I've learned a lot about racing enduro in the last couple of weeks. Racing three of the Big Mountain Enduro (BME) series races in the span of four weeks will do that. And it has made me more determined than ever to become better at descending.
The first thing I learned is that tire choice is just as important for enduro as it is for cross country. Specifically that I should always race on Geax TNT (tubeless) tires. I have now twice tricked myself into thinking that the non-TNT tires would suffice forgetting how much harder I ride when I'm racing and both times flatted and lost any chance of a good finish. The first time was Mellow Johnny's. The second time was three months later at the Angel Fire/Taos BME.
Growing up in Taos, New Mexico, I had spent a lot of time riding the South Boundary trail so when I heard it had been chosen for the first stage of the Angel Fire/Taos BME I was excited. I knew the trail, knew the turns, knew the dirt and knew that there was enough pedaling that I had a chance of winning the stage. And then I flatted.
All things considered I was pretty lucky. I realized at the start of the stage that I had forgotten my Genuine Innovations Big Air and nozzle but was able to borrow a nozzle and 16-gram cartridge from Heather Irmiger. I had a fast tube change, 2:46 according to Strava, and I didn't flat a second time even though I only had 12psi in my rear tire for the rest of the race. But the minute of riding on a flat tire before I stopped to change it plus the 2:46 tire change plus the time I lost milking my 12psi tire put me into 36th for the stage and out of the running for the weekend overall.
The next day didn't go much better. I finished in the top-15 on stages 2 and 3 and was feeling pretty good when I flatted again on stage 4. I walked down the mountain to keep from destroying my wheel and finished last (47th). The final stage, Angel's Plunge, was my best of the weekend and I finished sixth. Overall I finished 46th for the weekend, but hey, I finished.
Two weekends later, Syd and I headed to Crested Butte for round two of the BME series. This marked the start of seven consecutive weekends of racing followed by a move to Monterey, California, so the Rockmelon (my Chevy Aveo) was well packed and struggled on the mountain passes. We camped up the Gothic Canyon looking forward to gorgeous sunsets but the thousands of mosquitos kept us from fully appreciating the area.
When we arrived at Crested Butte, we learned that due to some Forest Service permitting issues all of the stages would be held in the Evolution Bike Park. My strength is pedaling so I was a bit disappointed that there would be so little of it but I gave it my best and finished seventh overall for the weekend placing 23rd in the first two stages then second, third, 17th and 19th in the remaining four.
I rode beefier tires at Crested Butte (Geax DHEA TNT) and didn't have any flats but found that the square knobs on downhill tires corner differently than the cross country tires I'm used to. I'm still getting comfortable with the different cornering feel but love the added puncture protection of the tall, closely spaced knobs. I also got more comfortable in the air after spending the weekend hitting the jump tracks. It was a blast!
The next weekend was the Keystone BME. Once again, all six stages were held in the bike park and there was even less pedaling than the Crested Butte stages. Realizing this I decided to treat the weekend as descending practice. I worked on keeping my speed through loose corners, jumping over rocky sections and staying relaxed through braking bumps. I got more comfortable at speed and focusing on being smooth but I've still got plenty of work to do. It was a good weekend and I finished in the top-20 overall (17th).
Now I've got a few weeks of cross country racing in the eastern half of the country (the Wisconsin Pro XCT last weekend and National Championships this weekend), then I head back west for the Winter Park enduro, Downieville and the Breck Epic. See you on the trails!