Big Mountain Enduro
Well, the season has officially begun with a monstrous one day, four stage, event held in the mountains of Santa Fe New Mexico. We arrived Thursday afternoon, with just enough daylight left to survey the venue of Glorieta Camps and we were not disappointed. The venue is a church based summer camp facility that brings in youngsters from all around the country. These young kids are able to participate in some of the most awesome outdoor activities you can imagine, in an all-inclusive private little compound, nestled in the mountains outside Santa Fe.
We got up early Friday morning and met up with some of the other Arizona based riders. The plan was to carpool on the shuttle ride to the top of stages 1 and 2. Even in fellow AZ rider Zach Ply’s Ford Raptor pickup, the shuttle ride took nearly an hour to complete. From the first course drop in, I could tell we were in for a great weekend of riding and racing. These courses had all the elements of an epic endure; from steep rocky descents to brutal extended uphill pedaling sections that stretched for miles. By the end of the day we managed to ride each of the four stages only once and it was clear we would need to do more recon.
The tracks were loaded with both natural and manmade jumps, berms and rock drops, trying to remember the order of things was going to take some more practice. Saturday was the official practice day and the shuttle ride to the top quickly became an ugly sight as truckloads of riders with no designated shuttle drivers left their trucks parked at the top. These parked vehicles quickly created a nightmare at the top. After only one trip up and the melee that ensued, we elected to head to the transfer for stages 3 and 4. The ride to the top of the two shorter stages was much less demanding than the first two, but nevertheless we still had to climb over a thousand vertical feet every two miles. The last two stages were much more like park stages and most certainly had the biggest obstacles to contend with. By the end of the day Saturday I had gotten two laps in on all tracks and I felt pretty comfortable that I was ready to race.
On Sunday morning, race day, and I was fired up to get started. My start time was about 40 minutes after the first group would start. I had already seen the trails begin to degrade through practice and I thought it best to try and make the first transfer quickly, in hopes that I could drop stage one early and be one of the first riders down the rest of the stages. I was concerned that the rider count had really begun to take its toll on the trail conditions early. My plan went out the window when I arrived at the top of stage one to find there was a hold on the course for a fallen rider. I waited at the top for about an hour before I finally got my turn at the course. I dropped into stage one 30 seconds behind my teammate John Freckleton, and by the bottom of the first descent, I had picked up his dust trail. I caught John halfway through the pedaling section and rode his rear wheel through the remainder of that portion of the course. At the end of the hard pedal, John went off course giving me an opening to pass.
Once I got by my teammate, I continued on a clean run which would prove quick enough to set me in fourth in my class. I set out again up the big transfer to stage 2 accompanied by another competitor and friend named Dee Tidwell. Dee and I battled fiercely last year for the Masters championship and swapped wins all season with me edging him out. I was pretty sure he had doubled his efforts in the off season with plans to change the outcome this year in his favor. As we neared the top of the second transfer, we were both a little worse for wear and our pace slowed as we made our way to the stage 2 start. I dropped into stage 2, 30 seconds behind Dee and to my surprise I caught him by the halfway point. I made my way past Dee and continued on a real good run, passing two more riders, until I made it to the stage 2 “Heckle Zone” (a super punchy, rocky climb surrounded by hundreds of screaming spectators). I missed my line coming into this section and to my dismay rode straight into a rock wall at a pretty good clip! I was fortunately uninjured as a result of this mishap, but my front wheel had gotten turned 90 degrees, or now parallel with my handle bars. I picked my bike up and ran up the rock obstacle, before taking a few seconds to straighten my wheel out. By the time I got underway again, Dee and one other rider had gotten back by. In spite of the incident at the end of stage 2, my run was still good enough to win the stage and put me in the lead.
At this point, with the two biggest stages behind me, it was time to fuel! The BME staff was cooking up some amazing cheeseburgers and sausages that did not disappoint. Good food and beer for those who enjoy such things are always in abundant supply, with Oskar Blues brewery as an event sponsor this year, the after race festivities were sure to be well fueled. Once fed, I loaded up with Skratchlabs exercise hydration mix and made my way to the stage 3 start. The ride to stage 3, though much easier than the first two, was still very challenging after already over six hours on the bike and 25 plus miles ridden. Once at the stage 3 start there was another traffic jam of riders waiting their turn at the course. It felt as though I had been waiting an eternity, as my body cooled and my joints stiffened. I finally got my turn on the course and laid down a nice clean run free of incidents. My stage three effort was once again good enough for the stage win in class and further bolstered my lead for the overall.
With one final stage to go, I made my way up the last transfer alone. As I pedaled up the final transfer, I began to strategize how I might attack the last course. As I arrived at the start to stage 4, it quickly became clear that there was a problem. There were at least 100 riders lined up and waiting to drop the last stage. I asked around to some of the riders at the front of the line and was told there was a timing issue and we were on hold until further notice. Once again the wait seemed much longer than I’m sure it was as I waited to finish the day. As I approached the front of the line and neared my turn at the course, I talked with some fellow competitors regarding a new ending to this stage that was added Saturday. The new ending section was closed to riders Saturday and we were only allowed to walk it. This new ending included a pro line with a six foot drop just before the end and had been billed as the ultimate “Heckle Zone”.
I was feeling good as I made my way to the start line and although the riders were dropping the stage on 30 second intervals, I asked the starting official for a “Ghost” (an additional 30 second gap between the rider in front and myself) to give myself some extra time. This final course was the most technical and the one you would least prefer to have to pass another rider on. I dropped into stage 4 and quickly settled into a comfortable flow, riding light and cleanly hopping over rock obstacles. As I entered the new ending segment for the final stage, I caught the rider who had started over a minute ahead of me just as we approached the “Heckle Zone”. Before you could see the spectators, you could hear the cheers and sirens and bullhorns of the onlookers hoping to see riders hit the big drop at the finish. As I approached this final area, the rider in front of me chose the alternate line which avoids the drop and cleared the way for me to hit the big rock drop for the finish!
I made my way back to sponsor village to check in and get my total time. After I checked in, it became clear that the timing issues on stage 4 had definitely affected my class as I was being shown in second place, having been beaten on the last stage by over a minute. Having made up over a minute on the rider in front of me, as well as having a clean smooth run, I struggled to see how this was possible. After some deliberation and investigation, it was confirmed by Kevin Krill, the timing manager, that I had indeed won the overall. After a brief celebration with my wife, we loaded up the bike and gear and headed back to Santa Fe for a pizza celebration!
With round one completed, I can report that I am incredibly pleased with the performance of my Giant Bicycles Reign Advanced and had there been a fashion show at this event, I would surely have won in my colored keyed outfit from ZOIC Clothing. I want to thank all the companies who have chosen to let me represent them this year, including: Sonoran Bike shops, Giant bikes, ZOIC Clothing, Scorpion stands, Industry Nine wheels, Skratchlabs and Dirty Bastard Beard Soap. Thank you all so much for the support and the fantastic products! Next stop, Keystone Colorado.