Champion Idaho cyclist hosts scenic ride from hometown

  • By Roger Phillips, Idaho Statesman
  • Friday, August 22, 2014 10:35am
  • Life

Professional cyclist Rebecca Rusch wanted to introduce people to her adopted hometown and her training grounds around Sun Valley, so she invited some fellow cyclists.

But unlike most bikers who invite a few buddies on their favorite routes, the inaugural Rebecca’s Private Idaho last summer attracted about 225 riders from around the world.

The event is back for its second running Aug. 31, and anyone ready to tackle a long, gravel-road ride through a scenic portion of Idaho can ride with a world champion and hundreds of other cyclists.

The deadline for registration is Aug. 25. Go to

Meet the Queen of Pain

Rusch is a pixie of a cyclist with an ever-present smile and the iron will of a champion and unlikely nickname “The Queen of Pain.”

She’s won numerous races as an endurance rider, including the famed Leadville Trail 100, Dirty Kanza 200 and 24 Hour MTB World Championships.

Yes, those 100 and 200 numbers are miles, and she rides 24-hour races solo.

Despite being a professional cyclist with a schedule of races and events, not to mention her work as a firefighter and EMT in Ketchum, Rusch started “Rebecca’s Private Idaho” last year because she said, “It’s always been a dream of mine to host a cycling event in my hometown.” 

Her dream was nearly derailed last summer, when wildfires burned around Ketchum days prior to the race.

She had to make the call 10 days before the inaugural ride whether to cancel it or hope conditions improved.

“I rolled the dice,” she said.

The payoff

The ride wasn’t without its rough spots — literally. The road was washboarded, the air at times smoky, there were brutal headwinds, and the ride challenged some who were expecting a casual cruise.

And people loved it.

“She put her heart and soul into this event, and it showed,” the Adventure Monkey blog wrote. “She was a gracious host and a genuine person. What a sweetheart, off the bike anyway, she crushes while on the bike.”

The ride also brought people back to Sun Valley after the usual throng of visitors avoided the area because of the fires.

“I’m really proud of what we did,” Rusch said. “It was like a recovery celebration after the fires, and the whole town rallied.”

As another vote of confidence for the event, National Geographic Adventure added the ride to its 2014 “Ultimate Adventure Bucket List.”

Are you ready to ride? 

Rusch’s event is not a Greenbelt cruise, nor it is intended to be, but it’s open to anyone who wants a challenge and wants to have fun, too.

The dirt and gravel roads are too rough for skinny-tired road bikes and a long haul for mountain bikes (see her website for details on what bike to ride), but you have options.

Riders can choose a 50-miler (The Small Fry) or a 100-miler (The Big Potato). The longer route includes 6,500 vertical-feet of climbing.

“It’s not a gimme, that’s for sure,” Rusch said. “I think it’s important for people to push themselves.” 

Both routes are out-and-back rides, with the longer route including a loop around Copper Basin.

If you’re familiar with the Ketchum area, the route goes up and over Trail Creek Summit, then circles Copper Basin Loop and turns back to Ketchum.

The Small Fry route goes up and over Trail Creek and “diverts into Wild Horse Creek for a gentle out-and-back canyon exploration.”

Either way, the scenery can’t be denied.

Rusch said it garnered the most comments from riders last year, many of whom had never been to Idaho.

“People couldn’t believe how beautiful Idaho is,” she said.

Fully supported

The ride is a long haul, but there will be lots of help along the way, including rest stations every 15 miles with food and drink from GU Energy Labs and Red Bull.

There will be mechanical assistance if you have bike problems on the ride, as well as medical assistance and chase vehicles.

The course also provides riders the opportunity to turn around and go back (mostly downhill) if they’re gassed and can’t make the full length of either ride.

If riders are in a racing mood, there will be competitions.

Although it’s a ride and not a race, put any random group of cyclists together, and someone will try to outdo the other.

To partially feed that competitive spirit, Rusch added new twists this year.

The fastest male and female riders are awarded custom cowboy hats, and every rider who finishes in 6.5 hours or less gets a custom bolo tie.

“I want people to be motivated,” Rusch said.

Goin’ to a party

If you live in Idaho, you can ride the course any time, but that wouldn’t be the same as doing it during the event, she said.

“It’s going to be more fun with a whole lot of people,” Rusch said. “It’s a rolling party.” 

She said sponsors include Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and Patron tequila, and there will be a live band and lots of food, including spuds, not to mention Ketchum’s fun-loving atmosphere.

“We throw an awesome party,” she said.

More details

Where: Both rides start and end in Ketchum.

When: You must register by Aug. 25. The ride is Aug. 31. Packet pickup is Saturday, Aug. 30 from 3 to 8 p.m. at Atkinson Park, 2nd Avenue and 8th Street in Ketchum. There is a meet-and-greet and ride reception from 5 to 8 p.m. on Saturday.

The bag drop and bike valet opens at 7 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 31, and the ride officially gets underway at 8 a.m. 

The course and aid stations close at 5 p.m. Post-ride barbecue, band, party and awards ceremony follows the ride.

Price: $110 for The Big Potato and $90 for The Small Fry.

To sign up: Go to

Rusch writes a book.

Rebecca Rusch is a world-class cyclist with numerous world championships and course records to her name.

Her nickname was earned not from any sadistic tendencies, but because of her relentless will to persevere, endure pain and succeed.

She chose Ketchum as her home and training ground after traveling throughout the U.S. and the world as a racer and adventurer, and she’s now among the state’s top athlete ambassadors.

Rusch said she fell in love with Idaho because of its scenery and friendliness, and she loves to share those qualities with others.

The 40-something adventurer recently completed an autobiography “Rusch to Glory,” which is the story of her adventurous life.

Rusch has been a professional athlete for more than 20 years, as well as a climber, whitewater paddler, adventure racer and now pro cyclist.

Rusch said writing about herself felt “a little narcissistic at first,” and added that writing a book was “harder than any bike race I’ve done.”

She wanted to share her life’s journey from a successful high school cross country runner from Chicago who thought her competitive career ended when she washed out of collegiate athletics as a walk-on.

But after graduating college, she discovered rock climbing and other adventure sports, which eventually evolved back into competing.

Despite her many championships, Rusch describes herself as “not naturally gifted” as an athlete.

She became a champion through hard work and perseverance with “lots of tiny victories,” she said.

She hopes her journey will inspire others.

“My hope is people will read this book and chase down their own dreams,” Rusch said.

Publisher: Veloutess

Pages: 275

Price: $18.95

Getting a copy: Check the publisher’s website at It came off the presses last week, so it may take a few weeks to get into local bookstores and bike shops.

Roger Phillips: 377-6215, Twitter: @rogeroutdoors

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