Gravity draws top riders to Steamboat, Enduro-X races | SteamboatToday.com

Gravity draws top riders to Steamboat, Enduro-X races

A rider makes his way down the 2015 Enduro-X race course. This yeaer's event will take place Saturday and Sunday in Steamboat Springs.

— When mountain biker Matt Hightower turned 30 a few years ago he made the conscious decision to enter the world of enduro mountain biking.

"This is the third time that I've actually raced it," Hightower said Wednesday as he helped mark some of the different parts of the course stages of this year's Enduro-X, which will be held in the Steamboat Springs area Saturday and Sunday. "I got into mountain bike enduro racing because I turned 30. Now I feel like I'm just hitting my prime — I think I'm in better shape now then when I was 20."

Race director David Scully said Steamboat's Enduro-X is a unique event that combines the physical aspects of cross-country mountain bike racing with the technical ability of racing downhill on challenging single-track trails at a high rate of speed.

Unlike traditional downhill racing where competitors compete on a single course, enduro racing challenges riders with a number of different courses. The Steamboat race will include four stages Saturday featuring several trails — Bear Creek Hot Springs, Mad Creek Spur and Red Dirt — that have never been ridden before, and three more stages Sunday on the slopes of Steamboat Ski Area.

In enduro races, mountain bikers compete in several stages and must also ride their bikes in the transition areas between each start. The racers’ times will be based on the downhill portions, but Scully said getting from one stage to the other is a big part of what the event is all about. He said the transition sections challenge the riders physically, which impacts their performance on the downhill sections.

"You have to have the physical endurance of cross country, but you also have to have the technical ability to negotiate challenging trails when it counts,” Scully said. “Most importantly, you have to be able to get down the course in one piece, at speed."

Hightower speaks from experience when he says that's not as easy as it sounds. Last year, his race came to an end after he veered off course and struck a tree.

"I smacked a tree pretty hard last year, " he said. "Falling is not uncommon in mountain bike enduro — that's why you should always have the proper safety gear and keep the rubber on the downside.”

The Steamboat Enduro-X is part of the Big Mountain Enduro race series, and Scully expects the event to draw more than 225 racers who will show up in Steamboat this weekend to take part in both Saturday and Sunday's events.

The second day includes three more stages that will take riders down Pete's Wicked Trail, Cathy's Cutoff, Sunshine Trail, Chisholm Trail Road, Elk Head Loop, Moonlight, Spur Run Road, Pioneer and Rainbow Saddle. The final stage will be limited to Rawhide. Because of the speed at which riders are coming down, there will be several trail closures across two days of racing.

Lower Bear, Hot Springs, Red Dirt in the Mad Creek Trail system will be closed on Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Creekside, ZigZag, Pioneer, Elk Head, Moonlight, Sunshine, Cathy’s Cutoff and Pete’s Wicked will be closed from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday along with all the trails from Rainbow Saddle to Storm Peak.

Race organizers said several alternate routes will remain open including Valley View and the Gondola Hiking trail.

Because of the construction at the base of the ski area, Scully said spectators will have limited access to the course. He said some of the best opportunities will come on Sunday when racers are competing on the mountain. Course maps can be found at bigmountainenduro.com/schedule/steamboat-2016.

"We don't have double tape lines like they do at some of the bigger races that are seen on television," Scully said. "It's important that spectators stay off the trail and avoid the bikers as they make their way down."

With that said, Scully is hoping to get people out to cheer on the riders.

"This is going to be the largest event that we've ever hosted, and the level of talent that going to be here this week is phenomenal," Scully added.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966