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Evan Plews Wins El Paso Puzzler - Report, Pics, and Results

Posted by: Shannon Boffeli |February 7, 2013 12:41 AM
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Behind The Bars:  Solving the Puzzler -- A Hat Trick!

Written by: Evan Plews

I returned to my "normal" early season race schedule this year with a trip back to El Paso for the Puzzler 50 miler. Some of you remember that I raced here in both 2010 and 2011 and returned victorious both times. Last year this particular weekend was complicated and while I had intended to return, I had to cancel my trip at the last minute. This time I started planning last fall and included the Puzzler in my four race sample of the TMBRA Marathon Series.

This was my fifth season that began with a race in Texas. I visited Terlingua twice for Mas O Menos several years ago and the common themes have always been the same: new friends, great weather, awesome trails and kind hospitality. This trip was no different as I arrived to El Paso with smooth, trouble free travel Friday evening. My new friends picked me up from the motel and delivered me to the venue in time to register and get some riding in.

This year was already a little different with the new Puzzler Trail Run taking place Saturday. I have always said that this is the toughest marathon mountain bike race I've done so watching these folks completely half and full marathon courses on foot was super cool and impressive! I have a new goal too: run and trail marathon someday!

The course has evolved each year of the Puzzler and this time was no different. I cruised out for a trip around the first loop and sampled some of the newest trail and it didn't disappoint! Stoked for the race I rode back to the hotel to get rested up and ready to battle the rocks of the Franklin Mountains. 

With a variety of out of state and local competition lined up and licking their chops I was excited but also a little fearful of what was coming. These trails are brutalizing: full of every imaginable type of rock and sharp organic object the race can be over for any number of reasons at any moment. The first loop consisted of a bit of fast double track, a relatively smooth singletrack climb/descent then a long double track descent/traverse through a minefield of rocks and washes back to the venue. I took the initiative but settled into third position on the climb. As soon as the trail tilted back down I was able to move back to the front.

I continued to set the pace through the beginning of the second loop. I noticed that only one rider was able to match my pace through the twisty but flat and smooth "cow trails". This gave me confidence because clearly I was fastest on the descents and close to the best on the flatter technical sections. However, I had to remain concerned because 30+ miles of disaster filled trail lay directly ahead!

As soon as we began the long climb to Mundy's Gap and over the Franklin Mountains, the riders pushed the pace and began to open a gap. I settled into a manageable pace eyeballing their hard tails in anticipation of the coming descent. This is one of the most treacherous sections of knar I've ever raced down and while I had lost a couple minutes to the leading riders over the top, my Ibis was ready to soar and it was all I could do to hold things back as we dropped in. By the time we hit the cannonball alley at the bottom they had nearly relinquished their lead and I back into second place as we reached the first feed zone. 

While the backside (west) of the mountains doesn't have huge climbs it is a series of relentless short climbs in and out of countless arroyos and some of the most unforgiving rockiness imaginable. With my steed devouring this garbage insatiably, I again moved to the front and again only one (different) rider could follow. This continued to the base of the switchback singletrack climb back over the mountains when he unleashed a vicious attack and left me chuckling. Not so much at him because I know he is a local and had some kind of plan, but rather because there was no way I was going to flush my legs with nearly 20 miles to go.

Again I managed the gap over the top and dropped in to the Sotol Trail which could be my most "respected" trail anywhere. This ribbon of nasty was apparently scratched out using the IMBA handbook with beautiful bench cut and grade reversals. However, this is El Paso and while the trail concept is perfect, the geology and flora and have conspired to make it as rough as it gets! With an abyss only interrupted by spiny things to the left, and a wall to right, the only option is the relentless cobbles and drops directly ahead. Just one switchback in, the leader was off his bike. I asked if he was OK and after getting an affirmative answer I refocused and plunged onward.

A few quick glances behind told me he was likely done and I finished the second loop with a seemingly comfortable gap. "Comfortable" is a relative term because I still had 15 miles of some of the toughest mountain bike racing on the planet still on my plate. Lady luck was on my side though and with my bike and Kenda tires begging for more, the miles flew by with comparative ease. I only began to savor the taste of another Puzzler solution as I sped back down the cow trails toward the finish at Bowen Round House!

I am not sure if I will ever solve this puzzle again but if I do, it will be same as always: with strong legs, mad skills and even more good fortune!

Brief Results

Open Men

1. Evan Plews - Ibis/REALL

2. Jonathan Davis - Trek Colorado

3. David Vaughn - Ziavello


Open Women

1. Alison Kinsler - NoTubes

2. Jennifer Wilson - NoTubes

3. Melissa Liebling - Chamois Butter


Singlespeed Open

1. Matt Barkley - Orange Seal

2. Anthony Petta - Bicycle Company

3. Mark Challoner - M&M Cycling



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