By Chris Magerl — Breanne Nalder is a road racer. She was part of the Team Time Trial at the 2015 UCI Road Worlds. A few weeks before The Wild Horse she was completing the Tour of the Gila road stage race, and a few weeks after The Wild Horse she completed the Tour of California road stage race. But she was on the start line of The Wild Horse on May 6, ready to churn out 76 miles of dirt and gravel around the Cedar Mountain Wilderness in Tooele County.
“I had blast getting off road!” said Nalder. “It’s such a fun change to get out of a high-speed peloton and roll around in the dirt with other amazing cyclists.”
The day was going pretty well for Nalder, who turned the fastest women’s time up Hastings Pass and Rydalch Pass, the two climbs that determine the KOM/QOM at The Wild Horse. By the time she rolled into the third aid station, at mile 56, she had been told by other riders that she had a significant gap to the second place woman.
“This was my fatal mistake,” said Nalder “I’ll admit I got a bit confident and decided to stop at the last feed station and have a soda. I never get to stop in races so thought if others do it must be normal, right? I had plenty of time, right?”
Nalder drank a Coke. She filled her bottles. She snacked and chatted with the aid station volunteers. Then she saw Jeanette Petersen pedaling up the road, past the aid station and past Nalder.
“So I jumped on my bike and started motoring. Five minutes later I looked down and I had left both of my bottles at the feed station. Let’s just say the next 20 miles we’re not pleasant!” said Nalder. “I never caught Jeanette, and give her all the credit for riding a great steady race.”
Petersen went on to win The Wild Horse in a time of 5:07, which placed her 10th amongst the 102 finishers of The Wild Horse. Nalder rolled in about five minutes later.
“This was only my second endurance race I’ve ever entered,” said winner Petersen. “I just ride and race for fun while trying to set personal goals.”
Petersen was on her full suspension Cannondale Scalpel MTB. ” Not the lightest set up but I was definitely having more fun on the descents and could go a lot faster than my competition.”
Meghan Sheridan, last year’s winner and the only woman to go under five hours in three years of The Wild Horse, said her early season fitness couldn’t match 2016. “Due to the high winds, the Wild Horse was extremely tough this year and a big early season accomplishment!” said Sheridan.
The men’s race saw a fast guy miss the start, a strong group go off the front, several brave solo chases and more than a few flat tires at crucial moments.
Jamey Driscoll, an elite level CX racer living in Park City, arrived in Delle 12 minutes before the start. “I could have scrambled, but knew that I wanted to be prepared for that kind of adventure,” said Driscoll. The ride started, and Driscoll was not there, heading out about ten minutes behind. This led to multiple riders commenting on being passed by Driscoll looking like he was riding a rocket. Driscoll turned the screws on Hastings Pass, the first long climb, and thought that he might be able to work his way up to the leaders as he let it rip down the back side of Hastings.
Then he flatted. Chase over. He did go on to win the KOM, completing each of the two timed climbs more than one minute faster than the second-place man.
“After the flat, I rode it differently, since I was alone. I was saving something for the KOM. The other riders didn’t have my effort to gauge off of,” said Driscoll.
On the front, Roger Arnell, the winner of the first two editions of The Wild Horse, was in a small group motoring away on Hastings, along with Christoph Heinrich, Chris Stuart and Erik Harrington. As they neared the top, Heinrich eased off, a small gap opened, and Heinrich was left to chase hard on the descent, at one point hitting 45 mph. On gravel. On a CX bike. He passed Harrington early in the descent and caught the two leaders at the bottom, just after they turned south, into the teeth of a hard headwind.
“Now there were the three of us, working well together into the headwind,” said Heinrich. “Surprisingly, Erik made it back into the group as well, after he soloed into the headwind for probably 30 minutes, a very impressive effort.”
Then Harrington flatted. He would not see the lead trio the rest of the day, and would go on to finish fourth.
On Rydalch, the second long climb at the southern end of the course, Stuart took off and was off the front alone, a strong tailwind pushing him toward the finish, about 30 miles north. Heinrich chased solo, frequently seeing Stuart in the distance, and eventually catching and passing Stuart with about 20 miles to go. Then Stuart flatted, but Heinrich didn’t know it, and spent that final 20 miles expecting to see Stuart come back up to him at any moment. Heinrich pushed hard, finishing in 4:27, shattering Arnell’s course record by about nine minutes. Stuart pedaled in seven minutes later, and Arnell finished third. “Overall another great day and race!” said Arnell.
In the 31-mile Little Wild Horse, Brennon Petersen dropped Aaron Phillips a few miles from the finish and cruised in at 1:48:49, a course record. “After the sand pits me and Aaron actually saw a bunch of wild horses,” said Petersen. “It was super cool but sadly I couldn’t stop and take a picture.” Brennon Petersen, a rider on the Canyon Bicycles Elite Jr. Devo Team, is the son of Jeanette Petersen, the women’s winner of The Wild Horse.
In the women’s Little Wild Horse, Jennifer Cherland crossed the line first, ahead of 17 other women in the shorter distance.
The Wild Horse benefits the Utah League High School MTB Scholarship Fund. In addition to a contribution to the Scholarship Fund, all of the aid station volunteers and most of the finish line crew were Utah League folks, who received a contribution directly to their respective programs.
Second place finisher Stuart referred to his day as “a lot of type-2 fun.”
“It will be an event I’ll want to do in 2018,” said Stuart.
And for CX stand-out Driscoll, making the start with time to spare will be on the to-do list for the future. “The course is definitely for real. I will be trying to get a different bike for future editions,” said Driscoll. “I wanted to balance the position that I would be semi-comfortable in, but real MTB tires would be helpful. And maybe some suspension.”