By Eddie Clark
(July 26-29, 2012) WINTER PARK, Colo.—Five different mountain bike events provided something for everyone in the uncharacteristically lush mountains of Grand County during the first running of the Colorado Freeride Festival. Formerly known as Colorado Crankworx, the new festival had its biggest draw and change from previous years with a five stage enduro race that featured an emerging crop of America's fastest mountain bikers. Overall, the weekend offered a $40,000 cash purse which drew out racers from many backgrounds.
Competition got underway Thursday with the Air Downhill race on the premier jump trail of the Rocky Mountains, Rainmaker. Coming hot out of the gates was Brian Buell who took top honors in the pro men's race while Melissa Buhl proved fastest in the air and down the trail in the pro women's race.
For Friday, the most heavily contested Specialized Enduro Stage Race kicked off at 9am with a chainless downhill to showcase racers speed and flow. In the afternoon, a full on enduro race sent racers down the technical Trestle Downhill, to The Boulevard, to Witness, and then finished up on the newly re-designed Boot Camp trail. Mid-day rains and lightning put a hold on competition, and made for some slippery conditions for the pro women while descending the rocky and rooty Trestle Downhill. It was this second stage where current National DH Champion Jackie Harmony took control of the stage race with an assertive win.
Also on tap for Friday was qualifying for the Shimano Slopestyle competition, which also served as a Freeride Mountain Bike Association Gold level event. Near record attendance for this event had competitors soaring over a newly designed course that was built with an emphasis for riders being able to attempt their biggest tricks. Twenty four would advance into the finals which were scheduled for Saturday.
Saturday was perhaps the biggest day of competition, and featured a cross country race, two enduro stages, and the slopestyle competition. Curtis Keens and Jacki Harmony continued to stretch out their lead with fast rides that gave them even greater time gaps over their competitors. Unfortunately, the fickle mountain weather brought thunderstorms that put the slopestyle finals on hold due to dangerously slippery conditions.
Sunday proved to be another great day for enduro racing, and featured the most pedaling of all stages, which had many of the cross country racers licking their chops to move up in the overall. World Cup cross country racers Heather Ermiger and Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski as well as all-around fast guy Ross Schnell took advantage of the flatter course on Green World to move up several places in the final ranking. In fact Schnell was so fast that he won the stage and moved up to second place for the overall final. Although, it was the downhillers Jackie Harmony and Curtis Keene who prevailed to take the overall wins.
In the slopestyle, Martin Soderstrom gave Brandon Semenuk a run for his money, and both finished respectively in second and first with Brett Rheeder having a break-out performance to finish in third place in front of a very talented field.