After more than 6 months of racing, the POC Eastern States Cup has wrapped up its most successful season to date. With 30 events, and more than 3,100 racer starts at a dozen venues in six states, the ESC blanketed the Northeast with high-quality gravity mountain bike racing. Since its inception in 2010, the ESC has grown steadily each year. This season the ESC split its popular downhill series into two regions, Atlantic and New England. The Enduro and Super D series both saw tremendous growth. (Photo of Steve Avery)
We'll start this look back at the 2014 season with the ESC Enduro Cup series. With six races at four venues, the Enduro Cup grew in scope and attendance in its second season, averaging about 125 racers per event. The enduro series was the most popular gravity series for women and also proved to be a big hit with thirty-somethings, the largest age class at many stops. (Photo of Jason Memmelaar)
The enduro series started with a bang at Plattekill Mountain in the Catskills. Fine weather kept the mountain on its best behavior and organizers offered five varied and challenging stages. Yeti Cycles pro, Jason Memmelaar, who had wins in both enduro and downhill this season, was able to top Giant Northeast pro, and enduro specialist Seamus Powell, by twelve seconds to top the men's pro field. Women pros Elinor Wesner and Kelly Dolan traded stage wins all day but some technical issues on Stage One allowed Dolan to win the women's pro field by an almost three-minute margin. (Photo of Reeves Hankins)
Round two was hosted by Blue Mountain, PA, one of the mid-Atlantic's premier bike parks. The weather again was perfect and over 130 racers showed up to race 5 challenging stages. The men's pro field again came down to a duel between Jason Memmelaar and Seamus Powell. Only 5 seconds separated the pair after the first 4 stages but Powell pulled away in the final leg for the win. On the women's side, Eva Wilson took the first four stages and managed to hang on, despite a troubled final stage, for a 2-second win over Carolyn Popovic.
The third enduro round was part of the WTB East Coast Showdown at Killington Resort in Vermont. A huge field of 155 racers romped all over one of the East's largest ski resorts under blue skies. The course was fast and rewarded good technique more than courage. Seamus Powell continued his winning ways, taking 4 of 5 stages en route to a 29-second win over Fast Line Racing's Leland O'Connor. World Cup downhiller Alison Zimmer swept the five stages for a 37-second margin over runner up Kelly Dolan in the women's field. (Photo of Andrew Lints)
The enduro tour returned to Plattekill Mountain in late July for Round 4. The rugged steeps of the mountain took their toll on bikes, as mechanicals plagued many racers. Leland O'Connor won three stages and eked out a 4-second victory over Columbian downhill specialist Mauricio Estrada Pulgarin. After crashing hard in the first Plattekill enduro, Mansfield Cycles pro Susan Clifford returned to racing form, winning two stages, but was topped by Lauren Petersen who took three stages and a 7-second overall victory.
The technical steeps of Attitash Mountain in New Hampshire were the site of Round Five. With some newly developed trails on Bear Peak, fresh loam was in abundance. With Seamus Powell off racing World Enduro Series events in Colorado and Whistler, the men's pro field was wide open. New comer Franck Kirscher, riding for Canadian bike manufacturer XPrezo, took a 16-second win over rookie pro Isaac Allaire with MadKats Racing. Lauren Petersen continued her winning ways on the women's side with a solid 35-second victory over Kathy Golebiowski. (Photo of Lauren Petersen)
The series returned to Killington Resort for the final enduro round. The race featured some much tougher terrain than the earlier Killington round, including an absolutely epic, 10+ minute, first stage and a total race time almost double that of many other stops. Seamus Powell returned to the East coast in fine form and held off Franck Kirscher for a 35-second win. Lauren Petersen crushed the women's field, taking all five stages and winning by almost 3 1/2 minutes. (Photo of Seamus Powell)
The overall men's crown was captured by Fast Line Racing's Jason Scheiding. Despite not winning a race, Scheiding was the picture of consistency in a very competitive field of pros, finishing in the top ten in all six events including three third place results.
Kathy Golebiowski took the pro women's overall crown with Top 10s at every event including three runner-up results.
The ESC Super D Cup featured seven races over the course of the season. Tracks were generally enduro style, mostly downhill with some flat pedal sprints and an occasional short uphill section. Downhill bikes did battle with trail bikes in these races, though most racers opted for the shorter travel bikes. There were two formats, a LeMans-style mass start and a timed enduro-style start. Logistics determined which versions was run at each venue.
Still a niche gravity sport, all the Super D events were held in conjuction with either a downhill or enduro race and were considered a fun bonus race by most competitors. (Photo of Adam Morse)
The Super D finals at Killington were the scene of probably the most epic weather event of the entire ESC season when a biblical rain storm hit the mountain just as the race was starting. (Photo of Adam Snyder)
Peoples Bicycle pro Anthony Coneski finished no worse than fourth all season and won the all-important double-point finals at Killington to take the overall men's Super D pro crown.
