No Guts, No Glory: California’s MTB Gold Rush

Contenders race for massive payout in CES triple crown

By Patrick D. Rosso

Riders took on the high elevation and rugged terrain of Mammoth Mountain with style and grace, during the 2015 Mammoth Enduro. Photo: Called to Creation

Riders took on the high elevation and rugged terrain of Mammoth Mountain with style and grace, during the 2015 Kamikaze Bike Games Enduro. Photo: Called to Creation

There’s a lot of money in them thar hills! Racers in the California Enduro Series and its new Golden Tour are letting off the brakes and hoping to gain a lot of cash and additional points in the overall series.

Steven Gemelos, director of the California Enduro Series, explained: “The Golden Tour, a series within a series, offers more technical races and some of the most challenging terrain, so we’re trying to elevate and highlight them as the premier courses. There’s a $24,000 pro purse spread throughout those three races. We’ve seen some good competition so far and look forward to the next two races.”

The VP EnduroFest at China Peak Mountain Resort back in June, kicked-off the race series and will be followed by events at Northstar and Mammoth. With granite slabs, high-elevation, and plenty of steep single track, the courses leave the series’ other, more-tame enduros in the dust.

Riders are pumped too. Whether it’s the cash or the chance to ride premier California dirt, competition is high and knuckles are white.

Brian Lopes in full attack mode on stage three of the China Peak Enduro. Photo: Called to Creation

Brian Lopes in full attack mode on stage three of the China Peak Enduro. Photo: Called to Creation

“For me, it’s the quality of the courses and the quality in which the race is run that makes it [the Golden Tour] really attractive,” said Brian Lopes, a dominate force in the mountain bike scene and rider for Intense/Maxxis/X-Fusion/Pearl Izumi.

“This being the first year, I think it is a good start and will hopefully continue to grow as the word gets out on what this crew is bringing to the sport,” added Lopes who took the top step at China Peak. “Find good lines and nail them. The more skilled you are as a rider; these are the spots where you can make up time. And of course being consistent is important. Mistakes will cost you,” advised Lopes.

Lopes isn’t the only force in the series. He’s in good company with many skilled men and women riders in every category.

“The big payouts, the focus on what most feel are the best venues, and increases in competition are very exciting. Many amateurs and pros can’t make the whole series, so having a spotlight within the series is a great way to keep people stoked,” noted Marin/Rabobank rider Amy Morrison.

Though courses bring their own set of challenges and excitement, every rider has a favorite venue and Morrison is no exception. It could be that the setting is just a stone’s throw from her hometown of Auburn, CA, or it could be that she likes ripping the good stuff, but Morrison is partial to Northstar, the next stop on the tour. “I go there the most out of the three venues and it has the most jumps, drops, and rocks. I’m familiar with the dirt and the trails, so I have a bit of an advantage.”

After ten years dominating downhill mountain biking Curtis Keene dove into the enduro scene in 2012. He displayed plenty of skill at the 2015 Northstar Enduro.

After a decade of dominating downhill mountain biking Curtis Keene dove into the enduro scene in 2012. He displayed plenty of skill at the 2015 Northstar Enduro.

The Golden Tour is a nice treat for riders, but it’s also a big boost for the locales, drawing more racers, more weekend warriors, and plenty of spectators.

“Riders can expect to see the best Northstar has to offer,” said Eric Whitaker, competition services manager for Northstar. “Everything from rowdy rock gardens to manicured flow trails.  We have added and finished a couple of trails since last years’ race, and re-routed the lower section of our signature trail, Livewire.  Riders should expect to possibly see all of this new terrain.”

Founded in 1991, with over 45 miles of trails for every type of rider, Whitaker explained how the park and the riders benefit from the cooperation between the California Enduro series and the Truckee, CA based park. Whether it’s the trails or the resort, village riders, their families, and friends have the chance to explore a mountain that is a mainstay in the Northern California biking and skiing scenes.

“The California Enduro Series is a great organization with brand standards similar to ours. I believe we are very well aligned to be able to put on a great event,” added Whitaker. “The sport of enduro is growing at a rapid rate and attracts more than just bike park DH riders.  We are very interested in showcasing our resort to all the different types of rider this sport attracts.”

Megan Gemelos isn’t new to rocky terrain and showed her expertise during the 2015 Northstar Enduro. Photo: Called to Creation

Megan Gemelos isn’t new to rocky terrain and showed her expertise during the 2015 Northstar Enduro. Photo: Called to Creation

So how do you add to the thrill of China Peak and Northstar? Finish up at Mammoth Mountain, which has plenty of dust, ruts, and history for riders. A major stop during the now defunct NORBA series, the 3,500-acre park reclaimed its place at the top as a stop on the ProGRT, host of the legendary Kamikaze games, an Enduro World Series qualifier, and the final stop of the California Enduro Series.

“I think the course for 2016 will definitely favor the more downhill oriented riders,” said Caroline Casey event production manager for Mammoth. “The course, however, gives a good range of challenge to all the riders. The more cross country riders will do better at the more physical stuff, while the downhill oriented riders will excel on the more technical stuff.”

Despite the rugged terrain, novice riders and those new to the pro scene will appreciate the work and organization that has gone into the premier California-based enduro series.

“The tour allows me, as a rider and somebody who is aspiring to be a top dog, to gauge and find out where I’m excelling, but more importantly to find out my weaknesses,” observed Dillion Santos, a competitor for the Ibis Cycles Factory Enduro Race Team. “As of right now, money doesn’t matter. I’m doing this for fun and to prove to myself that with hard work and dedication your dreams can be achieved.”

Although Dillon, who is just 19, may be one of the younger riders in the pro category, he had plenty of tips for those coming up the ranks including “Lean back and have fun.” Wise words for all competitors.

“My strategy on the technical courses is the same as any other course. Get through the really gnarly section or the section you may be having trouble with. Even if you can’t be as fast, pedal as hard as you can everywhere you can because that’s where you can make up time,” concluded Santos.

New friends and wicked fun, the California Enduro Series and its Golden Tour are shaping up to be a mainstay in the California race scene. So get out there, have fun, and rip some corners – and shoot for some of the green too – and we’re not just talking about the trees.

Ryan Gardner, a rider for Kona, tore up the course at the 2015 Mammoth Enduro. Photo: Called to Creation

Ryan Gardner, a rider for Kona, tore up the course at the 2015 Mammoth Enduro. Photo: Called to Creation

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