2023 Triple Crown Challenge Recap + Interview with Katya Rakhmatulina

In this piece, Neil recaps the unprecedented 2023 Triple Crown challenge results, highlights the top finishers of the Arizona Trail Race, and sits down with Katya Rakhmatulina, who won the 2023 Arizona Trail Race 800 and set a new Triple Crown Challenge Record.

Cover photos by Eddie Clark from our 2023 Tour Divide coverage; photos below by Wyatt Spalding from this year’s AZTR coverage (except where noted)

Now that the Arizona Trail Race grand depart has moved from April to October, wrapping up the event typically signals an end to the ultra-endurance race calendar, particularly here in the U.S. And what a year it was! In this piece, I’m going to talk about the Triple Crown Challenge, recap this year’s unprecedented results, and highlight the finishers of the Arizona Trail Race, including a full interview with Katya Rakhmatulina, the 2023 Arizona Trail Race 800 women’s champ and new Triple Crown Challenge Record holder. Watch the video below and scroll down to read the recap…

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Arizona Trail Race

This year’s Arizona Trail Race, or AZTR, was super exciting and, generally speaking, pretty hard. Mile for mile, the AZTR is much more challenging than the Tour Divide. This year, there were a handful of changes to the course, making it even more demanding. In fact, there have been loads of changes over the last handful of years, many of which have been due to Arizona Trail Association re-routes or simply for getting off roads and onto singletrack.

Here’s a bit of history on the race and some of the course changes. Scott Morris, Bikepacking.net founder and co-owner of Trackleaders.com, conceived of the idea to race the Arizona Trail after a couple of trips across the state on two different off-road routes. In 2006, Scott started the 300-mile version of the race, and four years later, in 2010, the 750-mile version of the race was born, which traveled from Mexico to Utah. That year, the race totaled 742 miles with 71,500 feet of climbing, and one person completed the grueling event.

2023 Arizona Trail Race Update One
  • 2023 Arizona Trail Race
  • 2023 Arizona Trail Race

Not too much changed from then until around 2019, when John Schilling started working with Scott to take over the race organization. That year, the route evolved to be 767 miles long with just under 80,000 feet of climbing. Fast forward to 2022, and the route was totally transformed with a total of 825 miles and 102,000 feet of climbing. This year, the route gained another 10 miles and an additional 7,000 feet of climbing. Further, instead of ascending Catalina Highway to Summerhaven, the route went up the true AZT wilderness bypass, a steep hike-a-bike trail that tacks on a significant amount of time and effort.

If you want to learn more about the history of ultra racing, Trackleaders, and the Arizona Trail, you can hear Cjell Mone Interviewing the legendary Scott Morris below, which is an absolutely fantastic two-hour listen.

Alex Schultz 2023 Arizona Trail Race Win
  • 2023 Arizona Trail Race
  • Alexandera Houchin Triple Crown Womens Singlespeed Record, 2023 AZT800

Despite the longer and more challenging route for 2023, it was a still record-setting year. Alex Schultz took the win with a total time of 9 days, 5 hours, and 43 minutes (9:05:43), setting a new course record. Katya Rakhmatulina finished second overall with a time of 9 days, 19 hours, and 52 (9:19:52), winning the overall women’s category and setting a new course record. Philippe Vullioud took third with a time of 9 days, 21 hours, and 8 minutes (9:21:08). Johnny Price took first place in the singlespeed category with a time of 10 days, 10 hours, and 33 minutes (10:10:33), and coming in three hours after him, Alexandera Houchen set another singlespeed course record, beating her own time and finishing in 10 days, 13 hours, and 36 minutes (10:13:36). In total, there were 18 finishers of the 800 race, six of whom were women.

2023 Triple Crown Challenge

So, what is the Bikepacking Triple Crown? The bikepacking Triple Crown refers to completing the most iconic off-road bikepacking routes in the USA: The Tour Divide, the Colorado Trail Race, and the Arizona Trail Race in a career. But, in 2012, David Goldburg dreamed up an even harder endeavor: doing all three races in one year and dubbing it the Triple Crown Challenge.

While the list of Triple Crown finishers is pretty large, very few have completed the Triple Crown Challenge. According to Bikepacking.net, just 13 folks completed the challenge before this year, and with Josh Tucker just finishing the Arizona Trail Race early Sunday Morning, he is the last of six Triple Crown Challengers this year, the most in any single year. That makes for a total of 19 all-time Triple Crown Challenge finishers.

Katya Rakhmatulina, 2023 Tour Divide Women
  • 2023 tour divide
  • Alice Drobna First Woman Triple Crown bikepacking
From top: Katya Rakhmatulina (photo by Danielle Vilaplana;Alexandera Houchin on the Colorado Trail; Alice Drobna

Here are the finishers and their times this year. Of note, Katya set a new overall women’s record with a time of 32 days, 6 hours, and 33 minutes (32:06:33), and Alexandra set a new women’s singlespeed record with a time of 34 days, 22 hours, and 33 minutes (34:22:33). Before this year, Alice Drobna owned both the overall women’s and women’s singlespeed records, which she set back in 2015.

Congrats to everyone who raced this season! It was perhaps the most exciting Triple Crown year to date. So, let’s catch up with Katya on her Arizona trail experience and her historic season as a whole.

Further Reading

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