I’ve been wanting to do a stage race for some time. The CB Ultra Enduro organized by the BME folks was my first foray and honestly it’s probably the best experience I’ve ever had on a bike.
This race was designed to mimic events like the Trans Provance and Trans Sovie, which are long enduro stages races covering a lot of ground – most of it back country. The CB Ultra was five days of racing. The first four days were out on the trails, while the last day was at Evolution bike park. We didn’t know where we would ride till a few days before the event, but we did get the hint to expect about 30 miles and 5300 feet of elevation gain per day (hint – it was closer to 6000).
The Ultra ran from Wednesday through Sunday of Labor day week. I drove out Sunday from Denver and stopped in Salida to spend some time with friends there. Monday I only had a short drive to CB, so I went directly to the bike park with the goal of pre-riding the stages there. Two of the three stages were no big deal – mostly brief technical sections and some small jumps – but the third and final stage for the week was altogether different. Captain Jack is a purpose built DH trail that only opened this year. The business part of the trail was seriously rowdy, steep and rocky strewn.
Monday night I stayed with a friend in Gunnison, a short 30 min drive away, so I could catch up. Tuesday was a complete rest day of relaxing, reading, and checking out downtown Crested Butte. The race organizers had free camping just on the edge of town for the racers, so I set the tent for the week and planted a flag for the C3 Bike Shop Dirt Crew team. The rest of the team showed up just before check in closed, and after the pre-race meeting we went to dinner and got ready for the first day of racing.
Dawn came brisk and early with a flipped for this race; amateurs went before the pros. This makes sense as the organizers would get everyone out at around the same time, but it meant I had to but ready and on the shuttle at 6:30. Thank god Camp 4 Coffee opened at 6:00 am! My morning ritual for the next several days would be to prep, bundle up, and head to Camp 4 right when they opened. (IMHO – Camp 4 is easily the best coffee in Colorado.)
The shuttle took us to the same spot every morning. After we were dropped off, we unloaded our bikes from a Uhaul van (they were well padded for transport) and got our timing chips prepped. The timing system is the same used in the Trans Provance. It requires you to wear a timing chip, but once activated you don’t have to check in or out on a stage – you simply pass through the gate. The bonus is that all data is stored on the device and when you check in at the end of the day you get instant results, plus the organizers know who has returned.
The first day, like nearly all others, began with a long pedal and push. We wound up the road then onto singletrack headed to the first stage. It wasn’t long before everyone was shedding their layers. It also wasn’t long before we hit the first of many water crossings. I really didn’t mind the wet feet as is became a creative challenge in determine where to ride and where to walk for the best chance to stay dry.
I developed a new term this week: Crested Butte (CB) intervals. The town of CB is at 8885 feet. We began every day higher and spent most of our backcountry time hovering around 10,000. There are a lot of steep trails on the transfer stages. A lot. While many could be ridden there was no point. Actually it saved more energy to walk the steep sections. This was going to be a long week so we all wanted to save as much sauce as possible. CB intervals were the ever grinding cycle of pedal, push, pedal, push, pedal, push. Some trails were worse than others, but it seems pedaling was guarantee you would need to get off and push around the next corner. The very first HAB was longer than I had hiked in 5 years (I have a bike, so why go hiking :). My poor feet were not used to the hiking and the wet. The Giro Terraduro shoes worked great but I still developed a few hot spots that led me to use moleskin for the rest of the trip. No biggie, but consider yourself warned.
Ok, so what were the trails like?
Long, fast, loose, variable, pedally. It was all there. Honestly. It’s hard to remember the details of every stage, but I can say that there was never any moment of sheer terror. Nothing seriously heinous ever showed up on the course. Everything was rideable every day. Of course if you actually had ridden these trails before the event you could go MUCH faster with more confidence, but since there was usually a good line of sight you could still crush the trail if that was your approach. It wasn’t really mine.
DISCLAIMER: I’m not fast. Not really. I’m far better at endurance racing. I never place well in enduro racing and do even worse on blind trails. I don’t have much more than a season of riding this stuff. Pushing too hard without the skills and experience can lead to nasty consequences. BUT, I have gotten far better and smoother and with time, experience, and a little more guidance, the speed will come. I went in to this event with this mindset. Not to focus on fast, but to focus on smooth riding with good technique. This worked well for me. As I had a ton of fun all week and only 1 OTB.
What made it great
Where to begin. There is so much that the organizers did right it’s hard to point to one thing. Here’s a short list of just some of the things that made this such a memorable week.
- Logistics were perfect. Everything worked, it was all on time, and there were no long delays. Bikes were packed well for shuttle days, timing was alway set-up, food and water was available where and when they said it would be. It was perfect. I cannot remember another race where everything worked so well.
- The trails were amazing! Crested Butte is an amazing riding destination. A couple years prior I had pre-ridden the CB100 course which obviously covers a lot of ground. These trails were all new to me and there are a lot more trails out there we didn’t ride. The scenery is hard to beat. I don’t have a lot of photos (I was riding 🙂 but trust me, it’s fantastic! The trails they chose were incredibly diverse. They included fast flowy relatively smooth trails through the aspens on Doctor’s Park, to flowing jump trails in the bike park, to skinny rough switchback filled backcountry tracks you had to surf down.
- Rider support. It’s hard to really sum this up, but even though I wasn’t one of the legit enduro pros who do this for money I really felt like they considered my needs. The organizers found free in town camping which I took advantage of. They had meals ready for exhausted riders after each day – and it wasn’t the same thing every day. They took the time to pack the bikes well for shuttling (important for us privateers on spendy steeds. It’s nice to feel taken care of in an event and not like something the promoters have to deal with.
- Vibe. THIS is what I loved about the enduro format that I found missing in many other races. This was a long hard race. Everyone had expectations that may or may not have been met. We all got tired. We all had stories. There was time to get to know some folks and make a few friends. There was a 5 person team from Mexico and another group out from Georgia, and plenty of pros from Europe. It was one of the best, friendliest, most fun groups I’ve ever had the pleasure to ride with.
Well, not in 2015. The CB Ultra Enduro won’t be back till 2016 since CB is hosting a stop on the Enduro World Series in 2015. I’m more inclined to find other races in other areas for a while, but if you get the chance to sign up for this event some day, DO IT!!!