Mitch Ropelato is one of the most talented mountain bikers on the planet, and he also might be one of the friendliest. It'd be easy for a guy who can race downhill and enduro at the highest levels, win Crankworx pumptrack events, toss front flips, and hit Fest Series-sized jumps without missing a beat to develop a little bit of an ego, but that's simply not the case with Mitch. Despite a seemingly endless amount of talent, he's refreshingly down-to-earth, and brimming with positive, mischievous energy.
I caught up with Mitch following the three-day NZ Enduro, which he was using as a final prep before the start of the Enduro World Series, to find out more about his plans for 2018 and beyond.
Let's start with the basics - how'd you get into mountain biking?
I got into mountain biking because I broke my scaphoid racing BMX, and then I couldn't ride my BMX bike at the skate park anymore. So I got a hardtail with a front fork so I could still ride skate park until my wrist got better. I ended up liking the mountain bike better, and then after watching videos at my local bike shop I was like, "I'm going to go try slalom." Then it just kind of just took off from there, and I saw downhill and all these other aspects of the sport.
Do you remember what year that was?
Probably '06 or '07, somewhere right around there. I was 15 or 14. I think I was fully mountain biking once I got my license, because I remember doing big trips in my Jeep.
When was your first World Cup season?
My first World Cup was in '09, in Schladming. But I did Bromont and Mont-Sainte-Anne for four-cross. Then I... it's actually a pretty funny story... I had a spot to race on the national team, and then they called us as we were driving out there to inform me I didn't have a spot anymore. My dad was like, "We're already half way there." They said, "You can still race four-cross, but we had another rider come in that needed the spot." We were like "Oh." Come to find out it was Palmer that stole my spot for both those rounds... I got forced out of racing my first three World Cups by Palmer, but that's all good.
What made you decide to make the switch from racing DH to enduro for Specialized back in 2014?
I just had conflicts with the downhill team... It was more like the managing part of the team that I didn't get along with. It wasn't the riders - me, Troy, and Aaron are still good friends. I still root for both those boys, and they were some of the funnest people to hang out with.
But then I was like, "Can I go ride with Curtis and Patty and just try out a couple of those enduro things?" I ended up getting fourth at the first one I did. They were like "Do you want to sign to do a full season?", and I was like "Heck, yeah." That kinda came with its own problems too; I tore my ACL/MCL shortly after the first race. I had to race the rest of the season with it fully torn, I put off surgery, and finally at the end of the year, I got surgery.
That winter I was like, "I'm done with mountain biking." I was about ready to quit and I was going to go into the chef world. I went and did cooking school, I just did like a local one to see if I liked it. I liked it a lot, and I still want to do it, but I figured I won't get too many years riding at the level I'm riding at now. So I figure I better milk these next few years and just get every ounce of racing out of me. Eventually, I can go into cooking or construction or whatever I want to do after.
You mentioned your dad, are your parents pretty supportive of your racing?
Yeah, my dad was super supportive, my mom, my whole family was. We grew up with BMX, motocross; from day one my dad wanted something to do with me, and the golf course wouldn't allow me out there. So for some reason we went with motorcycles and BMX and all that.
Your dad rides too?
No, he doesn't do any of that. It's a bit strange when everyone's always like "So, your whole family rides," and I'm like "No, I'm the only one." He just wanted something to do with me. I think his whole life he grew up farming, which is not a bad deal, but he really didn't enjoy the farming and stuff. I think he wanted to just give me something to do and be able to go do it with me. He wouldn't ride, but he was there hanging out with me and traveling around.
I think a lot of people think of you as a pump track specialist guy because of your appearances at Crankworx, but what's your favorite discipline? If you just had to pick, what type of riding is your favorite?
I mean, I like pump tracks, but I think they need to get a little bit gnarlier. Honestly, dirt jumping, like trails, proper trails, not like slopestyle. When you go to places like Catty, Posh, Tanner, there's no better feeling than that. It's like trail bike riding, but just the most insane flow. Every time I get hurt the only reason I get healed up is just so I can have a good sesh at the end of the year at Tanner Trails.
What's your schedule looking like for 2018?
We're doing the full EWS again this year, it's just a little bit different - I'm running my own program and we're doing it under the SRAM tent. I've got the support of all them and Santa Cruz and RockShox, TLD, Scott, Camelback, Adidas, Monster.
It's just you, you're Dumpster Fire Racing?
Well, yeah, I mean it's a bunch of people. It's just kind of what I run the team under. Like I tell everyone, the Dumpster Fire is everybody that I hang out with. Anybody that wants to be a part of it, it's just a rolling shit show, we just have a lot of fun and we're just enjoying the ride.
