Sasha Preps for Her First Gravel Race, the Ned Gravel–“OOOF that hill!”

‘Sasha Underwood is a very accomplished endurance athlete with a smile that reflects her positive attitude. But gravel racing is new to her. Really the only aspect of bike racing she hasn’t tried. On July 31st she will race the first annual Ned Gravel. We caught up with her to see how her training has gone, how she prepared and what she expects.

For more information on the Ned Gravel go HERE

Q & A with Sasha

Tell us a little about your riding/endurance background, some of your favorite events, biggest accomplishments and why you love endurance sports.

My endurance background started in 2000 when I quit smoking. I knew someone who was an ultra-runner who said he started running so he could quit smoking. So I thought maybe that would work for me too and I started running. I ran a 5k within a few months, then a 10k six months later, followed by a half marathon and then a full marathon within a year. I was hooked. Then, in 2009 a client who couldn’t beat my marathon time challenged me to a triathlon. I told him, “of course you’ll win, I don’t know how to swim!” I accepted the challenge anyway, learned to swim in a couple months (it was painful – probably more so for the lifeguards watching me every day at the Wash Park Rec Center lol) but I managed to finish and not drown at the Memphis in May triathlon.  I then decided I should probably do a full Ironman after that haha.. and true to my nature I signed up for the 2010  Arizona Ironman. After that I was hooked to the 140.6 distance and I competed in 3 subsequent full Ironmans: Coeur d’Alene, Whistler, and Boulder. Boulder was my last. I have hip dysplasia and had hip surgery in 2016. I was told to stop running so I decided I’d compete in longer mountain bike events instead – such as Leadville 100, The Grand Traverse, G3 Stage Race, Firecracker 50, HoneyStinger (now Steamboat Epic) are the types of races I enjoy. I have to say, my favorite ride was last year when all the races cancelled because of Covid and I bikepacked the Colorado Trail solo. There’s nothing like pushing your body and mind to its’ limit and then pushing just a little more to see how far you can go.   

We know you excel at road, triathlon and mountain biking, especially mountain bike racing having recently finished the Firecracker 50 with PR, what do you think doing your first gravel race will feel like?  

I’m so excited! I’ve only been on gravel bikes a few times and loved it. I imagine the views will be spectacular up in Nederland. I anticipate the hills will be brutal – fortunately living in Golden I have plenty of hills to train on so I’m not afraid ?

Are you hopeful to add gravel riding as part of your regular riding in the future

We shall see, I suspect it will. 

You have been coached in the past, but to prepare for Ned Gravel, you have been using Tyler Hamilton coaching. Share with us how that has gone, what might be different than other coaching you have experienced and are you doing anything in particular to prepare for all the climbing, especially Lickskillet road, the steepest county road in the United States. You will be climbing 7,100 feet in 60 miles!

OOOF that hill! I might go drive that this weekend to see what it’s all about lol. That’s a lot of climbing. As far as coaching, Jim Capra has been my coach for this race and the training differs in a couple ways from previous coaching. 1. He really takes a hands-on approach and updates the Training Peaks every two days vs every two weeks. The other thing I’ve noticed is a focus on cadence and power. I’ve never focused on cadence before and it’s so hard to keep a 95rpm cadence for some reason. I think my legs like 75rpms ? But I did notice at the Firecracker 50 I now tend to gear down and speed up my cadence on flats and rolling hills. I also noticed an improvement in my FTP; it was 180 when I first started working with Jim and this past weekend I hit a new record of 207! 

Have you ridden Lickskillet before? Will you go ride that or some of the course before the ride? 

I have not! It’s one intimidating hill. I didn’t make time to ride any of the course so it will have to be a surprise.   

What, if anything are you most nervous about? Most excited about

I’m most excited about the views and riding remote roads that I’ve never been on before. I’m also excited about seeing friends and meeting new ones.   I’d say the only thing I ever get nervous about is crashing and getting lost ?

You currently don’t own a gravel bike, but plan to get one from Boulder Cycle Sport, will you try to get any special gearing? Do you use a camel back or use bottles for a race like this? 

The cycling industry took a page out of the ultra-running hydration packs – the one I’m using is an Osprey Dyna 1.5. It’s low-profile, has pockets for nutrition and space for a multi-tool etc. I’ll also bring a bottle of Skratch.

The bike I’m using is a BMC Unrestricted and is regarded as the prime off-road platform designed for high-intensity gravel racing and limitless backroad exploration. The off-road-ready URS 01 features progressive geometry, sleek cockpit integration for a custom fit, and gravel-tuned frame to deliver a compliant ride ready to own Gravel. It’s one sexy bike for sure!

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