By Harlan Price,
2012 is the year when the Enduro race format emerged awkwardly from it’s pre-teens to become a gangly all-limbs adolescent who is ready to crush the world with new-found power. On the East Coast here, where I reside, we went from one enduro in 2011 to a total of 10 official enduros in 2012.
In the process of racing five of these events and putting one on I watched from the front row the excitement and growing pains of such a new format. If you are interested in organizing an enduro or just want some insider clues about what it takes to put on a race, I’m using my last enduro of the season, the Paris Mountain Wild Turkey Enduro on CranksGiving Weekend, the unfortunate position of being an example of both the good and the bad that can happen at a first year event.
Don’t think I’m about to go bashing an event and give some hardworking promoters a stocking full of used bike chains. None of the races I went to this year were perfect, including the one I helped put on. Most of us were flying by the seat of our pants without precedents to lean on. Highland Mountain was definitely the most dialed but it was their second year so it would be expected that they would have it together.
Cranks Giving Weekend! The Wild Turkey Enduro at Paris Mountain.
For me the Wild Turkey Enduro outside of Greenville, S.C., was without a doubt one of my favorite courses of all I attended. It had lots of natural terrain, good competition, a great park with camping, and perfect weather. It was also a dissertation on the differences between planning an enduro and a cross country or downhill race. I think these guys accomplished job number one of any race promoter. They showed people a hell of a good time.
It all started with an alley cat Friday night, then a super-D state championship on Saturday, followed that night by feats of strength, a bonfire, beer from New Belgium Brewing, and a night time pumptrack competition.
Dirt Jam Drag Race.
Car lights and a generator lit up the pumptrack.
Not a quick-link!
Anytime someone puts on a race their first intention should be to provide a memorable experience for the guest. The Wild Turkey Enduro got the festive atmosphere down, but the real gem of the weekend was that the course was in an amazing location.
Paris Mountain Park is a strange piece of land surrounded by expensive suburban homes. On the drive in, it felt as if you would end in a neighborhood cul-de sac if you missed the turn to the park entrance. Once past the ranger station the park expanded like a balloon into a little camping utopia with a lake, a campground, warm showers, and a network of trails that had enough elevation change to cause any potential enduro promoter to raise an excited finger in the air.
With the terrain to have four solid enduro stages over six minutes long, the park was a really prime location for a race. Everything was accessible on the bike and in the end we ended up with about 20 miles under our wheels for the day.
On three of the four stages the trails were all hillside and mostly off-camber. The recently fallen leaves of autumn added an element of caution to everyone’s race-runs. Cornering in the slick leaves can make you pucker, so it was essential to have confident techniques, a loose grip and a fat fall tire with bite to hold a line. Of the enduros I did this year, this one had an almost perfect mix of climbing to descending, with the last stage being the only one that might have caused the most lung busting with a lot of climbing and pedaling.
As great as the course was the promoters ran into a few snafus during the race. Some overlapping on the courses caused long waits between stages and confusion on direction during race runs. These things were pretty big issues for racers who don’t want to have to worry about anything but the lines they are choosing. In the end the problems were addressed and everyone seems to be over their initial grumbling.
Enduros are an evolving format so it’s only natural that there will be some growing pains. Things should evolve otherwise we may as well go back to cantilever brakes. Here are a few things promoters need to consider when planning their next event.
Timing is probably the second worry, after finding a course, for anyone putting on an enduro. When you run a normal cross country or downhill race there is a clear spatial relationship between the start and finish line. The Wild Turkey had four starts and four finishes and subsequently four race times that need to be combined at the end. Add to that mess the conundrum of courses that might share a start line, a piece of trail, or a finish line due to space constraints and those logic questions on standardized tests become relevant real quick. All promoters have to deal with this basic quirk of enduros.
I’ve seen the timing issue solved several ways to varying degrees of success. The first question a promoter has to decide is if they can afford some sort of electronic system. It’s generally the most accurate but it can cost too much for a first year race that has no idea how many people are going show and cover their costs. The other option is going analog and hand timing the event with a small army of volunteers.
As a first year event the folks at Wild Turkey were uncertain of throwing down the cash for the electronic system. They chose to go with hand timing each riders start and finish time. The problems with the analog method are the variables of people’s handwriting, timers getting rushed, and not having enough people to accurately take down finish times as people race past.
