After seven weeks racing in Europe, it was time to get back to the US for some burritos and Round #5 of the EWS in Winter Park, Colorado. Even more exciting was getting back to Denver and stopping by Yeti HQ to pick up our long-awaited new bikes. As I’m sure 99% of people reading this will already know, we were on brand new bikes for Winter Park. We have ridden prototypes over the past couple years, but these were the first of the production frames in all their glory. It was a case of love at first sight. We got them built up and had a couple days riding to test them out before heading off to Winter Park.
Winter Park is only about a 90-minute drive from Denver. It was really nice to not have to do epic travel days to get to the next race. I know that some people think that because Yeti is a fairly local company, that we had some kind of advantage up there at Winter Park. But I’m not sure how it’s an advantage, when I’m from Australia, Rosara is from New Zealand, and Richie is from Connecticut (about a 40-hour drive for those who don’t know where it is). Plus, there is the fact that I’ve only been to Winter Park twice in my life. Nobody says this when we race in countries like France at venues where the Frenchies have been racing for years.
I think the biggest reason I raced well in Winter Park is that I have spent a lot of time in Colorado over the past 10 years, and the terrain is quite similar wherever you go in the state. I’m very comfortable sliding around on the very slippery gravelly dirt. I have learned how to better gauge my effort at the really high altitudes, and not go too hard, too early which would make me go into oxygen debt during a stage.
Anyways, enough of that…let’s get onto the racing.
Friday, Stage 1 and 2:
Stages 1 and 2 were quite basic stages in the bike park, and featured a pretty even mix of man-made jumps and berms, and standard, flowy natural trail. There wasn’t anything really technical on the stages; it was all about corner speed and overall speed maintenance. They were definitely pretty fun to ride, but very physical to race. But when you’re at 11,000 feet above sea level, even walking up a set of stairs gets you breathing pretty hard! I felt really nervous for Stage 1 due to the fact that this race is possibly the best suited for me. Anything less than winning this race was going to be a big disappointment for me.
I rode well, but felt like I could barely pedal anything. I was just blowing up more and more every time I got on the pedals…it was a deep burn! In the end, my time was good and I was in the lead by 14 seconds over the other top 20 guys.
But there was one more rider to come down a bit later that I knew would be able to beat my time on this stage. That rider was my teammate Richie Rude. Richie’s corner speed and commitment level is second to none. Combine that with the fact that it was a big, strong guys’ course with flat out high speed power pedaling, and I knew Richie would be a threat. And beat me he did, by 1 second! That gave us a 1-2 finish for Stage 1 for the team…pumped!
Stage 2 went better and my body felt more warmed up. I had a small incident on the trail when a squirrel was sitting right on my line as I exited a corner near the bottom. My first instinct is to brake and not run it over, so I got hard on the brakes to miss the poor little fella. Then I remembered I was racing…ahhh, dammit…haha! Richie once again smashed this stage and took a solid win over Yoann Barelli and I came in 3rd. And that was it for racing on Day 1. Richie in the lead overall, and I was sitting in 2nd. A good day for the team.
Saturday, Stage 3, 4 and 5:
Saturday’s stages were all out of the bike park and into the natural terrain off the side of the mountain. Stage 3 “Mountain Goat” was a stage we had raced last year, but this time all the pedaling in the first half of the stage had been taken out and we dropped in right where the trail got nasty.
This trail also features what has become known as “rotor rock”. I never knew exactly where rotor rock was, just its approximate whereabouts. And luckily, between last year’s race and this year’s practice runs, I never had the misfortune of encountering the rotor rock. But, I somehow managed to find it in my race run. I didn’t feel like I had hit anything (I actually felt like I got through the section super smooth) but when I went for the brakes in the next tight corner, my rear brake lever went straight to the handlebar and I could hear the rotor scraping the side of my brake caliper. This made for a pretty interesting next five minutes since I now had no rear brake for the rest of the run. But I got away with it quite well, and apart from the brake dragging and slowing me down, I still felt like I had a fast run. Turns out I did and I won the stage by over 7 seconds. Richie put it into 2nd for the stage also!
Stages 4 and 5 were on a new trail that nobody had ridden. It was one 10-minute run split into 2 parts. My rotor was in really bad shape and bent in 3 different places with a crack through the aluminum spider. But I have to say a huge thanks to all the riders who helped me out; everyone was really keen to help and get me going again. With 5 minutes to my start, I had gotten the rotor back to a point where it wasn’t really rubbing the caliper. But it had so many really small bends in it that the brake lever pulsated every time I got on the rear brake. But oh well, it would have to do. I rode a pretty scrappy-feeling Stage 4 as I tried to adapt to my new brake feel. I took another stage win, just ahead of Richie again, which put us even on stage wins and on the same second overall.
