“A cool and sunny morning to you all and thank you for coming to Baguio for the second leg of Enduro Pilipinas. Now please get ready as we begin the race with Special Stage 1…” And so goes the day’s course briefing as the race organizers presented one of the many new twists in the ever-growing following of the Enduro Pilipinas Race Series. Now on its second year, the series has a year-long race calendar that spans several provinces and brings together scores of mountain bike competitors and enthusiasts from all over the country.


The Baguio-Tuba leg is the second of the 2014 series, held last 03 May 2014 and cooperatively organized by The Enduro Network and the local host team Eski!. This installment in the Race Series also sees the distributing of the playing field by the addition of new categories, aside from traditional Open and Novice groups: the Aficionado, or enthusiasts’ category; the Idols, an age-related division for the 40-up participants; and the ladies’ category Femenino, gleaned over since its first introduction in Rizal Enduro Lite. The Baguio-Tuba leg, billed as the Groundzero Enduro, covers around 44 kilometers of varying terrain and altitude. The entire course had five Special Stages of committing steep and technical singletrack and disused flowy dirt roads, and involves a bit of serious pedaling effort on the liaison stages.


The trails in the Cordillera region had long been known for its inherent gnarliness, from mazes of exposed pine tree roots to wheel-swallowing ruts. As is typical on mountainous places, it had been raining regularly for weeks prior to the enduro, thus making the trails slick with moss and overgrown vegetation, strewn with rain channels and erosion debris. Such trails may not appeal very much to the fire-road speed freak, but will greatly reward the technical specialist. Still, a set of good wet-weather tires and finely-tuned suspension also has its advantages to offer in negotiating such conditions.


The 20 Enduro Curious enlisters, together with solo Femenino participant Joyce del Socoro, were released at the 6:45am gun start and promptly began their ascent up the catchbasin area of Mt Cabuyao. At nearly 1800 meters above sea level, the summit is well-known to all as “The Radar”, nicknamed so because of the two distinct radio dishes poised on top and operated by the Mt Sto Tomas Radio Relay Station. The 9-kilometer road climb to the catchbasin is where their Enduro curiousness will lead them: the trailhead leading to sitio Poyopoy, their first Special Stage. In the meantime, the race began to unravel rather surprisingly for the Open, Aficionado and Idols categories. These three groups will be competing on the full length of the course (as opposed to the Curious category with only the three long stages), and hence they would all be lining up for the first item on the Baguio Enduro menu: Special Stage 1. This was a departure from the tradition of previous enduro events, where the races begin with a liaison stage; the riders get their seeding lineup on the first Special Stage in this manner, and sort of also serves as their warmup. Not so on the Baguio leg, and by the time the riders have queued at the start line, everyone is still feeling a bit chilly and rather clueless to what’s in store for them on the first Special of the race.


The grassy hillocks of the Baguio Dairy Farm is where the host team had laid out Special Stage 1. A 2.2-kilometer open circuit weaving in and out of the pine trees and flowing down the contours of the pasturing lands, before cornering at the rock formations near the edge of the plateau and into steep grassy sections, diving into an erosion line carved out by rains and into the stage finish. It was a new route especially laid out for the Baguio Enduro, thus being virtually unknown even to local riders. The sweeping vastness of the pastures and the open vistas proved to be disorientating to most of the participants. By the end of Special Stage 1, many had temporarily lost their way, or had been caught by surprise at the apparent presence of riders popping out from every direction; and simply had good old fun in this new twist on the enduro. It was all seriousness from here on: The steep, utterly slippery and physically demanding descent to sitio Poyopoy, presented as Special Stage 2. An entire ridge cut out by a winding, moss-covered farmers’ path that was intentionally opened to track reading for safety reasons. Colorful stories about spills and slides and lightning-quick dismounts are borne out from this infamous stage. This nearly 5-kilometer track has the highest-altitude stage start and has one of the biggest descent rates so far in the series. Special Stage 2 also saw race veteran tactics and experience come into play. Several riders had opted to run on low tire pressures in a decision to achieve more valuable grip on the treacherous descent. It was a gamble they would shortly find out for the payoff, as the exit from the mossy singletrack led to a very stony path and onto the gravel section towards the stage finish.