Giant Northeast pro Amy Alton took the women's Super D overall title on the strength of two wins and a second-place finish.
The POC Eastern States Cup downhill series was divided into two distinct tours this season. The Atlantic Cup centered around the more southern venues, with eight races at six mountains.
The Duryea Downhill in Reading, Pennsylvania kicked off the race season in early May. The course is noted for its infamous road gap that would take out several racers over the course of the weekend. In a trend for the start of the Atlantic Cup season, a World Cup racer, in this case local Trek rider Neko Mulally, would top the pro podium. Speed Legion pro Mary Elges would begin her dominance of the women's pro tour with a convincing victory.
Round two of the Atlantic Cup was hosted by New Jersey's Mountain Creek Bike Park. The event was combined with the national Pro GRT series and brought out a whopping 284 racers. The men's pro field was absolutely stacked, with numerous World Cup regulars in attendance. To no one's surprise, former overall World Cup DH Champion Aaron Gwin, riding for Specialized Bikes, topped the field of almost 70 pros. Rae Gandolph from Ohio topped the women's pro field with her one and only start of the ESC season. (Photo of Aaron Gwin)
The tour next moved to Plattekill Mountain in N.Y., for another round combined with the ProGRT. The weekend offered up a true mixed bag of weather as racers tackled the mountain's legendary shale-surfing steeps. Once again, Aaron Gwin took the honors, topping a super competitive field that included three Trek World Racing stars among other heavy hitters. Adrenaline Racing pro Kristen Courtney topped World Cup racer Ali Zimmer for the women's crown. (Photo of Judson Umberger)
After the dust had settled from all the World Cup appearances, the ESC tour moved to a new venue at Swain Resort in western New York. This was the most far-flung stop of the series and racers were enticed by two distinct courses, with the combined time on both taking the victory. Mauricio Estrada Pulgarin would win both stages and take the overall victory by 3.62 seconds.
The fifth stop of the Atlantic Cup was a highlight for many ESC regulars as they got to race the Windham World Cup track two weeks before the main event. A few big names joined the crowd of almost 30 pro men, with New Zealand World Cup racer Cam Cole edging Neko Mulally for the win. Women's World Cup racer Camila Nogueira of Argentina took the women's pro field handily as she prepped for starts in the two North American World Cup rounds.
The ESC tour would return to Windham two weeks later during World Cup weekend for the Race the World downhill. Over 180 racers would compete, including a pro field with 30 men and women, on a course described by many as longer and more technical than the World Cup course seen the day prior. Giant pro rider Brian Scolforo would have his best result of the season, edging out Mauricio Estrada Pulgarin by .05 seconds. Canadian Kristen Courtney, with the strong Adrenaline Racing team, would top the the women's pro field for her second win of the season. (Photo of Kristen Courtney)
The seventh race on the Atlantic Cup calendar was at Blue Mountain, Pennsylvania, a new venue for the POC ESC tour. In only his second ESC start of the season, Pennsylvanian Nikolas Dudokovich bested a dozen pros for the win. Mary Elges returned to the top of the podium for the first time since her opening round win. (Photo of Joshua Rogers)
The final Atlantic Cup downhill was at Plattekill Mountain and featured a combined double points event with the New England Cup racers. The mountain crew worked heavily on the track leading up to the final race which featured a fun mix of fast and flowey, technical steeps and bike bark features. New Jersey native George Ryan stormed to the top of the podium for his first win of the season, while Mary Elges continued winning, cruising to a convincing victory in the women's field. (Photo of George Ryan)
After six months of racing, Mauricio Estrada Pulgarin's consistent excellence earned him the overall POC ESC Atlantic Cup DH crown. Estrada Pulgarin had one win and five podium finishes over the course of the season. Brian Scolforo and George Ryan rounded out the overall podium.
