After a six-year hiatus, the US Open downhill has returned to the scene and is looking to regain its status as a must-attend event on the downhill calendar. More than 200 racers turned out for the reboot of this classic event. When the Open was last held in 2011, the venue was still known as the Diablo Freeride Park and such luminaries as Aaron Gwin, Gee Atherton, Steve Smith (#longlivechainsaw) and Jill Kintner were all breaking the beam. Luca Shaw was racing in the junior category and Richie Rude Jr. was on a downhill bike. Though much has changed over the years some things remain the same: Gwin and Kintner are back at the Open and the mountain retains its reputation for unforgiving geology and full-throttle racing.
Mountain Creek is located in rural northern New Jersey. The region is home to an unlikely mix of high-end vacation homes and vegetable/dairy farms. Though modest in stature, the mountain packs a wallop of steeps and rock gardens that take no prisoners.
Rain was a common theme in the days leading up to the Open, including a series of strong thunderstorms on Thursday night. As practice opened Friday morning, racers faced soft and soggy conditions on many of the tracks freshly-built sections.
The one-of-a-kind cabriolet gondola transports racers to the top of the mountain with sweeping views of the Vernon area below.
The track features a blend of classic segments with a healthy dose of fresh offerings. The US Open philosophy is to tape a wide track and offer plenty of line options. There were plenty of open slope sections including the opening stretch that crosses under the gondola.
Just in time for Memorial Day a colorful American flag painted bridge near the top of the track brought racers to a key section.
Just after the bridge, a quagmire of puddles and deep mud posed a persistent headache for racers all weekend. The slop was followed by a gently rising slab traverse so anyone who got bogged down lost valuable seconds before gravity took hold again.
The first big technical puzzle was the Ninety Nine rock garden. The rocks and roots through this section became tracked with mud making this a slick trouble spot.
Returning to the open slope, riders got a short breather before the next big obstacle. Samantha Kingshill raced to a fifth in qualifying on Saturday.
The Red Bull rock garden was undoubtedly the crux of the course. The jumble of rocks was unearthed on a steep pitch adjacent to the legendary Asylum rock garden. There were several unappetizing line choices and a slew of riders, including Drummer Racing's Jack Williams, went over the bars trying to negotiate the maze.
Those that survived the rock garden went hard on the gas to the Fox MTB Independence Jump, a new feature that launched racers over a long table.
Soft dirt again plagued riders as they linked a pair of berms before the new CLIF bridge, a typically impressive Mountain Creek wooden feature over the Greenhorn trail.
After a series of moto whoops, racers dropped off the steepest pitch on the track that ended in a harsh G-out.
A rooty chute was the final big technical challenge on the track.
The bottom of the course was scratched out of a half pipe with hips and corners connected by dicey off-camber traverses. Jordan Newth and Isaac Allaire teamed up on one of the steep corners in practice.
Cornering skills were essential to keeping a quick pace on the bottom of the track. Wiley Kaupas, racing for Specialized, shows how it's done.
A pair of booters put the finishing touches on the course.
After practice on Friday, a huge crowd of bikers and spectators headed up the hill for the Fox MTB Best Whip Contest. Held on the Independence Jump, the event was an absolute blast with a Red Bull DJ, trains of riders and an endless supply of whips.
The stoke was high as waves of riders launched off a pair of kickers.
Radio personality Matt Murray, the original US open announcer, worked the mic during the comp. Murray's enthusiasm boiled over when Iron Maiden made an appearance on the playlist.
Commencal's Luca Cometti took top honors with a series of huge filthy efforts.
Cash and bragging rights were awarded to Cometti by US Open owner Clay Harper, right. Andras Simon took the runner-up spot and freeride legend Tyler McCaul was third.
Practice and seeding took place on Saturday. A steady stream of riders wheeled across the pedestrian bridge from the parking lots.
The women's open class was dominated by national champion Jill Kintner. The Red Bull athlete topped the field by an 11-second margin and is looking to defend her long-held US Open title.
Caroline Washam, winner of the Windrock ProGRT earlier this year, was the only woman in reach of Kintner.
Progression Cycle Pro Kaytlin Melvin took the third spot. Melvin runs a busy race schedule on the west coast.
Chelsea Kimball, another west coast racer, took fourth about two seconds off Melvin's pace.
Defending US Open champion Aaron Gwin eeked out the top spot in qualifying for the men. Gwin's bike was loaded with a manner of telemetry as he appears to be gathering data about bike performance during the event.
Gwin's YT Mob teammate Neko Mullaly was second, just a couple hundredths of a second behind Gwin.
Santa Cruz Bicycles Pro, Kiran MacKinnon, who has been red-hot of late, took the third spot, nearly five seconds off the winning pace.
Ever-stylish Dakotah Norton, racing for Morpheus bikes, earned a fourth place in qualifying, just a couple tenths behind MacKinnon.
MacKinnon's Santa Cruz teammate Max Morgan, recently back from injury, appears to have regained his speed with a fifth place in qualifying.
Who will be crowned 2017 US Open champion on Sunday? It's time to make your pick.