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Mike's Bikes is currently leading the series' team competition. Rider: Joseph Smith, Expert Men 18-29, Stage 5.

Round 3 of the 2018 season drew racers to the southwestern Sierra about 65 miles east of Fresno for some burly big mountain action on Saturday, June 30. The event drew 400 racers and injected the season with intense, uninhibited action on steep, primitive trails at high altitude. The rugged terrain of China Peak Mountain Resort offered the ideal setting for the first round of the CES Golden Tour — the series' pro triple crown which spotlights the gnarliest venues and courses. This race was also a 2018 Enduro World Series (EWS) Qualifier.

Riders began flooding in on Thursday, setting up camp and preparing for a long hot day of practice on Friday. Many brought their families along, seeing as the event was a great opportunity for a low-key mountain getaway with camping, fishing, swimming holes, lakes, waterfalls, hiking trails and hot springs nearby.

The lift line for Friday practice was long, but spirits were high as riders shared their anticipation and stoke. Under a relentless full sun, riders practiced their lines and got a feel for the parched, loose dirt. Later Friday evening, many riders celebrated the togetherness so inherent in the enduro community by attending a special bonfire arranged by Kali Road Warrior Cedar Kyes.

Come morning, you didn’t need coffee to get pumped — the electric vibe throughout camp and at the Day Lodge's main gathering spot sufficed. Beginner and Sport competitors pedaled out to take on the first two stages of their day: high-speed berm-fest through the trees Stage 1, and the leg and lung burning Stage 2 which featured tight, loose, rocky switchbacks and copious amounts of moondust. Both categories then caught a lift to Stage 3, the longest stage of the race running from top to bottom of the mountain. This track is infamous for its challenging rock garden dubbed "Gnarly." After a hard right into this beast, riders are faced with several line options that can knock you off your game and numerous boulders that demand momentum to pump up and over.

Stage 3 was the final run for Beginner racers. Sport racers went on to catch another lift to their final stage: the magnificently scenic Stage 4 which doled out a taste of just about everything: rocky corners, loose sandy sections, S switchbacks, and a long section of giant granite slabs running beneath the lift.

Pro and Expert athletes, on the other hand, started their day with a lift to Stage 3, taking on the longest stage of the race and its challenging rock gardens and boulders right from the get-go. At the bottom of this first stage, it was a pedal transfer to Stage 1's rip through the trees and over bridges, another pedal from the bottom of 1 to the top of the switchback-fest Stage 2, and yet another pedal from the bottom of that to the start of the especially primitive and chunky Stage 5. Straight away, this highly anticipated, intimidating stage challenged riders with dusty switchbacks, drops and rock-filled corners before dropping into a crazy rock chute. At the bottom of the chute, an awkward left turn into a steep granite slab forced riders to pick up speed, sending some pinballing into boulders. Once through this hair-raising section, riders were tested with two more short techy sections that saw some folks tossed off the trail due to poor line choices.

After surviving the physically and mentally demanding Stage 5, Pro and Expert racers hopped on a lift to their fifth and final stage of the day — the oh-so-diverse Stage 4, described above.

Dusty and tired after a beefy day on the mountain, many riders revived themselves at the nearby swimming hole — affectionately dubbed Stage 6. Back at the Day Lodge, riders were treated to a hearty post-race dinner and beer while waiting for awards to start. Tired but happy faces — some still masked with moondust — testified to a rewarding day on the mountain. Numerous riders were overheard claiming it was the most challenging race they'd ever competed in. Sport Women rider Jeni Boltshauser later posted on Facebook, "I need a bumper sticker that says 'I survived China Peak.' Damn that shiz is gnarly."

Gnarly shiz. Indeed.

Cory Sullivan dropping in to the toughest stage of the day, Stage 5. He says of his race that culminated on the top step of the Pro Men podium, "The courses were very raw, loose, there's not a whole lot of support. I ended up taking the win, pretty excited about that. I was a little behind going in to the last stage. Just kinda put it all out there on the table and ended up walking away with the W." The Golden Tour lead is looking forward to getting after it at Northstar and Mammoth.

