Accessibility Widget: On | Off

Words by Michele Charboneau and Erik Saunders • Photos by Scott McClain • Video by Mitch Nuyens and Sebastian Bauer

The California Enduro Series pro triple crown – the Golden Tour – kicked off with the China Peak Enduro at China Peak Mountain Resort in Lakeshore July 1. An EWS qualifier, this fourth round of the series drew nearly 400 racers and upped the ante for the 2017 season with a relentlessly challenging course featuring steep, raw, primitive trails. A racer favorite, the rugged venue is tucked away in the southwestern Sierra about 65 miles east of Fresno and offers on-site camping, and nearby fishing, swimming holes, lakes, waterfalls, hiking trails, and hot springs.

The CES Golden Tour spotlights the series' top talent and gnarliest events. The elite series serves as a stepping stone to international competition for new riders and helps established riders maintain a high average level of competition throughout the year. Boasting a $24,000 overall prize list for the three events, each of the three races is awarded a $4,000 cash purse to the top ten for both Pro Men and Pro Women categories. This first round of the 2017 Golden Tour pitted notable competitors against one another in some pretty intense, burly action including a dicey run down a brand new stage the likes of which many racers had never experienced before. 

Here's how it all went down ...

Pro Stage Highlights

Stage 3: Although Beginner and Sport riders kicked off their day with Stage 1, Pro, Open and Expert racers headed off on an extended climb to Stage 3, the longest stage of the day and one that served up tough lines through arduous rock gardens. This opening leg set the stage for the following battles to decide the overall winner. Close times in the first test meant that every move would count for the day. One second separated the top three riders—Dillon Santos (Ibis), Cory Sullivan (Marin) and Evan Geankoplis (Marin) respectively—with 4th place rider Ryan Gardner (Kona) 10sec off the pace and then another second to 5th place Ryan Gorman 11sec adrift.

Dillon Santos (Ibis) all focus and determination on Stage 3.

For the women, Amy Morrison (Marin) opened her Golden Tour wins account with a 16 second margin on 2nd place Christine Eikmeier (Michael David Wineries) and 3rd place CES leader Janea Perry (Marin) who finished in the same second. Zephyr Sylvester (Mike's Bikes) filed into 4th at 20sec and Jackie Swider (DSENDiT) took 5th at 28sec.

Amy Morrison (Marin) charging her way down Stage 3.

Stage 1: Racers received lift access part-way up the mountain before traversing over to Stage 1, a winding, duffy track through the Tamarack pines that at times sunk riders into ever-spreading mud bogs courtesy recent snow melt. James Eaves (Bicycle Blue Book) – surprise winner of the Toro Enduro (CES Round #2) – proved he is still a threat by taking out the muddy stage win with one second to spare over Sullivan and Geankoplis who both finished in the same second in 2nd and 3rd. Bell finished 4th, two seconds off the pace while Gardner kept things steady with a 5th on the stage at 5sec. Santos lost time in the slop falling to 7th in the stage at 6sec. Geankoplis and Sullivan maintained their tight grouping at the top of the overall standings and current CES series leader Sullivan assumed leadership over the 2016 Golden Tour winner in 2nd. Santos hung close in 3rd spot with Sean Bell (Santa Cruz Factory) and Gardner 4th and 5th.

Stage 1 for the women found Morrison slowed down but not enough to keep her from winning. None-the-less inattention was costly throughout the day. Sylvester got things mostly right to score a 2nd place on the stage at 3sec and Perry came in again at 3rd place at 8sec. Eikmeier finished the stage in 4th and Swider again placed 5th.

Stage 2: From the Stage 1 finish, it was a short pedal transfer to the top of Stage 2, a fast and furious trail culminating in tight, loose corners under a hot, exposed sky. Santos bounced back in Stage 2 to regain lost time and snagged the stage win by 4sec over Geankoplis and 6sec over 3rd place Bell. This reshuffle saw Geankoplis move into the lead by 1sec over a charging Santos with 6sec to Sullivan in 3rd. Bell maintain 4th overall thanks to clean riding while previous stage winner, Eaves was not able to hold on to the magic falling from 7th to 9th overall. Matt Koen (Marin) placed 4th and Sullivan took 5th to further displace Gardner into 6th on the stage although he maintained his solid 5th place overall.

