Stevens Pass Bike Park hosts round five of the NW Cup with full sun during Saturday’s practice and challenging dusty trails all weekend long. The only lift-accessed mountain biking in Washington is a bastion of granite that invites racers to push their speeds and do their best to hold on. A struggle the season's scarce rainfall only heightened with lots of moon dust and blown-out turns.
Still, for the 279 racers who came out, the racing was fast, fun, and at times furious. Falls and crashes were widespread pre-race and during. Including a frightening crash and course hold during the Pro Mens race. Unlike previous venues, Stevens Pass has a two course format with Cat 3 racers on one course. While everybody else attacks Slingshot Wookie to lower P.B.R. This gives Cat 2 riders a welcome chance to see how their times stack up against the field. But despite the trail crews repairs throughout the season, the added traffic quickly began to take a toll on the trail. Not to mention adding a few more traffic jams — particularly the cue for race-morning practice.
The Cat 3 course followed Lichen It to Luvin It. Lichen It sports a latticework of bridges strung between tricky turns and unusual roots and rocks. The irregular terrain makes carrying speed difficult until riders reached Luvin It. But once there, it was a quick dash to the finish line along the flow intermixed with tech.
Quite the opposite, Slingshot Wookie is a lot of tech with few flowy safe harbors. The high-speed trail has it all with rooty turns, chundery straight aways, and rim dingers and pedal bashers everywhere. The major grievance from racers was "the turn" a benign looking 180° corner at the very end of Slingshot Wookie that has all the right rocks in all the wrong places. Even the quickest of lines was a fight to maintain speed while dragging the bike completely through and unto P.B.R.
P.B.R. is the park's advanced flow/jump trail and the course joins it right above the iconic wall ride. In the past, riders would speed through a series of jumps before diving into a steep chunky chicane and than exiting onto more jumps. Stevens Pass started a reroute to remove the chunk about two weeks before the race. The trail crew has things open and running in time, and P.B.R. now follows a smoother loop with a new table and two additional step downs — more in keeping with the rest of the trail.
Saturday's seeding runs ran smoothly with many racers putting in their fastest times of the weekend. Luke Strobel, Kent Billingsley, and Kevin Littlefield put in the fastest seeding times for Pro Men. While Britney White (Pro Women) and Josh Gibb (Cat 1 Men 0-18 ) lead their categories. An additional win for Strobel in the evening's chainless race down Rock Crusher strengthened the outlook that he would be inline for his third first-place finish of the season on Sunday.
Sunday's conditions offered cooler weather and even a little cloud cover for the Cat 3 racers. On scene was a group of girls from Kat Sweet's newly formed Sweetlines Junior Racing team ready to rip the trails. Chris Canfield (Cat 1 Men 30-39), brought along a piece of history by riding a pre Canfield Brothers 1999 prototype. Trevor Altizer's (Pro Men) crashed on upper Slingshot Wookie during his race run. The crash left him unconscious for 30 seconds and he was stretcher-boarded off course, but was fortunately released with nothing more severe than a concussion and soreness.
Race results: Josh Gibb held onto his lead, Jason Eiswald moved into second, and Benjamin Van Veen edged out Bailey Villalovs to take third (Cat 1 Men 0-18 ). Lauren Heitzman moved into third, Kjersti Christiansen maintained second, and Britney White finished first (Pro Women). Unexpectedly, Luke Strobel lost ground and came in third, Demetri Triantafillou moved up two places to take second, and Weston Potter knocked off over nine seconds to claim the win — his first NW Cup Pro win. Check out the full results here
The NW Cup will return to Stevens Pass Bike Park for the series' finals September 11-13.Video from the Steven's Pass crew