By Eddie Clark
Hill and Emmett wrap up enduro season with well earned wins.
(September 30, 2012) MOAB, Utah—The third and final race for the inaugural Big Mountain Enduro Series capped off a great first season with an epic race down the fabled Whole Enchilada. In what has become the next big thing for mountain bike racing, enduro racing is proving worthy in capturing what is best about mountain biking, and this last series race did just that with an exclamation point.
As early as Thursday, racers started arriving in Moab to get familiar with the lengthy enduro course that is known as a bucket list ride for any worthy mountain biker. On Friday, the official race practice shuttles started departing at 8am, but with so many shuttle options, many opted for later departures. Either way, at least one practice run was needed to sort out any bike changes, and most importantly to get familiar with the very tricky course.
Besides dealing with the four unique climate zones that the course descends through, racers had a neutral 1000 foot climb up to Burro Pass where the official race timing would begin. Right out of the gate racers had steep alpine singletrack that was muddy and greasy on Friday to contend with before riding through some rolling Aspen stands that were pure gold. Next up were the tricky corners of Hazard County Trail, and finally the arm testing bumpy technical sections of UPS and LPS which were shear torture for of every racer.
At 24 miles, the Whole Enchilada was a very long enduro by most accounts and was more resembling of a long trail ride. However, the nearly 7000 feet of descending highly technical trails required real trail bikes that can suck up the bumps and drops of Upper and Lower Porcupine Rim. Most starters opted for 5-6 inch trail bikes with 26" wheels and 2.35-2.5" tires, although both the Men's and Women's Pro winners varied slightly from the norm for their bike build.
Surprisingly, the Pro Men's champ, Nate Hills, ran Ardent 2.25" tires front and rear to avoid the wiggle that comes from larger corner knobs at the expense of bump absorption, and Pro Women's champ, Kelli Emmett, opted for her Giant Anthem 29'er with 4 inches of travel to capitalize on cross country oriented race efficiency. It's worth noting that Emmett just raced the US Marathon National Championships on the very same bike, which speaks volumes for the bike and Emmett's extremely honed bike handling skills.
On Saturday, everyone gathered at the Archway Inn for the mandatory racers meeting where Big Mountain Race Director Keith Darner gave racers a heads-up on race details to be aware of on the following morning. At the before daw time of 6:30am, the first shuttles started the hour plus long trek up to Geyser Pass Rd. From there, it was first come first serve with racers having a loose window to choose their start and take off at 30 second intervals.
Nate Hills set a fastest time of 1:20:48 to win the pro men's race, and Yeti's Mike West took his second place in this series at 2:27 back with third place going to Cannondale xc racer Alex Grant. Giant's Kelli Emmett won the women's race with an impressive 1:33:02, second place went to Trek / Subaru's Heather Irmiger, and third was rounded out by Heidi Rentz.
After racers completed their run and made it back to the event area at the Archway Inn, they had and enchilada lunch awaiting along with a well stocked race raffle that preceded the awards ceremony. People were not only tired afterwards, but were also stoked on the great day that was a first and hopefully not the last for The Whole Enchilada.
"The format we're using is considerably more challenging, and we've had to think outside the box to make this work. Some of my guys have done five laps on this course, so it's been challenging, but the praise and accolades from everyone has been more than rewarding." Said Race Director Keith Darner. "It was a great time, and it's really fun putting on events that people really appreciate."