Story and photos by Lucas Reilly:
A weekend of rain, shine, snow and hail welcomed the second race of the 2016 West Virginia Enduro Series at Coopers Rock State Forest just outside of Morgantown, W.Va. This marks the third running of the race and series after Benji Klimas, of Bruceton Mills, started the series in 2014.
Benji is many things: a good guy, father, trail-builder and a lifelong mountain bike racer who opts out of racing for several events a year to put on enduro races that show off West Virginia’s epic trails—he’s also a madman. It’s this final facet of Benji that came alive this weekend, and is the reason this Sunday’s race was designated the Coopers Rock ‘Benduro’.
The four-stage enduro took riders all over the state forest, with some admittedly tough transfer stages and a stage four end that required riders to ford a rocky river with their bikes overhead. The word ‘epic’ was tossed around more than once. And that’s exactly what Benji tries to show with each event: West Virginia’s mountain biking scene is gnarly, deeply rooted and fast growing.
Despite a daunting weekend forecast, over 50 riders showed up to tackle the trails. The first two stages were fresh-cut lines from Benji and his friends. Stage one began in a power line cut with a spectacular view, sending riders down an all-out bomb, where brakes only need be touched when a rider’s fear of baby-head-sized rocks and their liable damage to frame and components conquers their stoke. Then, the trail entered the woods for a steep-and-sloppy rut fest, quintessential of West Virginia riding.
Stage two put the ‘enduro’ in ‘Benduro’, requiring riders to put in a few pedal pushes up top before diving into a slew of loamy turns and optional rock drops that encouraged pre-riding. Stage three and four were classics from the last two Coopers Rock Enduros, filled with baby heads, ruts, and rhododendron tunnels. Stage three ended with a blind huck down to the base of the Henry Clay Furnace, a historic iron furnace built in 1834. Stage four found riders careening down a hold-on-and-stay-straight chute of chunder that opened to a beautiful finish at the edge of Cheat Lake.STAGE ONE:DEEP ROOTS
This series, though only in its third year, has consistently brought out a horde of riders to face troublesome terrain at various trail systems throughout the state and neighboring Ohio. Equally hardy and gnarly as Benji, fellow shredder, John Herod is the co-mastermind of the series, helping him put together races, cut trails, photograph events and gather sponsors. He too sacrifices race starts to ensure the events run smoothly. Both offered their trucks for the weekend to provide shuttle service on Saturday for pre-riding and a ride back from the bottom of Stage four to the Chestnut Ridge Campground, where the event set up home base.
Benji and John wangled a whole tent-camping area for racers to crash Saturday night and keep warm with firewood hand-gathered by John. The race was timed and tracked by several volunteers who were in high spirits all day. Benji’s wife Molly managed to feed the 50+ riders and volunteers, making PB&J’s in the morning and quenching their appetite upon completing the race with a nice spread of spaghetti, cake and more.
Many of the series’ serious riders have raced in it since the beginning, including Pittsburgh’s, Trevor Thomas, who has ridden a single-speed hardtail all along. Thanks to Trevor’s devotion to pain, this year’s series features a hardtail (or ‘hard ass’) class along with the other categories of Junior, Masters, Men and Women’s Sport and Men and Women’s Pro/Expert classes. Paul Broughton, of Charleston, W.Va. is the reigning master of the Masters Class, riders who are still shredding hard past 45 years of age.
The West Virginia Enduro Series welcomes all riders, bringing in stoic competitors from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and elsewhere to have their bikes thrashed by the rooty, rocky wildness and wonderfulness the Appalachian Mountains have to offer. Expect this series to grow old like the mountains that cradle it and the trails to stay gnarly like the riders who race them and those who make such events possible.STAGE TWO:Trevor, the OG of the Hard-Ass ClassSTAGE THREE:Henry Clay Iron Furnace - Stage three end.
Costa Rican Daniel Rodriguez, of D.C., broke his chainring off on Stage threeSTAGE FOUR:RACE DAY:
Sunday’s race was anyone’s game. Sure, pre-riding had given those with proximity to the area an advantage of knowing what was ahead, but unpredictable weather and wetness had made the trails somewhat of a new beast. Stage one and two, with fresh cut loam and loose rocks, were forever changing as more and more racers dug through the dirt.
The day began cold and snowy but was sunny and bright by the end, adding to the mélange of track conditions seen by each racer’s rubber. Some had trouble with Stage three’s rocks, perhaps expecting them to come loose like other trails’ baby heads and instead contacting components with inert stone. In the true spirit of enduro racing, a broken chainring or a bent crank arm didn’t phase the pack of riders, who knew that stage four was mostly fed by gravity. Standings check
Series regular and rowdy-man, Tim Carson won Pro/Ex Men’s Category, despite missing the optional double drop on Stage two—a feature he reckoned would shave 10 seconds off his run—with an overall time 23:53 for the 22-mile, 3000+ ft. race. Carson’s race comrade, Kohl Aumer, who did nail the double drop, came in at second for the Pro men.
The legendary, Cassie Smith led the Pro/Ex Women’s podium with a time of 32:27. Jake Fiola won the Men’s Sport class at 25:45. Paul Broughton won the Masters title at 27:29, with his son, Tristan Broughton atop the Hardtail podium with a time of 28:34.
Riders looking for their pictures should look here
. The next stop of the West Virginia Enduro Series is the Mayhem Enduro on Sunday, May 29 in Zanesville, Ohio.
Men's Sport Podium
Women's Sport Podium
Hardtail (Hard Ass) Podium
Women's Pro/Ex Podium
Men's Pro/Ex Podium