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Third stop for 2015 season delivers perfect balance of hard core racing, fun contests and trademark camaraderie
Words by Liam Ruff; Photos by Called To Creation
The VP EnduroFest at China Peak came back better than ever for its third year in a row and proved to be one of the hardest races that the California Enduro Series has to offer both physically and technically. Pros and Experts raced four stages over thirty miles with close to six thousand feet of climbing, making for a long day on the bike. The trails at China Peak were the definition of High Sierra technical riding with a curated mix of blown out switchbacks, burly rock gardens, kitty litter dirt, and granite slabs.
One of the things that makes this race so special is its location. China Peak Mountain Resort is located high in the mountains sixty-five miles northeast of Fresno on Highway 168. There is only one way in and one way out; you feel like you are going deep into the back country which creates the perfect atmosphere of camaraderie and fun times necessary for a good Enduro race. Camping was available at the venue, turning China Peak into a tent and RV village of mountain bikers.
For practice on Friday, the chairlift was running all day giving racers a perfect opportunity to get all the runs in they wanted and find their lines through the numerous tricky rock garden sections. It was all pedaling race day though, making China Peak a true test of the physical fitness of racers as well as technical skills. Stage 1 started with a handful of pulverized loose corners that made it a challenge to keep the bike up. After twisting in and out of the pines, the course opened up into a fast fire road section that connected to a rocky singletrack through the infamous “kitty litter” dirt of the Sierra Nevada, keeping racers heavy on the pedals to the finish. After a short transfer stage back up to mid-mountain it was time for the next run.
Stage 2 began with several fast sweeping turns, sending riders through a few sharp corners and rock sections. After a bit of pedaling the course dropped down some extremely tight switchbacks full of rocks and ruts that could make or break a race run. Stage 2 ended with a fast fire road sprint to the finish at the bottom of the mountains, where racers had the luxury of restoring their bikes and bodies before returning to the top for Stage 3.
After a stout transfer stage that climbed to the top of China Peak riders prepared themselves for Stage 3, the longest and most demanding race trail of the day. This stage began with some fast corners into a rocky chute. It kept riders on their toes from the very start. The entire course was littered with technical rock sections and corners reduced to powder by the end of practice. It also included a bit of climbing. The infamous rock garden on Stage 3 is always a challenge for racers to navigate at speed and this year there was a speed trap sponsored by TRP rewarding the man and woman with the fastest speed entering the rock garden. After smashing down the gnarly rock infested section of the stage, racers had a bit of singletrack and a long sprint into the finish at the bottom of the mountain.
At this point, most categories were finished for the day but for Pro and Expert racers it was time to climb up the mountain for the third and final time for the rowdy and rocky Stage 4. Stage 4 was considered by many to be the most technically challenging of the day and with the inclusion of a flat traversing piece of trail for the start it tested racers physical stamina as well, especially at the end of a hard day of racing. Even though the final course could eat bikes and racers alive, Stage 4 was by far the favorite stage of many racers and was a perfect way to cap off a stellar day of Enduro racing.
Post race food and beverages were supplied at the China Peak lodge and many good times were had before and after the podium ceremony. Rabobank generously supported another King of the Mountain and Queen of the Mountain contest with both Pro/Expert and Sport/Beginner categories competing for the fastest time on select stages on the mountain. For the Expert/Pro category Margaret Gregory took the QOM and Brian Lopes was KOM. For Sport/Beginner Erika Boren took QOM and Matthew Gaucher got KOM. Another fun contest during the race was the TRP Brake Zone. Brianne Spierch held the fastest women’s speed into the rock garden and Jeremiah Newman was the fastest man entering it on Stage 3. In the Pro Women category Amy Morrison came in fifth place; Jackie Swider came in fourth; Essence Barton got third; Ariana Altier got second; and Margaret Gregory took the win. For Pro Men Cory Sullivan got fifth; Evan Geankoplis got fourth; Jeff Kendall-Weed came in third; Brian Lopes came in second; and Marco Osborne took the top spot.
The China Peak Enduro Fest has proved itself as a top level event that pushes the envelope for enduro racing in California. Expect good things for next year.
Adventure Sports Journal is a proud sponsor of the California Enduro Series (CES). For more information about the series, visit californiaenduroseries.com.