Stage 5 was fairly long and had countless turns. It all looked the same and I didn’t remember any of it from the single practice run we got. Sometimes you ride really well when you have no idea what’s coming up and it makes you pay attention and focus more…otherwise you’ll be off in the bushes! Turns out I was riding this stage absolutely perfect with good flow and well-managed efforts early. That is…until I was within 2 minutes of the end of the stage and I completely overcooked a right-hander and was down in the dirt. I got going again quickly, and started pushing like crazy when four or five corners later I put it down again. I needed to chill out a bit! I got across the line and was pretty annoyed that I felt so good on the bike at the beginning, but had ruined my run with two stupid little crashes.
We had a 15-minute liaison spin back to the pits, and I was keen to see how the times were. To my complete surprise, I was fastest for this stage too! I really couldn’t believe it. Richie also crashed this stage and finished 19 seconds back. I had a solid little buffer going into the final day’s racing.
Sunday, Stage 6 and 7:
Stage 6 was a weird one. It definitely had the most pedaling of the race, but had some fun bits with very tight in trees and lots of tricky corners where it was super important to carry good corner speed. My goal was to just give everything I had in me on this stage, and try to grow my lead as much as possible so I could take it super easy on the final stage. To cut a long story short, I did just that. I dead-set buried myself. Though as we got to the bottom of the stage, we got waved to slow down for a fallen rider in the women’s category. (Our thoughts are with Brittany Clawson and hope she has a full and speedy recovery!) As a racer, your main instinct is that you are racing and once we got past the crash we kept racing to the line. But, after the first four men crossed the line, nobody else came down. There were twelve more riders who made it 3/4 of the way down the run and were red-flagged. This is where things got tricky. I had put in everything I had and my legs were still shaking when I was told we were all going to have to take re-runs. I really didn’t want to as I had just put in a 9-minute effort of everything I had, and now I was told it was all for nothing. I had to go do it again. The four of us that finished were all going to be at a disadvantage after doing that sort of effort. But if we didn’t do a re-run, the other guys that got most of the way down and were red-flagged would be at a disadvantage. In the interest of fairness, it was decided to all go back up and start over.
My legs just weren’t the same in the second run, but I rode the corners faster. Overall I did almost the exact same time as the first one, and took a handy stage win, growing my overall lead to 41 seconds with one stage to go.
Stage 7 was the Trestle DH track. It was full of rocks and other nasty things, so I just nursed the bike down the hill. There was no point taking any chances with a 41 second lead on a sub 6-minute stage. I didn’t even pedal. I just sat down, brake checked for every rock, and made sure to get down with everything in one piece. With a sigh of relief, I crossed the finish line with an enjoyable cruise down the mountain and I had won! I took even more confidence from seeing that my time was still pretty good for the stage. There was one last thing to put the icing on the cake for the team and the weekend…Richie smashed the last stage, took the last stage win, took 2nd overall, and made it a Yeti clean sweep of the stages. What a way to round out three days of racing! Then, as another added bonus, Rosara also put together her best weekend of the year with a 5th place in the women’s race…awesome!
We really couldn’t have asked for a better weekend. With the release of our new bikes, it was one of those weekends that just seems too good to be true. Needless to say, with the Yeti big bosses (Conroy and Hoog) and other Yeti staff still in town, if there was a podium for best team celebration on Sunday night… then we won that as well!
- Frame: YETI SB6c prototype
- Fork: FOX 36 Float 2015, 15mm axle, 160mm travel, 70psi
- Shock: FOX Float X, 170psi
- Wheels: DT Swiss 240 straight pull hubs, aerolite spokes, EX471 rims
- Tires: Maxxis 2.3 Minion DHR2 EXO 3C front and rear, tubeless ready, with ghetto tubeless also. 26/29psi
- Cranks: Shimano XTR 170mm w/Stages power meter
- Brakes: Shimano XTR m987 levers, Saint Calipers, 180mm Freeza Rotors
- Derailleur: Shimano XTR Shadow Plus
- Shifter: Shimano XTR
- Pedals: Shimano XTR Trail
- Cassette: Shimano XTR 11-36
- Chain: Shimano XTR
- Bar/Stem: Renthal Fatbar lite Carbon, 20mm rise, 740mm, Renthal Apex 50mm stem
- Seatpost: Thomson Elite Dropper, and Thomson seat clamp
- Chainguide: E-13 Carbon LG1
- Chainring E-13 narrow wide guide ring 36t
Words: Jared Graves Photos: Seb Schieck/Courtesy Yeti Cycles, except as marked Daniel Dunn