The POC ESC New England Cup DH series started almost six weeks later than the Atlantic Cup with the New Hampshire Bike Festival at Pat's Peak. The rocky track had a new upper half and proved a slick challenge for many racers just getting their racing legs. The event is unique in that racers get two runs, with only the best run counting. The second run was a blessing for many, including the pro men's winner, Canadian Samuel Thibault, who struggled in his first run then stayed clean on his second run, knocking 23 seconds off his time for the win. Elinor Wesner squeaked by Mary Elges for the women's pro win. (Photo of Jordan Newth)
The second round of the New England Cup was part of the WTB East Coast Showdown at Killington in Vermont. For the most part, the track was an old-school bomber down open ski slopes but a gnarly drop to flat in the woods drew a big crowd of rowdy spectators. Californian pro Michael Daniels edged Vermonter Dylan Conte for the win in a very tight race that had the top five finishers separated by less than three seconds. World Cup competitor Ali Zimmer was able to top the women's pro field by a healthy margin and complete a sweep of the three-event weekend showdown. (Photo of Tim White)
A week later the series stopped at Attitash Resort in New Hampshire for the New England Cup's third round. The mountain's technical, wooded fall line track was a big hit with racers. First-year pro Isaac Allaire with MadKats Racing stepped to the top of his first pro podium with a convincing 4-second win over runner up Jason Scheiding. Speed Legion's Mary Elges would top Stephanie Sowles in the women's pro field. (Photo of Isaac Allaire)
Mount Snow, one of the early adopters of mountain bike racing, hosted the fourth round of the New England Cup. The course harkened back to its racing roots with a wide open and fast track down the mountain. Times were extremely tight atop of the leader board with Jason Memmelaar eking out the win to go with an enduro win earlier in the season. In a repeat of the Attitash result, Mary Elges topped Stephanie Sowles for the women's pro win. (Photo of Brian Scolforo)
The second half of the season marked the tour's return to Sugarbush Resort in Vermont. The challenging course has become a favorite with racers and is a real technique and fitness test. Californian Michael Daniels made his second start of the season and took his second win, the only repeat winner of the year in the New England series Local pro Ali Zimmer also capped her second and final New England Cup start with a victory. (Photo of Michaels Daniels)
As autumn arrived in the Northeast, the series returned to New Hampshire's Attitash Resort. The second track of the season was a real contrast to the earlier course with less technicality and more length. Following his teammates' earlier success at the venue, MadKats pro Alex McAndrew captured his first pro win. Mary Elges continued her winning ways with a 13-second win over Stephanie Sowles. (Photo of Alex McAndrew)
In full autumnal glory, the New England series headed to Jiminy Peak in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts in October. The track was one of the longest of the year and traversed the entire width of the mountain, often on freshly-cut single track. Max Morgan, who represented the U.S. at the World Championships in Norway, made his first New England Cup start and torched the pro field by more than seven seconds. Mary Elges continued her winning ways, closing in on a clinch of the women's overall title. (Photo of Max Morgan)
Unlike the Atlantic Cup, the new England Cup overall title was very much up for grabs as racers gathered at Plattekill Mountain for the final race of the regular season. The fast track penalized even the slightest mistake and less than three seconds separated the top nine pro finishers. George Ryan took a hard fought win and Mary Elges capped her tremendous season with a sweep of the New England Cup, Atlantic Cup and DP Women's Challenge titles. (Photo of Mary Elges)
After missing two starts early in the season, Giant pro Brian Scolforo made an improbable run up the overall leader board during the second half of the season. With no room for error, Scolforo had five consecutive top-three finishes to overtake Alex McAndrew and win the men's overall title on the final day of the season. McAndrew's teammate Isaac Allaire finished third overall, an impressive rookie pro season.
To cap the season off in style, the POC ESC East Coast Super Championships were held at Mountain Creek Bike Park in Vernon, New Jersey. The race was a new concept by the ESC and brought together the best racers from it's two DH series and other eastern racers. The top competitors from the ESC were "protected", while others had to race their way into the finals through qualifying. With a $5,000 purse on the line, a big crowd turned out for the final race of the season. Former Eastern States Cup regular Richie Rude, who was a regular on the World Cup downhill circuit for a time and has been racing the Enduro World Series this summer, torched the men's pro field by more than four seconds. Canadian Kristen Courtney returned state side for her third win of the year in the women's pro category.
The 2014 POC ESC DH Cup Champions.: 1st Richie Rude - 2nd Mauricio Estrada - 3rd Jason Memmelaar - 4th Dylan Conte - 5th George Ryan
This recap has focused on the pro competitors, but the heart and soul of the series are the amateurs. Countless individual battles have been waged this year, from just getting down a tough track to beating a season-long nemesis. Friendships have been made and relationships forged in this competitive crucible. Above all, it's been fun.
Behind the scenes, the support of volunteers, families and friends have kept it all going. (Photo of Joe and Mary Anne Montano, working the POC ESC Speed Trap)
One thing is clear, gravity mountain biking is alive and well in the Northeast.
In 2013, 525 racers had starts in the ESC downhill series. In 2014, that number had grown to 946 participants. The Enduro and Super D Cups bloomed from 308 competitors in 2013 to 548 this year. All totalled the Eastern States Cup hosted over 3,200 racer starts in 2014!
Work has already begun on next year's events and the Eastern States Cup will continue to offer the best organized, most exciting and competitive racing in the country in 2015.
Have a great winter, we'll see you all next season!
Text by Jeb Wallace-Brodeur