Devon Balet provides 26 action-packed photographs while, Pro Men's winner, Joey Schusler, reports from Keystone with his Big Mountain Enduro race experience. This race was part of the North American Enduro Tour.
With a new-found, full-time position in the marketing department at Yeti, this may be one of the first seasons where I won’t be attending a race every weekend all summer. Duties like filming and photo trips take priority and I really had to pick and choose which races I would attend. Luckily, we have some top-notch Enduro races in Colorado this summer between the Enduro World Series visit to Winter Park and the entire Big Mountain Enduro Series. One thing I have found is that with fewer events on the roster, I’ve been pushed incredibly hard to make every second of every race count and get the results I still desire despite having other commitments.
This past weekend, the Big Mountain Enduro / North American Enduro Tour stopped by Keystone, Colorado, for what may have been one of the most challenging weekends of racing bicycles I have ever experienced. Keystone is no joke of a mountain. The trails are rugged, rocky, and long. Adding to this equation is a top elevation just shy of 12,500 feet. I really feel for those poor guys coming from sea level…ouch. This is not hard-tail-29er-smooth-buffed-out-trail enduro racing, this is the real deal, where you want nothing less than an aggressive 6-inch trail bike.
With the lungs and legs burning as bad as a cross country race and trails as gnarly as just about any DH track I have ever ridden, The BME / NAET was set to be the ultimate test of fitness, bike handling skills, and race wits. The race was broken up into six stages over two days. Three stages fell on Saturday, and the final three on Sunday.
Race organizer, Brandon Ontiveros discusses Keystone's terrain in this audio clip
I showed up with a few of the other Yeti employees on Friday and we were able to manage a pre-ride on each of the six courses. With such limited time to practice, it was crucial to just remember the most critical sections of trail, as memorizing everything like you would in a DH race would be a long shot.
I felt confident waking up Saturday and was ready for the task at hand. After watching enduro play out on the Enduro World Series scene this year, it was evident to me that the level of riding is that of full-on DH racing, just on smaller trail bikes. On top of that, the race is not just one four-minute run, it’s an hour of total timed racing at that DH intensity level. If you add that up, racing an enduro race is just about the equivalent of racing an entire season of DH in two short days. WOW. That’ll make you tired.
Day one was a real shocker to me. Two of the stages were more pedally, and one was the actual Keystone DH race track. I ended up taking the win in both of the longer more fitness based stages, and lost a significant amount of time placing third in the DH track stage. This confused me, but at the end of the day I sat in 2nd place overall, just a few short seconds behind XC racing badass Ross Schnell. Fellow Yeti rider Nate Hills sat in 3rd a few seconds behind me. The three of us had put a gap of nearly a minute back to 4th place. With times so tight for us, it was a fairly even slate coming into day two, where I was certain I could pick up my pace.Race organizer, Brandon Ontiveros explains that there were nearly 300 competitors at the Keystone event.
Day two was great for me from start to end. I knew I needed to play into my DH racing experience and dig deep on any and all pedaling sections if I was going to stand a chance with Hills and Schnell. I was able to ride efficiently where need be, and aggressively in the sections I knew I could excel in. After I took the win in stage 4 by 10 seconds, I knew if I kept up that pace for stage 5 and 6 I would take the win. I started pushing a bit to hard in stage 5 and came very near crashing, taking a hard hit to the chest with the handle bars but I managed to hang on. By the time stage 6 came around, I led the race overall by 9 seconds and was just aiming for a clean run. I rode tense at the top of the track, and lost my focus a bit taking a crash in a slow tight turn. This motivated me to push as hard as I could to the finish. After crossing the line, I felt an unbelievable rush of relief. I had done it. I had made it through the weekend with out any mechanicals or significant crashes. Soon after the BME crew tallied up the times from all 6 stages. I took the win with a time just shy of one hour, 16 seconds ahead of Ross Schnell and 31 seconds ahead of Nate Hills.
The weekend was great as a whole for the Yeti Cycles crew, with all of us aboard the SB66 Carbon. I took the win, Nate Hills was 3rd, Mason Bond 4th, Mike West 7th, Chris Heath 9th, and Ross Milan 13th. It was a great vibe all weekend, and it was amazing to see all the industry support. Big thanks to Smith Optics, Shimano, Fox Racing Shox, and Yeti Cycles for showing up and supporting me as well as the race all weekend.
Credit: Devon Balet