I had planned on racing Mountain Bike Nationals since I heard about the location about a year ago. I heard it was at Snowshoe and if a National event is within 5 hours I will probably go. Last time I went to MTBNats it was up at Bear Creek Resort near Trexlertown, PA. The trails were rocky and rooty so I loved it. I knew Snowshoe had roots and rocks and that a lot of the time they are wet. When conditions get rough I tend to thrive (except for cold).
There are five disciplines that one can compete in at nationals. Those include Cross Country (XC), Short Track Cross Country (STXC), Dual Slalom (DS), Downhill (DH), and Enduro (ED). I would love to do all five but the expense was too much and the schedule would have been hectic (maybe another year). I decided to pick two and ended up registering for XC and Enduro. I have a long history of XC racing and was 5th at Nationals after a back row start a few years back. Enduro is a new thing for me. My only experience previously had been Tour de Burg and the Massanutten Hoo-Ha Enduro. I didn't know how it was going to go down at Snowshoe but I was excited.
For the XC race I chose to take a Specialized Epic dual suspension mountain bike with 100mm of travel front and rear. This bike is much lighter for when you have to race up climbs but can still handle rocky and twisty descents. The Enduro event only races the downhill sections with few uphill parts. For that I took my Specialized Enduro 29 which has 160mm of suspension front and 165mm in the rear. The longer travel smooths out rock gardens and takes the hit on bigger drops or jumps.
Snowshoe Resort is a two and a half hour drive from Harrisonburg. My wife and I loaded up baby Henry and all the equipment, and convoyed over the day before the Enduro with Lindsey Carpenter, who was also racing the Enduro. We checked in to our room at the mountain top village and Lindsey and I jumped on the bikes to go practice.
Enduro events go down like this: There are a number of stages each day of the event. Usually 4 stages over 1 day, but big events do 8 stages over 2 days. The riders will go out from a starting point in waves based on age or category (Pro vs. Amateur). We had to ride about 3 miles out to the start of stage 1 where we wait in line to race one at a time down the trail. At the end of the stage an official clocks your out and you follow arrows to the next stage. The stages are timed, but the "transitions" are not, and you are free to ride whatever pace as long as you complete that days stages by a designated cutoff time.
Thanks to a tip from a friend, Mr. Compton, we checked out stage 2 and found out it was a flowy lead-in to a rocky rooty chute straight down the mountain. The initial turn into the chute was intimidating to say the least. Lindsey and I made it down to the finish thinking that we may have a tough time come race day on that stage. We practiced a few more stages with Sue Haywood and Jason Cyr, who showed Lindsey and I some lines and gave us some intel for the event.
On day 1, we lined up at 2:45pm for the wave starts at 3pm. Here we go! Stage 1 was a pedally marsh of roots and slick bridges. It wasn't very steep, so you have to pedal constantly while navigating perpendicular lines to roots and trying not to slip of bridges. It was over in about 6 minutes. I had a clean run and found the FLOW.
We took the lift up and then started stage 2. It went better than I thought. Even though I spent about 30 seconds trying to get back into a pedal halfway down the run, I was able to keep the bike upright and only had a minor hickup with line choice that left me kayaking between 2 narrow trees. I was finished in about 3.5 minutes. We had to pedal up to the start of stage 3 but it wasn't long. I hadn't seen stage 3 but it was a fun ripper less steep than stage 2 and only half the time. I was surprised when I saw the results because this little trail was so much fun but it only took us 1.5 minutes.
We made our way to the lift for the second time and headed over the the Western Territories for our final run of the day. Stage 4 was a mix of the Pro Downhill course and other steep scary rock gardens and drops. They were scary before but when I raced this stage I didn't notice. I had a conservative but clean run other than a chain drop before the final rock garden. I kept composed, told the chain to get back on, and pedaled back up to speed.
Lindsey and I both lost time on Stage 4 probably do to our lack of experience with Snowshoe terrain. We got results later that night and saw we were in decent position going into the next day. I was 3rd in my category and only 34 seconds back and Lindsey was sitting 7th in the Pro race only 1 minute behind first and 20 seconds away from the podium.
Day 2 also started at 3pm. We did the same line up and wave releases. Stages 5 and 6 were known to be pedally, which is a great benefit to Lindsey and me. Stage 5 started on some almost double-wide single track with mud ruts and big rocks. When it is wider I have to analyze more trail and pick which line I am going to take. This is a big part of racing. On single track with one line, I don't have to choose, I just navigate the trail in front of me. When it is wide I can't always see all the options. I managed to make it through with a few foot downs and stayed on the bike, but felt like I was sprinting for 75% of it. Stage 6 was really pedally at the beginning and finished with a greasy rhythm section. We transitioned a while to stage 7 (another one we didn't get to practice). It started with a wooden platform and dropped into some whoops then turned into loamy s-turns with 29er wheel-eating holes through Ewok Village looking trees. It turned steep for the final section and I couldn't help but stay on the brakes a little more than I wanted. I had almost gone over the bars when my front wheel dropped into a hole. I bottomed my fork and braced with my arms at the last instant the wheel rolled out of the hole... phew. At this point in the day, I was moving fast but felt like I was barely holding on with the upper body fatigue. My arms hurt more than my legs. We took the lift up from 7 and headed over to the other side of the mountain for the final stage of the race. Stage 8 paralleled the Pro DH course but was mostly jump line and berms with one long high speed try-to-make-you-flat rock garden. Thanks to my experience on Creamy at Massanutten Bike Park I was now comfortable with jumping. I felt really good on this stage. I was conservative in the corners on the first half but let it go halfway down and charged to the finish. The work was finished.
The results didn't come until 2am due to some timing issues. I had made up the 34 seconds from the first day, and ended up taking first place. Lindsey moved up from 7th to 3rd and made the Pro podium.
Snowshoe terrain was the toughest we have ever ridden and we plan on heading out there to practice more before next year. Nationals will be at Snowshoe again in July 2018. The morning after the Enduro, I jumped on my "little" bike to line up for the XC race. I felt so tired, and didn't sleep from much waiting for the enduro results. With about 20 riders, I made it into the rooty woods section 9th and left in 4th. I maintained that position for the next 2.5 laps and earned another podium.
I had so much fun at Snowshoe with my family and friends. Thanks to my Rocktown Bikes team for helping me by taking up slack at the shop mid-summer so I can go play. Thanks to my wife for the freedom to train and compete while we raise our 6 month old son.