Other races such as Mountain Creek used an electronic timing system with assigned start times for riders but no chips. At the Endurorama races they used a Sportident system where everyone got a chipped key and basically had to swipe themselves in and out of the starts and finishes. Highland Mountain keyed each rider into a handheld unit as they started and finished. The MadCap Enduro was all analog and the most similar to Paris Mountain but had twice as many finish timers.
Redundancy is key anytime you are timing a race and unfortunately the Wild Turkey was only short on manpower. I’ve been assured they have it under control next year. It might have been a big bite to try and hand-time after three days of events and getting no sleep. I’ll give them a pass because in the end it all worked out.
“I think everyone had a great day of riding, but it sucked for everyone waiting one or two hours for us to decipher four stages of start and finish times for 125 riders," said Race Organizer Brad O’Allen. "From the race directors’ point of view it was four days of no sleep, setting up alley cat, Super D, dirt jam and Bike Drag Races, and then trying to figure up Enduro times at the end was near impossible. We were pretty spent by that point. Luckily only a handful of people complained about it. It’s a learning experience for sure, learn from your mistakes and make it better next time.”
The promotoers were on the ball, unfortunately it was a huge ball and controlling it had them running their rear-ends off with little sleep.
One last thing I’ll say about timing an enduro: What makes a race exciting is the sense of competition and the drama it creates. I’d like to see more races find a way to let riders know where they stand compared to their peers between stages. It’s really cool to be in the middle of the race and know you and someone else are only separated by a few seconds. If you heighten the drama you make the races a bit more intense for everyone.
One question that is hard to answer at an enduro is in regards to eating and drinking during the race. Sometimes riders are out there for two to three hours without returning to base. Yet, it’s not two or three hours of racing and each timed section is relatively short. I definitely found myself at several of these events wondering why I didn’t have anything with me to drink. In some areas the mountain lodge is within sight but you may not find yourself back there before you are feeling the taste of a dry mud paddy sucking all the moisture from your mouth.
I suggest to promoters to remember that riders will be out there for awhile. Have fluids and maybe food on course or make it clear that the riders need to be totally self-sufficient. It’s a grey line that hasn’t really been addressed and I’ve seen this little detail overlooked at several events.
Until I spent some time after my race-runs watching the juniors finish, I never thought much about the idea of catering the courses to young ones. At the MadCap Enduro it occurred to me that there could have been an extra course for an “Elite/Expert” class since they were done with plenty of time for a fourth stage before the last rider was finished with their third. Mountain Creek’s King of the Mountain Enduro had two extra runs for the “Pro” class on the second day, and those courses were definitely more challenging than the previous day’s. No other races took into consideration the idea of catering to riders of a different skill or fitness level.
At the Wild Turkey Enduro one young 11-year-old was able to do two stages for a total of ten miles. He was totally bummed that he didn’t finish more and went away feeling as if there was something wrong with him. The reality was of the 10 or so juniors who started only three (two male, one female) completed all four stages and that bummed 11-year-old was still third overall. He forgot about not finishing all the stages when a ton of swag was piled into his arms at the awards ceremony. So give those kids an acheivable goal and lets get more of these trail slayers coming out!
Juniors getting theirs!
I also vote to always have a hardtail class! They may not be the fastest, but they can still be a ton of fun. If you include a hardtail class it sends the message that these courses really can be completed on any bike. I haven’t done a course yet that wouldn’t be fun, albeit a little slower, on a bike with a stiff rear-end. With the evolution of slacker head angles and more travel on 29, 27.5 and even 26-inch bikes there is a burgeoning group of riders ready to prove it’s not all about the bike.
Women’s winner Sue Haywood finishing stage four.
I’m excited for 2013. There is a series on the East Coast horizon, promoters will have the format dialed, details are getting ironed out, and more people are going to be introduced to a style of racing that offers a new world of challenges. Most enduros seem to be moving to the full weekend format with either two days of racing or one day of pre-riding and one of racing.
One day these writings will seem naive and antiquated to the well established enduro scene. Our bikes and written fumblings for answers will seem cute to the kids on 40mm stanchions and 23lb, six-inch-travel bikes. If we can keep this momentum and interest going then enduro racing has a lot of room grow. The biggest obstacle will be matching the hype to reality and getting people to come out and race without being scared off by insane courses, gear hurdles, or events that seem more stressful than relaxing. Make it fun and they will come.
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