*Nic Sutcliffe brings us his adventures in the USA chasing the Enduro race circuit…
Searching for an excuse to miss June and July in New Zealand earlier in the year I came across the North American Enduro Tour, a series which partners a number of separate enduro events or series across the northern states. This includes the Oregon Enduro series, the Colorado Freeride Festival, Utah’s Enduro cup, and the Big Mountain Enduro Series taking place throughout Colorado, Utah and New Mexico. With multi-day racing on offer, a claimed 40,000ft of descending and a mixture of lift access and pedal transitions dropping you into some epic terrain, it sounded worthy of further investigation.
The 2nd round of the tour came to Keystone, Colorado, also part of the Big Mountain Enduro Series. Keystone is about 1 1/2hrs from Denver, and with the base sitting at round 9,500ft it’s not just the views and the quality of riding that leave you breathless. In winter there are three usable mountains connected by 20 lifts and two gondolas; summer use is more modest, using only the main four-seater, but this gains you 2350ft of elevation and accesses nearly 100km of trail. I arrived a few days before the event and with no idea of the mountain or the race stages spent the time riding as many of the trails as possible and generally having a look around. I found a mixture of fun flowing, rooty rocky trails, plenty of steep and nasty and plenty in between—enough to keep you grinning and entertained and occasionally buttock clenched wishing for more travel and bigger tyres to get you out of trouble.
The format for the race was simple—six stages over two days, with a day allowed for practice. All bar one of the stages were full length runs of the mountain, using the chairlift to transition back to the top; I certainly wasn’t complaining about that. The only pedal transition was between stages five and six, stage five using only about 1/3 of the mountain. When the stages were announced on Friday morning before practice there were a few raised eyebrows. Plenty of black diamond sections were included; this was going to be interesting! The stages consisted of a mixture of brutally rocky and steep technical trail that really tested bike handling and nerve, especially some of the high speed sections (a speed trap would have been a good addition!), flat pedal-heavy sections in between and a few anaerobic climbs thrown in for good measure, not the easiest at 10,000ft. Apart from stage five we were looking at 10-12min minimum race times for each stage. These were tough stages for sure, and not just for the riders; the bike carnage by the end of practice and throughout the weekend indicated just how tough the terrain was on gear and how hard the riders were pushing. My own personal collection included chain, hanger and derailleur in practice, blown shock early in stage two, puncture in stage three and a few spokes here and there.
Still, this didn’t detract from a fun weekend of riding and racing – there was a great vibe the whole time, no doubt helped by the bluebird weather and the reliable overnight rain which dampened the tracks down nicely for the following day. Lunch and beer was freely provided and with plenty of time in between runs, there was certainly a relaxed, laid back feel to the whole event. Ultimately Joey Schusler (Yeti/Mavic) took the overall, ahead of Ross Schnell (Trek) and Nate Hills (Yeti/Mavic), while in the women’s race Heather Irminger (Trek) took 1st spot, ahead of Krista Park and Margaret Gregory.
Given my mechanicals I was happy with 2nd in the 30-39 category and after such a fun weekend of racing am already looking forward to what the next round in Utah has to offer. And if you happen to find yourself in the Keystone area, check out the Lenawee Trail – it’s a beauty.
Thanks to Louis, Tyler, Noah and Keystone Sports for all the help keeping me rolling during the weekend!