Q&A with Pro Enduro Rider Matt Guntert
By Michele Charboneau
Photos by Kasey Carames
Third year enduro racer Matt Guntert’s training and commitment are paying off, with pro podium wins at all three stops on the California Enduro Series (CES) schedule so far this season. We caught up with this enthusiastic, friendly and talented rider to talk race strategy, family, and life in Mammoth Lakes.
You’re racing the California Enduro Series this year as a Kamikaze Bike Games sponsored rider. How did that sponsorship come about?
2016 was a great season. I won my first professional race, the Kamikaze Downhill, a two stage race: the original Kamikaze and Kamikaze 2.0 with combined times. I had won the Enduro Nationals that year and become a national champion. [Former Mammoth Mountain VP] Bill Cockcroft and [Mammoth Mountain Event Production Manager] Caroline Casey saw my passion, desire and willingness to help the Kamikaze Bike Games (KBG) grow in any way possible. In 2017 they signed me as a KBG rider and that relationship continues today.
You advocate for CES, which is a non-profit organization. What does it mean to be a CES ambassador and what inspired you to become one?
Being a CES ambassador means helping out in any way possible. We share posts on social media, talk with fellow riders on and off the mountain about CES events, and communicate with race organizers to ensure we have the best races. Sharing the enduro stoke!
You are currently in the lead overall for this year’s CES. How do you feel about that?
Stoked! A real dream come true. I moved from Cat1/Expert in 2016 straight to Pro to learn as much as I could in a short time. In 2017 I finished 5th overall in Pro with focus on what lies ahead. I knew I needed a strict training plan and dedication.
How have you prepared for this season?
I have never worked this hard in my life. Gym regimens, yoga, indoor trainer sessions, road cycling, cross country cycling, and long enduro practice days. I have a day-by-day training plan and I fuel my body with natural foods.
We see your wife and son at events and in your social posts. Tell us about your family and the part they play in your success as a racer.
I wouldn’t be half the husband, father, or racer without my wife, Kendal, and son, Kai. They push me harder than I feel my body can go sometimes and give me the motivation/encouragement I need to get to that next level. I talk to my wife about everything. You could say she’s my coach … and I don’t want to disappoint my coach! Traveling to events and having the family with me takes my mind off the pressures of racing and lets me relax. I’m not part of a race team so doing it alone is kind of boring. Having them there is a key to my success, not only in racing, but life!
How did you get started racing mountain bike enduro?
As a teenager I was dedicated to being a freestyle snowboarder. In 2013 I tore my ACL, LCL, and meniscus. I met my wife the day I was injured. After a year-long recovery, Kendal’s stepdad, Matt May, suggested I ride her mountain bike — a 2010 Santa Cruz Nomad — for recovery. I became hooked on the sport and loved the long run format. In 2015, Matt signed me up for the Mammoth Mountain Nationals Enduro in Pro Men. I got to the top of Stage 1 and noticed guys like Brian Lopes, Cody Kelly, and Adam Craig. I was nervous to say the least! My goal was to not get passed and I didn’t. It’s been a wild ride ever since.
You kicked off your season with your first ever Pro podium at the Toro Enduro. You followed that with a first place win at round 2 — Mammoth Bar, and a second place win the first round of the CES Golden Tour — the China Peak Enduro. How do these races compare to one another and did you have different strategies for each of them?
It’s hard to train in Mammoth Lakes during the early season because of snow. I go 30 minutes south where we have 30-40 miles of maintained single track year round. These tracks are very similar to those at Toro Park and Auburn: very power stage specific and tight. In late spring, the snow melts and I can start riding in Mammoth which has similar terrain to China Peak: loose, fast, and rocky — at high altitude. It helps knowing tire compounds, pressures and shock settings for this race.
You have two CES races between now and your race on home turf in Mammoth Lakes, the Kamikaze Bike Games Enduro. Tell us about these venues and how they compare to Mammoth Mountain.
Snow Summit is a sister mountain to Mammoth. It’s high altitude and has a mix of fast, power and technical stages. Northstar is a more controlled environment with real dirt, water irrigation and amazing trail work featuring fast, loose, long, and very technical tracks. Then you have Mammoth and its big drops, and long, chunky, unpredictable stages. The riding is different than any other venue. You have to be loose and willing to let your bike slide around and dance below you.
You raced all but the finale in Ashland last year. Do you plan to race the Ashland Mountain Challenge this year?
I ended up crashing and tearing two tendons in my right ankle on Stage 3 at Kamikaze Bike Games last year. I wanted a healthy recovery so I pulled out of Ashland. I’m super excited for Ashland this season and can’t wait to race this venue.
How long have you lived in Mammoth Lakes and what do you enjoy about living there?
This is my twelfth year living in Mammoth Lakes. It’s a place of pure beauty and peace, with access to some of the best mountain biking, snowboarding, hiking, fishing, and climbing in California. It’s kind of a drive for most people and a very spread out area so it never gets too crowded. I met my wife and got married here, and our son was born here, too. This town and mountain are where my dreams came true!
What are your favorite trails and features at Mammoth?
My favorite trail at Mammoth is Follow Me, a chunky, long, and technical course. My favorite features are the Pinball rock drop — a pumice shoot into an epic six to eight foot drop with an open 360 degree view of the entire valley — and the Chain Smoke waterfall — a near vertical rock slab with a field of pavers to land on.
How will the change in base venue from Canyon Lodge to Main Lodge enhance Kamikaze Bike Games?
It’ll add more parking, lift access, lodges, food options and — new for 2018 — on-site camping. The centralized venue will help keep everyone together to share the spirit of mountain bike racing.
Are you racing any of the other events at Kamikaze Bike Games besides the enduro?
I really want to race the Mega-Kami, but I have a lot of racing in September and may focus strictly on the enduro. I want to get my son entered in the Kids Enduro and help him have fun in the race.
What would be your racing theme song?
Jukebox Hero by Foreigner! I was in a slump after my failed attempt at a snowboarding career. The first time I rode a bike down an enduro course I became invigorated. It gave me a renewed passion to continue competing and to become a successful athlete and human being.
Follow Guntert on Facebook @instamattyg and Instagram @mattygmtb. Learn more about CES at californiaenduroseries.com and Mammoth Mountain’s Kamikaze Bike Games at kamikazebikegames.com.