This 4th of July weekend marked the mid point of the Eastern States Cup Enduro Series and sent racers to the iconic “Beast of the East,” in Killington, Vermont. Killington has been a staple venue in the series and is hosting 2 enduros this year. “The Beast” promises long stages, surprisingly short pedal transfers, and a great variety of terrain. This year was no different. Record numbers were reached by the ESC as 183 racers showed up for the event.
All week, the forecast promised a perfect summer weekend – a welcome and much anticipated change after the previous weekend’s Attitash race. On practice day, racers were greeted by sunny skies but reports from the locals and race officials started coming in that the tracks were really muddy, thanks to some big rains earlier in the week. And so it was – despite the lack of rain, this would be a really sloppy race.
Stage 1 was a familiar sight to anyone that’s raced here before. Probably the biggest pedal effort of the day, if it wasn’t going up – it was going flat, across rocky, rooty, undulating terrain. Well, that’s not entirely true…but that’s what it felt like. There were a couple of technical descents in this one and line choice was crucial if you wanted to conserve speed and stay on the trail. The first stages at enduro races are always rough and this one certainly lived up to the expectation.
Stage 2 followed a mellow uphill transfer up a ski slope. This was more pedaling and longer. Less outright climbing and faster average speed with lots of tight corners. The bottom spit you out onto a loose access road that required as much pedaling as skill to do well on. Despite the odd patches of deep mud, both of these stages dried up substantially by race day. Power output was crisper and your front wheel wasn’t tossed from one glass like root to another.
The same could not be said for Stage 3. This stage may as well have followed a stream bed. The shortest stage of the day, and possibly the flattest, racers splashed their way across mostly access roads. On a dry day, this stage could have been called uninspiring; this weekend – between trying to pedal through the soft grass and keeping as much water and mud out of your eyes as possible, it was a stage everyone wished would just disappear.
And now it was on to the fun part. Or the really scary one, depending on where your strengths lie. Stage 4 has been a Killington classic. By far, the longest and most varied stage, it descended from just under the top of the gondola, all the way to the base lodge. It had just about everything you could ask for in a race stage. Featuring flat, smooth pedaling at the top, all out top gear mashing down a fireroad traverse, huge slick rock descents, and the most technical (and muddiest) wooded sections of the course. The middle section of the stage ducked in and out of the woods via slick grassy ski slope. The steep, technical chutes are tricky in the dry but covered with up to 3 inches of mud, left many a rider walking their bikes down these sections.
At the bottom, a concrete foundation has been newly incorporated into the trail and acted as a drop-in to a section of a short flow trail, only to finish with harsh, rutted out, off camber root and mud filled corners. A fireroad sprint finished off the stage.
Killington left the best for last this weekend, as Stage 5 was a universal favorite. The fastest and driest stage of the weekend, it almost gave riders a break after the preceding slop. Starting parallel to Stage 1, it zig-zagged down a grassy, off camber ski slope, before jumping into the dense woods. What followed was almost a playground of man-made berms and natural flow. Speed was high and the faster you went, the more you were rewarded with natural gaps and jumps. The lower section was pedally, yet again – crossing 2 or 3 ski runs before ending almost at the bottom.
The longest Enduro on the ESC calendar is in the books. After two muddy races in a row, washing your bike after each run and doing daily loads of laundry seems like the norm but let’s see what the rest of the season brings.
The second half of the ESC Series stays in Vermont, with the next round heading to Mount Snow, followed by Sugarbush and a finale back here at Killington. The first two are brand new Enduro venues and I can’t wait to see what courses they come up with. A 3-week break till Mount Snow is a welcome one and will give racers some time to recuperate from two demanding races in a row. We’ll see you at the next one!
2015 Eastern States Cup Enduros