Who came up with the Dumpster Fire name?
That was Dawson [John Dawson, SRAM's Sports Marketing Director] He called me that since I was like 16, 'cause I just had the wildest stories. I had the most random problems ever happen to me, but it was just 'cause I was just kind of like my own shit show. I keep it pretty contained, so that's why we call it Dumpster Fire – a fire in a dumpster isn't hurting anybody, but you can sit there and watch it and it's entertaining.
What's the first random problem story that comes to mind?
Shoot, there's so many. I think it just depends on who you talk to. I remember one day I woke up and missed all of practice in Leogang and I didn't even know it. I like looked out the window and my alarm went off and I was like, "Sweet, everyone's in the pits getting ready. I'll hurry and run down." Then I started walking down and see that it looks like they're taking muddy kits off and putting on fresh kits and getting their plates and their bikes all situated. I'm like, "Is everybody getting ready for qualifying?"
Sure enough, I walk up to the tent and Justin's like, "Where you been?" I was like, "Dude, did I miss practice?" He's like, "Yep." And I'm like "Oh my gosh." So, I went straight into racing, like no practice and missed qualifying by like 3 seconds. I flew all the way to Leogang for that.
What other sports do you do besides mountain biking?
I ride a little bit of moto. I haven't ridden in a little while, but I just got a new one. We're going to go back out to the track and start doing that a little bit more. I try not to do too much competitive stuff, 'cause I have to win. I'll devote all my attention to just winning whatever we do. So it's generally better if I just suck at everything and just stick to biking. I like golfing, cooking, I'll just sit there and geek out on cooking shows. I don't know, I'm just always up to random stuff.
Last year you tossed a front flip a couple times in Crankworx Speed and Style, where'd that trick come from?
I use to do them on a 20" all the time. Then, like I said, the last time I rode 20" was probably 2006-2007. I hadn't done one on a mountain bike... actually no, I did one in '09 at Post Office Jam. Cam McCaul and all them were there watching and Greg Watts was actually there.
We went to Rotorua and Greg was like, "Mitch, you can beat em, you can beat him. Just front flip it." And I was like "Dude, no way, you saw my last front flip." I looped it out at Post Office, under-rotated it and just landed in a manual and looped it out. It was like before anybody else had done a front flip... I think Cam landed his front flip shortly after I did mine at Post. So, when I came down the course and I slid out in that one corner I was like "Alright, the only way I'm beating Loron is if I front flip."
I was clipped in too, I didn't even unclip or anything. Just went off that lip, grabbed the brake, it was so scary. I was just staring at the landing... Everyone was like, "Dude, how'd you get it off axis?" And I said, "Cause I was staring at the landing the entire flip, just looking for it." That's why I think I corked it outside, 'cause I was looking over my shoulder, and when it came around I've never been so happy. It was awesome.
It was a good day for me 'cause I landed the front flip, and then we went up to the Whip Off jump and I threw the biggest flat spin I think I've ever thrown. It was around 55 to 60 feet and I kind went to flat off of the landing too. So, I bet it went like 65 or whatever, but it was a big day. After that, I just called it quits and went and grabbed a beer in the pits. I was like, "Yep, that was a day's work."
Are you going to attend any of the Crankworx events this year?
I'll probably show up to Whistler, probably do the slalom, pump track, and then, of course, the EWS and A-Line. I always like A-Line, that's a good one.
Mitch's custom painted Santa Cruz Nomad. The frame was originally the stock matte tan color, but after hours of wet sanding, more paint, more sanding, and a final clearcoat, this is the final result.
You said you're committed to competing in the Enduro World Series for the next two years - do you have any specific goals you're trying to accomplish?
Mike Kelly would always tell me, "Don't be a woulda shoulda, coulda." So, I guess the reason I put these two seasons together is 'cause I just want to see what I can actually do if I put my head down, train, do everything kind of by the books. It's kind of to see what happen.
I don't want to go through life and be like, "Aw man, yeah, I qualified second at World Champs, but I didn't make it through the first corner, but, man, if I would have, man, I probably would have won that." If I actually give it a go and I don't achieve it, then it's like "No, I just didn't have it," or if I do get it then it's like "Oh, sweet, cool. Won a championship." So yeah, I'm excited.
One final question - what's your favorite thing to cook? Do you have a specialty?
My specialty? Everyone always asks me that. I cook real basic stuff, like homemade pasta. When I do that, that's my favorite. In school we made these homemade raviolis with a ricotta, basil, cheese kind of thing. You brown butter and do salt over the top, and holy cow. Dude, that is like the best one ever.