‘It’s going to be a significant learning curve’: Pro triathlete Rach McBride to contest the Life Time Grand Prix off-road series
Canadian joins former WorldTour roadies, track world champions and MTB Olympians in vying for the $250,000 prize purse
The inaugural Life Time Grand Prix adventure race series kicks off in Monterey, California, on April 9th, with a roster of 60 hand-selected international elite competitors.
Over the course of six months, they will contest six off-road events, including the highly popular 200-mile gravel race at Unbound and the Leadville 100 cross-country mountain bike race. Up for grabs is a $250,000 prize purse.
This season’s cast includes retired World Tour roadies, gravel pros, mountain bike Olympians, track world champions and even a pro triathlete.
Three-time Ironman 70.3 Champion and two-time Ironman bike course record holder, Rach McBride, will rely on their endurance and proven bike strength to give the 'real bike racers' a run for their money.
Known as the “Purple Tiger,” McBride is no stranger to long hours in the saddle, and is considered one of the strongest cyclists on the world triathlon circuit.
Their palmarès includes nine Ironman 70.3 fastest bike splits; two Ironman bike course records; three overall course record holder, including Canadian National Championships; a bronze medal at Ironman Canada and another two bronze medals at the ITU Long Distance World Championships. They’ve also been a RedBull 400 winner.
The Life Time Grand Prix, however, is another challenge entirely.
“When I first signed up, I thought ‘oh, it’s just bike racing’ and I’m used to training for three sports at once. But then, when I took a closer look at the schedule, I realized that [the series] is really dominating my schedule this year,” the 44-year-old Canadian told Cycling Weekly.
“Maybe I bit off a little more than I had anticipated but I'm super excited about it. It's leading me to have some really awesome adventures this year.”
McBride’s venture into gravel racing is nothing new. They started dabbling in the off-road sector as early as 2013, and podiumed at just about every local and regional gravel event they entered.
“I have never done the gravel majors but always had them on my radar. It just never seemed to fit when also racing Ironman. But when Life Time approached me to apply for this series, I thought it might be an interesting opportunity,” they said.
The gravel racing is only half the challenge, however, as three of the six events will be contested on the mountain bike.
“Yeah, that is probably the scariest part of this whole endeavor,” McBride said with a laugh.
“I only just got a mountain bike and I have ridden it twice. And the second time I hurt my knee, because I didn't have knee pads yet. I’m a little bit nervous for sure, because not only am I jumping into a mountain bike race without ever having done it before, but I am also competing against folks who have gone to the Olympics for mountain biking. But I have gotten increasingly excited. I feel challenged and excited at the same time. Either way, I feel like it's going to be a significant learning curve.”
Living in Vancouver, BC, however, McBride couldn’t be better positioned for quick access to world-class mountain bike trails and riders.
“I have been able to tap into some folks to get tips and will be able to access them for some technical lessons throughout the year. If I was going to learn to mountain bike in any place, this is the most incredible place,” they said.
Mountain bike skills aside, McBride thinks that triathletes are actually well suited for gravel and endurance mountain bike races. Triathletes routinely race really long distances and need to physically and mentally stay sharp for 10-12 hours at a time.
“The mental aspect plays a significant component in these races, as well knowing how to fuel and prepare for these ultra distances. Those are strengths I come from,” they said.
“I have been doing these 9 and 10 hour races for a number of years. And on the fitness side, in triathlon I enjoy the hilly courses and I also feel like I’m more apt than most triathletes to be quite aggressive on some of the more technical aspects of courses.”
With their mental capacity and climbing prowess, McBride feels like they can be quite competitive.
“I'm always going for the win. I love winning. But I do recognize the calibre of athletes that I am up against. I am not necessarily a bike racer, and definitely not a mountain bike racer, but I do have experience in gravel. For myself, I am interested to see where I stack up in this field. I really hope to be in that top 10, if not the top 5, at the end of the series,” they said.
A secondary goal is to bring visibility to elite non-binary racing.
While assigned female at birth, McBride identifies as a gender non-binary person and use the they/them pronouns. Gender non-binary refers to those who identify as neither man nor woman, as both, or somewhere in between.
As the only non-binary racer in the series, McBride will be scored for the series in the female category.
“Being the only out elite non-binary racer, [the race organizers] couldn’t justify having a non-binary category just yet. I hope to get a lot more non-binary folks racing so maybe we can have a category of our own next year," they said.
McBride’s venture into off-road bike racing doesn’t mean that they’re taking a break from triathlon. On the contrary, following the Grand Prix series opener in April, McBride will race the Ironman World Championships in St. George, Utah, in May.
“Obviously in Ironman, cycling is a significant portion of the race and so all this will benefit my bike fitness," they pointed out. "I am likely not racing any triathlon again until the fall, so swimming and running will go on the back burner. I will still be swimming and running on a regular basis, but cycling will definitely take up more of the training volume."
And instead of the many hours on their TT bike and indoor trainer, McBride will now be logging miles on their gravel and mountain bikes — a welcomed change.
“I'm really excited to explore more places on my gravel bike. Whenever I go and train or race in other places for triathlon, I'm always wishing I had a gravel bike there to go check out some of these roads and trails and so now I get to do that, which is amazing.”
A Diamondback sponsored athlete since 2015, McBride will be riding the Diamondback Haanjo 8c gravel bike and the yet-to-be released Diamondback Yahweh carbon XC bike.
All six races of the Life Times Grand Prix will be broadcasted live, and we’ll be providing coverage of the series along the way as well.
Don’t miss our interview with former WorldTour pro turned pro adventurer, Laurens ten Dam, who’s the only European contesting the series.
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Cycling Weekly's North American Editor, Anne-Marije Rook is old school. She holds a degree in journalism and started out as a newspaper reporter — in print! She can even be seen bringing a pen and notepad to the press conference.
Originally from The Netherlands, she grew up a bike commuter and didn't find bike racing until her early twenties when living in Seattle, Washington. Strengthened by the many miles spent darting around Seattle's hilly streets on a steel single speed, Rook's progression in the sport was a quick one. As she competed at the elite level, her journalism career followed, and soon she became a full-time cycling journalist. She's now been a cycling journalist for 11 years.
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