event, the locals who assisted in planning the route and working at aid stations, and Steuart and Tom who continually push cycling for NWA and allow amazing experiences like the Prestige to happen. I love how our small community is beginning to embrace the sport and believe that bike tourism can be a contributing factor to our economy! It’s weekends like these that make me proud to call NWA home.
6:27 moving time
7,500 ft elevation gain
7:40 total time