A new downhill track was christened this past weekend as Killington Resort in Vermont stepped onto the national stage to host Round Four of the ProGRT series and Round Six of the Vittoria Eastern States Cup New England downhill series. Dubbed the “Beast of the East ProGRT,” the race was held in new zone, serviced by the Ramshead high-speed chair, that is being developed by Gravity Logic and the Killington trail crew. For its first national-level race, Killington checked all the boxes: challenging track, easy lift access, free camping, live entertainment, dozens of course marshals, and even a weed-whacked and signed spectator path next to the course.
With the exception of sustained steeps and rock gardens, the new track, named Goat Skull, offered a wide range of challenges and was a big hit with racers. The course dropped about 1,400 feet over its length with the start just feet from the top of the lift.
Moments after charging out of the gate, Cat 1 and pro riders faced a sharp turn onto a wooden drop to get the blood pumping. Junior National Champion Sean Bell, with Santa Cruz Factory Racing, had a solid seeding run but was tripped up in the finals and finished 12th.
Practice and seeding on Saturday were held under perfect summer skies. Santa Cruz pro Kiran MacKinnon had the second fastest qualifier but fell just off the pace for a 13th on Sunday.
A steep power berm sent racers rocketing across a ski trail and into the woods. Yeti Cycles pro Shawn Neer, winner of the last ProGRT at Angel Fire, turned in a solid 9th-place performance.
A high-speed jump was an abrupt introduction to the wooded upper reaches of the track. Thick fog on race day made this transition a leap of faith. Adrenaline Racing's Johnny Riggins never let off the gas, winning the Cat 1 30-39 race and the Fly Zone speed trap award for the fastest amateur on the day at 38 mph. Mazie Hayden was the fastest amateur woman.
The track snaked down the fall line, occasionally popping out into the open, but for the most part sticking to the woods. As with most fresh-cut trails, the loamy ribbon quickly became a minefield of holes and ruts. Steve Wittek, racing for Plattekill’s Get Loose Racing squad, absorbed the natural rollers past a rotten log on practice day.
A couple rooty, off-camber left hand corners high on the track spelled trouble for many riders, particularly after rain slickened things up for race day. Drummer Racing's Jack Williams held a tight line for a 3rd-place finish in Cat 1 30-39.
The second of the two corners was especially dicey, as Team Jersey Home Grown's Jared Martz found out in practice. Racers that failed to hold the high road were sucked below the gravity line and had a hard slog to get back on track.
To spice things up, trail designers threw the occasional man-made feature into the mostly-natural mix. Jared Boothroyd aired out the Wing Ding Double during his Cat One practice on Saturday.
A steep roll-over to a sharp, deeply-pitted left hander was one of the rowdiest spots on the track. Vermont native Quinn Campbell, racing his first ProGRT for Giant Co-Factory, laid down an inspired run for a 4th-place finish in the Junior Expert category.
Though mostly wooded, the track occasionally popped out into the open for some high-speed sections. Graeme Pitts went deep off a jump exiting the woods.
Using a feature from the mountain's winter operations, the trail designers built a hip out of the Timberline Terrain Park's mini pipe. Josh Rogers, riding for Billy Goat Bikes, made the long drive up from his North Carolina home to take second in the Junior Expert category.
The mountain labeled this section The Rock Garden on their map of the course, but it'll need some geologic augmentation before it poses any real problems for racers, especially seasoned World Cup riders like Norway's Isak Leivsson.
The occasional machined roller made for some easy airtime. Promising junior expert David Kahn, racing for Danny's Cycles, notched a 6th-place finish.
Much of the course, particularly the lower-angled bottom half, required some moto and pumping skills to maintain speed. MadKats Racing teammates Tim White and Alex McAndrew know how to work the terrain but unfortunately both tumbled in their race runs.
With Gravity Logic in the house, you knew there would be some sweet berms to feast on. Blue Sky Performance pro Max Morgan, who recently returned from a superb showing at the Lenzerheide World Cup, can rail with the best.
If I had to quibble with the track designers, it would be that many of the man-made features were virtually ignored by racers due to their placement on the track. This tree stump jump, hit here by Speed Legion pro Chris Mari, and several other showcase jumps were barely used as the go-arounds proved faster.
Probably the most exciting spot on the track was this rugged spot low on the mountain. Leaving the road, racers were forced through a pronounced dip. With enough speed, and an energetic pull, some of the pros, like Shane Leslie, were able to make a super-sized bunny hop over the dip.
A series of boulders forced riders to commit to their line after negotiating the dip. ESC North American Downhill Team member Josh Ribeiro will be joining his eight teammates at the MSA World Cup this coming weekend.
Nikolas Nestoroff, the top-ranked junior in the country and one of the best in the world, took care of this sharp rock roller and took home the Junior Expert win by a five-second margin.
Another masterpiece berm sent racers, including Chuck's Bikes pro Isaac Allaire, ripping out of the woods for a final time.