In the end, animated conversation about scrapes and crashes done simultaneously with puncture repairs kept the place abuzz. Special Stage 3 offered the same trail surface of moss-covered hardpack peppered with steep roll-downs and blind corners. The 1.2-kilometer stage, known among the locals as the Firing Range trail, is situated on a ridge cutting alongside Marcos Highway and points completely downhill. The racers collected on a small plateau at the start line, peering over a narrow chute developing into a blind corner, and watched each and every rider skillfully maneuver the steep and off-cambered turn into the trail – or miss the turn and disappear into the bushes further below. It was almost considered to be an extension of Special Stage 2, where masterful execution of bike handling skills is paramount to a fast race time. Team FACE-Tacurong City’s number one rider, Mitchell Beatriz, proved his mettle and posted the fastest times on both stages. At last, the riders broke out from the cloud-covered technical descents and reached the long, fast and flowy stages in Taloy Norte (SS4) and Rizal-Ambitin (SS5). Special Stage 4 is on a disused barangay road through Taloy Norte, with the concrete section ending abruptly into red clay and grassy singletrack. Huge boulders practically embedded on the trail serve as reminders of the landslides caused by the strong typhoons of past. This 5.5-kilometer stage gave the riders a wider berth to maneuver and overtake at high speeds, but also involved the most pedaling among all the Special Stages. As the participants from all the categories crossed this halfway point of the enduro, exhaustion from the high stages are slowly setting in. Most of the pack took advantage of this stage to breathe in the warm change in weather and topography, and enjoyed the trail’s rolling crests and wide corners. The racing elite, though, had other things in mind. In the efforts to make up for lost time incurred from crashes and mechanical failures at the previous stages, SS4 had brought an opportunity to overtake on these sweeping sections and command the legs to full power to gain the speed much sought-after. The gradual inclines and short, abrupt roll-ups need to be surmounted efficiently as the trail disappears down again on rutted and overgrown but navigable singletrack. It was a matter of versatility. Thus, it was on this stage that veteran racer and the series’ top man Nilo Estayo showed everyone how he gets it done, banking hard and tripod-turning into the stage finish to clock its fastest time.


Ultimately, the final showdown happened at Special Stage 5. By this point, the riders – spent, exhausted and possibly a bit hurting too – had shown up at the final Special’s start line, proving to themselves that they can handle almost everything the enduro will hurl at them… It’s just this one last stage. But who couldn’t at least feel giddy about it? Its start line straddles the provincial boundary of Benguet and La union. The landscape had changed drastically: from the misty, shadowy mountainside of Mt Cabuyao to the arid, sun-baked and dusty foothills of Tubao. The trail features had changed too, with undulations, switchbacks following step-downs, trails over the crests of deep rain ruts and sometimes right in between it as well. And as the riders rolled out and spent the last of their energies and push their bikes further into their physical limits in this 4.7-kilometer Special, it was also time for the podium contenders to mount one final, aggressive attack. The crowds that gathered at the finish line had seen everything: limping and cramping riders; bikes being dragged down the hill due to severe mechanical failures; and the pros, barreling down the last steep and rocky section and crossing with a flying finish.


Big smiles all around; lots of cheering and high-fiving at the end of another big enduro event. Camaraderie, sportsmanship and personal achievement that are the hallmarks of the Race Series all displayed brilliantly. As the sun finally cools down over the rice fields of La Union, another major leg of the Enduro Pilipinas is written down on the books.


For more information, visit www.ten10.ph and www.facebook.com/TheEnduroNetwork

Words: Eric Santos | Pictures: www.attackmtb.com

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