LOS ALAMOS, N.M. - Living up to it's moniker, Pajarito Punishment once again inflicted pain and suffering on a dedicated group of racers.
With the light smell of smoke lingering in the air from the Arizona wildfires and a distinct haze visible in the valley below, the cross-country racers hit the starting line at 9am Saturday morning. Eighteen miles and 3200ft of elevation gain later Damian Calvert conquered a fifth consecutive Pro category win with a time of 1:41:52. Nina Baum also came with her A-game, knocking off her third consecutive win with a time of 2:10:33.
With a reputation as one of New Mexico's toughest races, Pajarito Punishment offers up plenty of climbing and technical descending.
“Now I know what Pajarito Punishment is all about, it's really hard,” Cat 1 men's winner Hadji Corona said.
“It's definitely a climber's course, it's dusty, dry and technical,” John Searles said. “You have to have climbing and descending skills.”
The course wound through the the gentler grades of Canada Bonita trail before beginning the brutal assault of the Pajarito Mountain, a steep technical traverse to the top of the 10,400ft peak. Competitors in the pro and expert categories had the privilege of doing that climb twice.
“It's killer mountain biking, it's as good as it gets. I think that's why some people say it's their favorite race of the year,” Damian Calvert said.
Other notable finishes in the cross-country race included Jason Katz in the singlespeed category. He rode a 1:21:11 for the day. “I think having the right gearing is crucial. I spent half the race trying to chase a guy down, but I finally caught up with him about halfway up the hill,” he said.
Jessica Kisiel nabbed the women's singlespeed title with a time of 1:39:20. “People think that singlespeeding is hard but it's actually easier than you think it should be. You just pedal, there's no shifting, it's just fun,” she said.
Hadji Corona took the men's Expert category win with a time of 1:54:56 while Jennifer Wilson rode for a 2:21:58 in the women's category.
On Sunday the winds picked up, offering relief from the heat as the downhill racers began their assault of the mountain. Twenty-eight racers attended the event, down a significant number from previous years. That certainly did not stop anyone from laying the smack down on a tough course.
Coming out ahead was Intense Bikes rider Jason Memmelaar with a time of 03:06.7. “I kept it real and collected. I hit some key lines and just got into the right mindset,” he said.
Like the cross-country course the downhill descent was technical and full of surprises. A couple of highlights were the rock garden and a substantial drop at speed near the finish.
“It's unique in that it's pretty steep,” Chris Heath said. “We could use more of these course around the country; like the European and World Cup style courses.”
“I thought it was great. It was steep, rocky and rough with lots of turns,” Nate Wierwille said. “You had to be on it the whole time.”
While overall attendance was down in both races, those that showed up proved that you don't need a huge crowd to have a great race.
“This is a real mountain bike race. It's got difficulty in terms of climbing and in terms of technical terrain,” race director Rick Hinkley said. “That blend is something that doesn’t happen with other races.”