Back in the summer of 2008 I was a relative mountain biking noob. I had one year of the SUNY Oneonta mountain biking club under my belt and I hadn’t touched tires to dirt anywhere outside of the upstate New York area.
A younger version of the author sitting trackside circa 2008.
Camping out across the street in the adventure park.
That July Windham hosted the East Coast Nationals, which although it wasn’t a World Cup race, ran on essentially the same course and also had an XC loop that followed mostly the same route as well. The SUNY Oneonta club volunteered (myself included) as course marshals, which gave us t-shirts, access to the lift and primo views of the race.
I’ll never forget that downhill. The rock drop at the top of the course, with its insanely steep transition. The rich smell of the super fine, powder-like dirt. Watching riders accomplish practically super human feats on 40lb bikes with dual crown forks and tires that weighed as much as my frame.
And I remember thinking “I can’t wait to do this again next year.”
Then the next year just before the Gravity East round, news broke that they would host the 2010 World Cup and everyone went nuts at the prospect of a World Cup returning to U.S. soil. Not to say there weren’t naysayers.
As you’d expect, there were those who suggested that Windham had no business hosting a World Cup (after all, they didn’t even have a formal bike park) and there were plenty who profferred bike parks in Colorado, Utah, California and elsewhere that they believed to be far more suitable. A series of organizational mix ups at the 2009 Gravity East round didn’t help public perception.
Nevertheless, those who had seen Windham firsthand (plus the rest of our northeast contingent) were ecstatic that we would have a World Cup right here in our backyard, especially since the west coast and rocky mountain region get so much more attention (you have to remember this was prior to the Enduro scene really taking off).
I remember Gee Atherton being on fire that year, which spawned the video of him dropping Peaty’s Plunge to flat, whereas everyone else was pre-jumping and landing on the slope (that was also technically before it was called Peaty’s Plunge – Peaty had not plunged yet!).
Our de facto hometown hero, Mr. Aaron Gwin, took a respectable 4th that year – that was again prior to the World Cup dominance we’d see him reach just a year later and largely continue through to the present.
Over the next four years we saw the Windham course evolve and Mr. Gwin take his spot firmly at the top of the podium (with the exception of last year when he was just edged out by the increasingly-quick Josh Bryceland).
Simultaneously we saw Windham (both the town and the resort) grow and develop. There was more fanfare, more publicity, more events geared towards the average rider and even kids. The World Cup truly became a mountain biking festival, promoting riding in the rapidly developing upstate New York riding scene.
Which brings us to 2015. I again returned to the very same hill that I stood atop in 2008, this time with media credentials and seven more years of experience bouncing around the country riding everywhere from Colorado to Connecticut.
Main Street Block Party
Just a couple guys drinking craft beer and talking about bikes – does it get any better?
Friday night Windham hosted a stellar block party on Main Street. The entire street was closed to traffic in favor of food, drinks, and a myriad of entertainment. Jeff Lenosky and the Giant crew rode trials out front of Cave Mountain (Windham’s local brewery). Oskar Blues was on hand serving up their chilled selection of ales, IPAs and pilsners. On an inflatable screen, mountain bike movies flickered in front of a mechanical bull.
Karaoke at Cave Mountain
This was much more exciting than that first year when we drank cheap beer in a dark field lit only by the moon. It’s proof that Windham has recognized the value of this event and afforded visitors more opportunities beyond simply spectating.
As much as I love XC riding, I really attend this event for the downhill race and to see the best racers in the world descend on my backyard to ride over a selection of death-defying features at mach speed. This year’s race did not disappoint.
For the first time, I had the luxury of making my way from the top down instead of walking from the bottom up. On a patio overlooking the valley below, racers were set up on trainers spinning in preparation for the start gate.
The top of the course was, as always, the steepest and most aggressive section, beginning adjacent to the new Batavia Skill trail.
Pulverized brown powder coated the rocks like dust on fine china – a byproduct of hundreds of runs on bone-dry earth. Clouds of dust were spit into the air as tires fought for traction in piles of fine particulate.
The abject lack of moisture resulted in deep ruts, berms and braking bumps almost everywhere.
Dr. Heckle and Mr…Cooper?
These guys drove up from Trumbull to watch the race. USA represent!
You think he drank all those Dale’s Pale Ales by himself, or did he have help?
As much as the riders brought their A-Game, the spectators did not disappoint either. A chainsaw-wielding Alice Cooper and the fellas from Trumbull were the standout attractions. American pride is high and no doubt contributes to Mr. Gwin’s home court advantage.
Guillaume Cauvin smashes his way through the rock garden.
Landing the Mafia Drop on the lower section of the course.
Gee Atherton en route to 4th on the day.
Following the rock garden, the bottom of the course levels out considerably and has some of the fastest sections (commonly called motorways on European courses). This is where riders encounter high speed, off-camber ski slopes and big old fan-pleasing tabletops. Crashed on course? Mechanical failure? If you know you’re not in contention for a top spot, this is where you throw some style and please the fans.
Our hometown hero, on the big screen.
A candid moment between occupants of Windham World Cup podium real estate.
It’s again worth exclaiming how really remarkable this event is. As someone who has watched, volunteered, raced (the XC course) and now served in a media capacity, its appeal has not waned.
If you had the unfortunate luck of missing 2015 World Cup weekend, you can still check out the bike park through the fall. Follow us on Facebook or Tweet at us with your favorite World Cup moments.