After a long summer of competitions, the frosting on the enduro racing season cake arrived this past weekend as the Eastern Triple Crown Enduro Series kicked off at the Mountain Creek Bike Park. Now in its 4th year, the Triple Crown unites three of the East Coast’s biggest and best enduros into one series.
Organizers reworked the schedule this year and made the first stop of the series the King of the Mountain Enduro. Mountain Creek is located in northern New Jersey, and despite being less than 50 miles from New York City, the mountain is in a rural area surrounded by fertile farm land.
The resort rises sharply above the surrounding lowlands and is home to one of the oldest bike parks in the country.
Due to construction on the open-air cabriolet gondola, bike traffic was re-routed to the triple chair just down the hill from the base area. Ride times were significantly longer but allowed for some quality squirrel watching and father/son bonding.
Even with a lift assist, riders had a steep climb up Granite Peak to the start of the first stage.
Stage One was a classic enduro offering, packing a wide variety of terrain into a romp down the Western side of the mountain. A low-angled cruise through an oak forest got racers' legs warmed up.
It has been a dry of late on the East Coast and racers, like State 9's Glenn Davis, were kicking up dust clouds in the loose corners.
The opening stage got progressively more technical as riders descended and alternated punchy climbs with steep rock rolls.
A rugged passage marked the final obstacle on the stage. This area caused many problems in wet conditions at last year's event but played much nicer when dry. Pro Dan Albert removed the roots from the equation with a little air time.
After a challenging pedal transfer back to the top of Granite Peak, racers faced Stage Two, the longest of the day. A warp-speed blast through shoulder-high grasses got things started. Giant pro Seamus Powell was a blur through the vegetation.
Racers had to shut things down once they entered the woods as The Creek's rocky underbelly began to show.
The second segment was similar to one used last year but some fresh-cut traverses were a nice addition.
Perhaps the biggest challenge on the stage was maintaining speed through the numerous tight switchbacks and flat corners on the lower half of the track. Joseph Grega kept his eyes on the coming attractions.
The bottom of the track was hacked out of the jungle-like undergrowth and linked numerous dusty corners to the finish at the triple chair.
Returning to the top of Vernon Peak on the lift, racers faced Stage Three, the shortest and toughest of the day. The stage began on BMW with a steep roll in. Stephen Horvath took the plunge and earned a top-twenty finish in the huge 19-29 class.
A steep drop down a loamy face was next on the agenda. Former World Cup downhiller Geoff Ulmer got plenty of time on the Mountain Creek segments as he helped set up and clean the course.
Racers then faced the double-diamond rock gardens of Utah, a true test piece trail with numerous lines to decipher. The gnar began with a low-angled excursion through some blocks that would stop an errant tire in its tracks. Devinci Factory Racing pro Rachel Pageau made it through unscathed and took 5th-place on the day.
The second rock garden was a real head-scratcher and probably got more inspection time than any other spot on the mountain. Not only was it steep and rough but there were numerous line options with every possibility getting sampled over the course of the weekend. Pro rider Saben Rossi, racing for The Collective, took it right down the gut and finished 7th on the day.
A taxing hike-a-bike transfer brought racers to the final challenge of the day. Stage Four linked some of the bike park's more technical DH trails. Starting on Retreat, riders, like Rothrock Ruckus pro Tom Flaherty, charged across slabby sections at the top of the mountain.
The final stage was a rocky beast, with unrelenting baby heads and blocks for most of its length. Local pro George Ryan, no stranger to these trails, took his Evil trail bike to the second-fastest time on the stage and a 6th-place for the day.
The middle of the stage was steep, rough and loose. Justin Piskura guided his steed through the minefield and took home a top-ten finish in the 19-29 category.
The rugged geology of Legion rewarded racers who possessed a solid downhill skill set.
One last marble and baby head-filled chute released weary riders to the mellower terrain at the bottom of the final stage. Eric Goldmann has been on fire this season, winning the 19-29 category at Mountain Creek, his sixth podium in seven starts.
The final romp through the woods was kid's stuff after surviving the upper reaches of the stage.
