Photography: Jason O'Neil (IG @jasononeil) // words: Michael Grimland (IG @grimlandm)
One of the Tetons' best places - Grand Targhee Resort - played host last weekend to the traveling party that is the Montana Enduro Series. The Grand Enduro, as the race is affectionately known, was the penultimate race of 2019 SoFi Montana Enduro Series. The race saw several red-hot series points battles unfolding and a shift away from the MES' namesake state, meaning a change in local advantage.
The first of two races held outside of Montana in 2019 (not counting the NAEC bonus round in Kellogg, ID), The Grand Enduro delivered with perfect days of riding, racing, and camping at the resort’s amazing venue. With Friday dedicated to practice, racers made good use of the lifts to work in lines on well-known stages, as well as learn the race’s several new stage offerings.
It may have been August, but autumn made its presence known at the racer meeting. Saturday dawned bright and chilly, but hands were stuffed in pockets and exhaled breath condensed into clouds as rider’s listened to MES Race Organizers Tony Zammit and Eric Sivers explain the finer points of rules and things to watch out for on the course.
Just as the pre-race email hinted, racers were in for a Super-D style treat to start off day one, bringing bicycles and their shivering riders from the resort's base elevation of 7,500 feet to almost 10,000 feet in a matter of minutes. Fortunately, racers were granted a bit of a warm-up descent to the start of Stage one, consisting of the appropriately named trail Buffalo Drop and leading into Sticks 'n' Stones. A Targhee classic, Sticks 'n' Stones has been a staple of the Montana Enduro Series for years. Known for its remarkable ability to swallow wheels whole, while also encouraging a race pace that far exceeds riders' sightlines, Sticks 'n' Stones claimed numerous victims before ending just short of its lower section, slated to be raced the following day.
A short push up the Resort’s Sacajawea Road led participants to the day’s second of three stages, a yet unraced trail named Ain't Life Grand into a side country classic known as Peaked.
Immediately, this trail set the tone for the rest of the day. Functioning dropper posts, last deemed necessary in Helena, MT, at Round 1 one of the 2019 campaign, became crucial once again. Undulating terrain tested the racer fitness, while flat, loose corners tested traction. Crossing the timing line near mid-mountain, participants were treated to one of the shortest transfers in MES history as they queued for the final stage of the day: Andy's. Andy’s offered similar terrain to Stage 2, with slightly more tree cover. Mistakes on Andy’s were significant; the narrow trail meant a misplaced wheel or foot dab was heavily reflected on the clock. And similar to Stage 2, Stage 3 again pushed limits of everyone's VO2 before ending at the Race Tent and timing station.
Day two began again in the lift line, this time accompanied by gusting winds that promised to wreak havoc in the air. After disembarking from the lift, riders trickled down to the start of Stage 4, the new favorite Blondie. Loose, steep, and rooty, the trail promised to shake up day one’s standings. Navigating it quickly meant using less brake than one was comfortable with, and pin-point accuracy was required to avoid contact with the duff and loam that made up the entire trail.
A pedal up Shoshone road was followed by another opportunity to play take-your-bike-for-a-walk-up-a-ski-slope brought riders near the summit again. Stage 5 was a trail that needs no introduction and is a Grand Targhee staple: Rock Garden. Stage 5 awaited racers as they nervously checked the wind’s direction and speed. Containing a bit of everything, Rock Garden carried riders down the nose of the mountain, with significant exposure to the elements, all while riding on a wicked combination of sharp shale bedrock and sharp shale that isn't attached to anything. A mid-run set of jumps required riders to stay low to avoid the wind gusts. A fast finish down narrow, sidehill single track deposited riders near the bottom of the mountain, ready to transfer to the final stage.
The race’s final stage took riders back to Sticks 'n' Stones, this time to race the lower section. The shortest stage of the race was a crowd favorite, combining the technicality of day two with the flow of day one - a quick sprint finish gave riders a chance to earn a beer or three as they spilled out of the trees and onto the deck of the resort’s Trap Bar.
2019 Grand Enduro Official Results:
[PI=17660356 ]Your Pro Female Podiums: 1st: Robin Lyons (38:24.2), 2nd: Christy Graves (39:21.7), 3rd: Allison McCuskey (39:37.7)[/PI]
[PI=17660355 ]Your Pro Male Podiums: 1st: Macky Franklin (29:28.9), 2nd: Jeremy David (30:11.5), 3rd: Scott Mooney (30:34.3)[/PI]
An incredible event, at a spectacular venue, The Grand Enduro did not disappoint. With The Grand Enduro in the books, the Montana Enduro Series heads to Jackson Hole, WY for the series finale where, for the first time (and weather permitting), bicycles and riders will be loaded onto the world-famous Jackson Hole Tram for what promises to be a wild finish to the season on September 21, 2019. You can find more at https://www.montanaenduro.com
Check out the full photo album for The Grand Enduro
right here on Pinkbike!