Janea Perry is all focus on Stage 4. Perry's solid day of riding earned her the day's top step on the Pro Women podium. She says, "My day went pretty good. Pretty tough ... two big climbs got me pretty tired. The most rowdy stage was Stage 5. I was going clean the whole stage, then the last gnarlier section, I wadded it. Other than that, the day was really fun." The Golden Tour lead is excited for more big mountain action at Northstar and Mammoth.

Lift access for both practice and race days was included in the entry fee, and gave riders the chance to really soak in their surroundings.

A great number of racers took advantage of the free camping at this remote venue. The camping at China Peak certainly enhances the enduro camaraderie.

When off their bikes, riders explored the local environment with friends and families, including the area's numerous swimming holes.

Riders stopped by the CES tent after practice to pick up their race day timing chips.

They were also stoked to receive complimentary Dynaplug kits, thanks to Dynaplug's generosity.

Kali Road Warrior Cedar Kyes' bonfire Friday night topped off the campin' vibes.

Erik Szayna defended his Junior Pro Men U21 lead, winning all three events this season so far.

Hoppen Zander finished in first place Sport Boys 16-17.

Expert Women first place finisher Sara Schneider is one of the eight MTB Experience team members who raced China Peak — and all eight women made the podium.

Riders and spectators alike swung by the CES Live! timing tent to check standings throughout the day.

Stage 2 featured rocky, dusty, tight corners that challenged racers to stay upright.

Pro rider James Eves — aka The Tie-Dye Wonder — had a promising start but a crash ended up taking him out of the race.

Stylin' on Bonus Stage 6.

FOX is a long-time sponsor of the series and continues to donate forks to be raffled off at each event. FOX also contributed Transfer seatposts this year to be given away as social media contest prizes.

"Gnarly Shiz Fizz."

The top ten Pro Men shared $4,000 in Golden Tour prize money. The day's top five winners were: 1st - Cory Sullivan / 2nd - Matt Guntert / 3rd - Myles Trainer / 4th - Todd Renwick / 5th - Evan Turpen. Guntert stepped into the lead for the series overall.

The top ten Pro Women shared $4,000 in Golden Tour prize money. The day's top five winners were: 1st - Janea Perry / 2nd - Zephyr Sylvester / 3rd - Heidi Kanayan / 4th - Amanda Propst / 5th - Lili Heim. Kanayan took the series overall lead for Pro Women.

Matt Guntert — making it look easy on the insanely steep and loose Stage 5 — took over the Pro Men overall lead from Evan Geankoplis by the end of this challenging race ...

... while Heidi Kanayan — pinned here on Stage 4's granite slabs — snagged the Pro Women overall lead from Essence Barton.

View full race results and podium shots from all categories here. Read the pro stage summaries here. Check out 2018 series individual standings here and team standings here.

Next up: Round 4 of the 2018 season, the Crafts and Cranks Enduro is presented by Team Big Bear and takes place as part of the 4th Annual Crafts and Cranks Bike and Beer Festival at Snow Summit Bike Park in Big Bear Lake the weekend of July 28-29. Riders will enjoy two full days of racing on trails within and outside of the bike park. The festival is a family-friendly weekend offering something for everyone from bike racing, beer tasting, a climbing wall, bounce house, ferris wheel, music, and food.

About California Enduro Series

CES is a for riders, by riders non-profit 501(c)3 organization dedicated to promoting world-class enduro events that everyone from amateur to pro can enjoy, at a geographically diverse range of venues.

The series is grateful for the support of the following sponsors: FOX, CLIF Bar, Specialized Bicycles, Dynaplug, WTB, Kenda Tires, Kali Protectives, Cranked Naturals, Michael David Winery, Voler Apparel, Park Tool, Mynesweepers, Adventure Sports Journa, ESI Grips, Gamut USA, Zodiac Lights.

Check out the 2018 schedule and learn more about the series at

Words by Michele Charboneau

Photos by Kasey Carames

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