There aren't many soft places to land at Mountain Creek and plenty of skin was sacrificed over the course of the weekend.
The rough terrain also took its toll on equipment, with rims and tires taking the brunt of the punishment.
After a beautiful sunny day for practice on Saturday, race day featured a heavy overcast with the constant threat of rain. Fortunately the bulk of the region's precipitation slid by to the north and only passing sprinkles were felt on the mountain.
A big crowd gathered for the racer's meeting on Sunday morning as veteran enduro organizer Steve Battaglini laid out the rules of the road.
The stoke level was high, especially for Team Granite pro Kyle Matzke, as a long train of racers pedaled up to Granite Peak to get the action underway.
The women’s pro race was topped by racing legend Dawn Bourque, who put on an impressive display, winning all four stages for a 26-second overall margin of victory. This was Bourque’s third win in four enduro starts this season. "I was lucky not to have any mechanicals and stayed upright this weekend. Stages One, Two and Four were similar to most enduro races I have attended this season. Stage Three was much different, it was the rockiest and roughest trail I have ever experienced in enduro racing. There were many competitor’s that experienced broken rims and flat tires. I had some tire problems in practice so I ended up running a DH tire for the race, which seemed to work great. Thanks to Mark Syron from Bikeman for keeping my bike working flawlessly and Kathi Krause from Dirt, Rock and Root Training for her support this weekend."
In the runner-up spot was defending Triple Crown overall winner and two-time Eastern States Cup overall enduro champion Lauren Petersen, riding for Intense, and CFM Cycles. Petersen tied Bourque for the win on Stage One and was second on the other three stages.
In third was Bicycle Express pro Kimberley Quinlan, who finished second in every Triple Crown enduro last season and again looks to be a favorite for one of the top spots in the overall battle this year.
The women’s pro podium from left: Clarissa Finks-4th, Lauren Petersen-2nd, Dawn Bourque-1st, Kimberley Quinlan-3rd, Rachel Pageau-5th (missing)
A new Suntour fork is being awarded to a lucky racer through a random plate draw at each stop of the Triple Crown this year. It pays to attend the awards ceremony as the first four plate numbers drawn weren't there to claim the prize.
The men’s pro race was won by Canadian speedster Antoine Caron, who had two stage wins and was the only man to go under two minutes on the rowdy Stage Three. The Pivot Cycles pro and World Cup XC racer recently competed in the two Enduro World Series stops in North America. This was his first win since taking the final Triple Crown leg at Highland Mountain last year. Caron has been recovering from a bad wrist injury and has seen limited time between the tape this year. "I wasn't supposed to be able to ride my mountain bike until August (when most of the XC calendar was over), so that's basically what made me decide to focus on enduro this year. I've been absolutely loving it. I might do the odd XC race here and there in the future but the plan is to focus on enduro now. Mountain Creek was only my fourth race this year, but I'm definitely doing all three Triple Crown races. The tracks at Mountain Creek were awesome, a good mixture of fast single track and super technical rocky sections, with no bike park-style trails...just how I like it. All the stages were pretty short which made for some tight racing, so the strategy was to really go for it on every stage."
Just six seconds behind Caron was Yeti Cycles pro Jason Memmelaar, who was recently crowned the overall Eastern States Cup enduro champion. Memmelaar won Stage Four with a screaming fast time but Caron’s blistering pace on Stage Three was too much to overcome.
On the third step was Giant Factory Off Road pro Seamus Powell, winner of last year’s Mountain Creek Triple Crown race. Always a top contender, Powell won the first two stages but lost time on the final two and wound up 17-seconds off Caron’s pace.
The men’s pro podium from left: Isaac Allaire-4th, Jason Memmelaar-2nd, Antoine Caron-1st, Seamus Powell-3rd, Mauricio Estrada-5th.
Rich Kidd wasn't the only racer enjoying a well-deserved (and large) beer after wrapping things up on Sunday. Cheers!
The next stop for the series will be at Burke Mountain in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom on the first weekend in October. Fall foliage should be upon us and the Burke tracks are always a blast so you won't want to miss this one.