CES Round 2 returns to a special venue

Words by Essence Florie • Photos by Kasey Carames / California Enduro Series

Essence Florie celebrates her Pro Women 1st place win.

The China Peak Enduro served as Round 2 of the California Enduro Series on Saturday, June 29. A hidden gem just east of Fresno, China Peak Mountain Resort is surrounded by beautiful lakes and towering trees. The lack of cell service at this remote venue is a much-needed gift for some.

The weekend started off with people pulling in on a cool Thursday afternoon to claim their prime camping real estate next to the beautiful river running through the venue. Nothing beats sleeping next to the sound of a rushing river. After setting up camp, a few riders got on their bikes to check out the mountain and stretch their legs a bit after a long day’s drive.

Friday. Practice day. Time to check out the runs.

Friday the energy picked up — it was practice day! From beginner to pro, riders were gearing up to get on the lifts first thing in the morning. Although the lifts were a little slow (better to be safe than sorry when loading up precious cargo, aka your bike) everyone was pumped to get to the top and start checking out the trails, especially Stage 5.

Stages 1 and 2 were pretty standard: lots of cornering, some water crossings, some good rocks here and there, but overall very doable for all riders. They were the stages you knew you could breathe easily on and have some peace about.

Stage 3 was like drinking a Bang; it really knew how to wake you up with a jolt. To give you an idea of what it was like, pro rider Bobby Langin Jr. exploded his tire and shattered his rear wheel only a few corners into the run. It started off with little rock sections that you definitely wanted to be paying attention to, straight into some long pedals to test how much endurance you really had, into another tricky rock garden, followed by some watering holes and wet bridges that sent you slipping and sliding, all to end with a sprint finish. Needless to say, it was the stage you loved and kind of hated because altitude was going to make sure you weren’t able to breathe by the end.

Rugged, steep terrain. An enduro racer’s paradise.

Stage 4 was made to be a crowd pleaser. It had fast, fun, rocky, loose switchbacks on top, high speed sections in the middle, and slick rock slabs that were extremely sketchy at high race speeds, but perfect for the gram if you’re into that kind of thing. It was by far my favorite stage and used to be the hardest stage until the now infamous Stage 5.

Stage 5 in a nut shell: the most talked about, most loved, most dreaded, most broken parts (body and bike included), most EWS-like. By the end of the practice day, loads of pro and expert riders were lined up like walls along the sides of Stage 5 just to get a glimpse of what they hoped would be the perfect race run. More riders would heckle and call out from the chairlift, because of course the hardest stage of the race had to have the hardest part of the run be in full view from the chair, I mean how fun would the gnarliest stage of the race be without the whole world getting to watch you eat it?

I’m sure that every rider went to bed on practice night and dreamed about how they would hit Stage 5, because that stage was going to be the deal breaker in the race. You wouldn’t win on Stage 5, but you definitely could lose the race there.

Saturday. Race Day. Go time.

Pro riders started off with a chairlift up to Stage 3. Even without a warm up pedal, it left everyone a bit breathless, to put it in a nice way. I personally pretty much keeled over and hacked out a lung at the bottom. Pro rider Ryan Gardner had a similar fate as Bobby Langin Jr. with a popped tire and cracked rim. Ibis rider Evan Geankoplis crushed it in Pro Men with a near 8-minute flat on the stage. The next fastest riders were around 8 minutes, 20 seconds.

Florie staying smooth and focused on Stage 3.

Stage1 and 2 were next for Pro Men and Pro Women. After a 1,500-foot climb, it was a welcomed break after such a rough beginning with Stage. Both were half the length of Stage 3, but still demanded your attention through all the rugged cornering. The only problem was that after Stages 1 and 2, you had to finally face Stage 5.

With another hour climb, you had plenty of time to think about all the things you wanted to do on Stage 5. You also had plenty of time to think about how tired you were from the climb and about all the things that could go wrong. Fellow Pro Women rider Rachel Strait and I definitely took our time to say our own personal prayers while looking out over the mountains. This was the stage we had all been waiting for.

I knew, for me personally, I needed to just go out and ride. I needed to not think so hard about lines, but simply get on my bike and do what I do best: ride. I have found the more I try to force my lines the more mistakes I make. I can premeditate my race run all I want, but when it comes down to it, it’s just me and the bike and wherever we decided to go in the moment is ok as long as we stay together.

Luckily, I hit some lines I had planned (yelling to myself out loud “Good girl, Essence!” and immediately after hoping that spectators didn’t think I was a crazy third person talker) and some that I didn’t. I made it out of Stage 5 without any crashes, only a few slipped pedals, and that was more than a lot of the other racers could ask for.

Florie takes on the challenging and intense Stage 5.

After Stage 5 was over, it was like a huge weight was lifted off my chest. I felt like I could finally just go and have some fun on Stage 4 without a care in the world. I think a lot of the other Pro and Expert racers could agree that Stage 4 felt like a party lap all the way back to the lodge before an amazing dinner and rowdy podium.

The 2015 China Peak Enduro was the first enduro race I ever did, and it was what made me originally fall in love with racing enduro. It was special to come back to China Peak after four years and fall in love with racing enduro all over again. There must be something in the water … China Peak is definitely a home for breeding love for enduro.

Good times with good friends.

The CES timing tent where riders “chip in” between stages.

Chow time!

Florie with teammate Evan Geankoplis, who also took the top step (Pro Men) at China Peak.

Pro Women podium: 1 Essence Florie / 2 Rachel Strait / 3 Kathryn Lawrence / 4 Syra Fillat / 5 Tasha Thomas / 6 Kristen Martin del Campo / 7 Xylena Hoppen / 8 Julia Gibbons

Pro Men podium: 1 Evan Geankoplis / 2 Myles Trainer / 3 Max Sedlak / 4 Todd Renwick / 5 Mike Lee / 6 Allan Cooke / 7 Steven Godman / 8 Duncan Nason / 9 Blake Mastrangelo / 10 Trevor Boldi

Pro Women celebrating a day well raced.

Essence Florie did her first pro enduro race at the 2015 China Peak Enduro, a stop on the California Enduro Series China Peak schedule. It was love at first race. She immediately felt that enduro was the perfect sport for her, combining both her fitness and technical downhill riding abilities. She began officially racing pro the year after in 2017 focusing mainly on CES. In addition to racing, Florie is also a dancer, choreographer, teacher, has her Bachelors in Exercise Science, and Masters in Education.

Florie is grateful for the team support she has received from Ibis in the 2018 racing season as well as their their continued support into the 2019 season. She is also sponsored by Fox, DVO suspension, G-Form, Kenda, Industry nine, Langtown Racing, and Praxxis. Photo: Ian Hylands.