The finish line jump, with Danny's Cycles pro Phil Kmetz showing style for miles, was the final punctuation on the track.
Time for this week's Vittoria ESC bike check. Californian Graeme Pitts was turning heads all weekend with his matching stars-and-stripes-themed kit and bike combo. Pitts is a well-travelled racer with results scattered around the globe. After a lackluster seeding run at Killington on Saturday, Pitts put it all together on race day, occupying the hot seat for quite a stretch, before ending up in 7th place.
Frame: Guerilla Gravity GG/DH, handmade in Colorado, 27.5
Fork: Manitou Dorado
Shock: Manitou Revox
Wheels: Sun Ringle Helix TR29 laced to Sun Ringle SRC hubs
Tires: Maxxis Shorty, tubeless
Brakes: Hayes Prime
Derailleur/shifter: Shimano Zee
Cassette: 10 speed, 11-25
Chain: KMC SL
Chainring: MRP 35T
Cranks: Shimano Saint 170mm
Guide: MRP G3
Pedals: Crank Brothers Mallett E
Bars: Answer Carbon SL 780mm
Stem: Answer DH 45mm
Headset: Works Components 7mm angleset
Grips: Answer Stein
Post: Answer SL Carbon
Saddle: WTB Silverado with CFX gripper cover
After spectacular summer weather on Saturday, race day couldn't have been more different, with drizzle and a dense cloud layer encasing the upper half of the track.
Visibility was a real challenge as racers battled foggy air and foggy goggles. Race times on Sunday were significantly slower than qualifying times on Saturday due to the damp ground and the limited visibility.
A ray of sunshine in an otherwise gray day was seeing pro rider Matt Henderson trackside, filming for MTB Mania. Henderson was seriously injured at the Mountain Creek ProGRT but is on the mend and hasn't lost his sense of humor.
Despite the gloom, a good-sized crowd came out to watch the action, and of course, heckle the riders.
Coming just days before the Mont-Sainte Anne World Cup in Quebec, the race had some hard-charging visitors from overseas in attendance. Frida Helena Ronning, from Norway, took the women’s pro field by more than five seconds. Ronning attends college at Western Carolina University and is a former XC racer who caught the downhill bug during the 2014 collegiate racing season and has never looked back. Ronning enjoyed the Killington course: "I really liked the track. I liked that there were so many line choices and that it changed a lot during the weekend." Ronning finished in the top half of the field at the Fort William World Cup in June and is looking to better that at MSA this weekend.
In the runner-up spot was Samantha Kingshill. The high school student from California finished second in the National Championships a couple weeks ago and was recently selected to represent the U.S. at the World Championships. She is one to watch in the coming years.
Lauren Daney, the Northeast’s top downhiller this season, was looking fast on Saturday and qualified second but was slowed by a burped tire in her race run and landed on the third step of the podium.
The women’s pro podium: Sarah Konefal-4th, Samantha Kingshill-2nd, Frida Helena Ronning-1st, Lauren Daney-3rd, Simona Croccolo-5th
The men’s pro race was won by another Norwegian, Isak Leivsson, racing for the Propain team. Leivsson, the five-time reigning Norwegian National Champion, won the qualifying round by under a second then backed up his success by more than two seconds on race day. "I thought the track was good! Lots of line choices and hard turns. It was pretty hard work to race, you had to pump a lot to carry speed over the flatter bottom half. It was hard to find the right line everywhere with the constantly changing conditions. Vision was really hard on race day with lots of fog, but that was the same for everyone. Swapped tires a bit, ended up on cut spikes for race day, and changed a couple lines to avoid some holes." Leivsson will be spending the next few weeks on the East coast racing MSA and the ProGRTs at Windham and Snowshoe.
After being sidelined by an injury suffered at the Mountain Creek ProGRT in May, the Killington event saw the much-anticipated return of Neko Mullally. The Gstaad Scott pro showed no signs of rust as he laid down a screaming fast race run to take the runner-up spot.
On the third step was Max Morgan from Blue Sky Performance. Morgan has been busy this summer racing national and World Cup events and his Killington result was his first ProGRT podium since 2014.
The men’s pro podium: Shane Leslie-4th, Neko Mulally-2nd, Isak Leivsson-1st, Max Morgan-3rd, Dakotah Norton-5th
The eyes of the world may be on Mont-Sainte Anne this coming weekend, but the best regional racing in the country keeps on rolling as the Vittoria ESC BOX Components series hits Thunder Mountain in the Berkshires for a one-day enduro and downhill combo event on Sunday. As a special bonus, the inaugural ESC Dual Slalom will take place on Saturday night with $500 on the line. Be there or be square.
Words and pics by Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
Video by: Jason Cline
Amateur podium pics by Martha MaldonadoResultswww.easternstatescup.comwww.facebook.com/easternstatescupAtlantic Downhill
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