Checking in with the women at this halfway point, Morrison had built up a good lead, but underneath her things were less secure with 2nd-4th all within 2sec going into the stage. Stage 2 was a short one, condensing the dusty and technical on the lower slopes off the mountain and offered up a chance to make a difference for the riders willing to take risk. Perry was willing, and pushed the tempo up to take the stage win by 3sec over her teammate Morrison. Sylvester also pushed to within one second of Morrison to claim 3rd. Swider however, did not push as hard losing 13sec finishing in 4th. Carolina Gomez-Villafane showed her skill to take 5th on the stage at 21sec.

Stage 4: Although stages 1, 2 and 3 (in that order) completed the day for Beginner and Sport racers, Pro, Open and Expert riders charged ahead by taking on Stage 4 which kicked off with loose corners and then segued into a wild run down granite slabs before finishing in yet more loose terrain. Santos truly hit his stride winning the stage by 10sec over 2nd place Koen who jumped into 5th place behind this stellar effort. Sullivan recovered some for the overall by placing 3rd on the stage. Geankoplis faltered losing 20sec and the race lead, falling to 3rd overall. Gardner continued his steady performance with a 4th on the stage and improved to 4th overall. Dane Petersen (Mike's Bikes) caught a peek into the top five on this stage with a 5th place finish.

Cory Sullivan (Marin) rails a deep Stage 4 corner.

The women were pushing hard, too. Perry continued to impress in the technical terrain with another stage win on the slabs of Stage 4, but she barely clawed at the deficits racked up in the first stages of the day. Swider turned up the rowdy to finish 2nd on the stage, dropping 1sec to Perry. Morrison rode her own race to finish 3rd at 3sec knowing she had time in the bank. Sylvester again struggled on the long top-bottom stage as she did in Stage 3 losing 20sec; she finished 4th on the stage which meant that improving to 2nd or 3rd position would not be likely without the leaders making major mistakes. Eickmeier kept it steady with 5th on the stage to keep her in 5th overall.

Janea Perry (Marin) negotiates a steep, loose corner on Stage 4.

Stage 5: The Pro/Expert course saved the best for last, with riders stretched to their limits as they took on Stage 5, a freshly hewn, steep and technical trail that had even the most seasoned riders digging deep to stay upright. Santos went into the last and most challenging stage with a good margin, but all the riders understood that crashes and bobbles could be costly. The top five riders were separated by 36sec, and the 5th-10th place riders were separated by 27sec. The choice was clear for each of the top ten riders after 23 minutes of racing and 3,600 feet of climbing: to charge or not to charge. Koen and Gardner clearly chose to charge the queen stage and went 1st and 2nd separated by only 1sec. Koen claimed the win on the single toughest stage in CES history, and both he and Gardner cemented their podium positions with their efforts. Sullivan kept it quick and tidy to finish 3rd on the stage only giving up 3sec to Koen. Bell again broke the top 5 after disappointment in Stage 4 and in so doing pushed up to 6th overall. Geankoplis didn't see the point in extra risk and took 5th in the stage to maintain his 3rd place overall.

Ryan Gardner (Kona) sends it on Stage 5.

Despite adopting the "keep it clean" strategy, Santos crashed hard on the most difficult steep and loose chute, knowing he might have possibly given away his lead. He gathered himself, pushed back to rejoin the trail, and switched to charge mode. Despite this setback Santos still managed 7th on the stage and held off Sullivan’s charge to take the overall win by 6sec.

Incredible that Santos rode away from this crash without injury ... and in fact, took the day's top step!

How would the last stage play out for the women? Morrison went in with a significant lead, but was not unbeatable on the fast and loose tracks. Had Perry and Sylvester not lost significant time on previous stages, one could easily see them in with a shot for victory. With Stage 5 being all about momentum, any get-offs were met with time-consuming remounts, and the steep/narrow tracks also meant any off-course detours were LONG detours. So, all was still in play; if Morrison faltered, Perry could turn it around. Morrison did not falter however, and this was arguably her best move of the day because Perry was in fact ready to capitalize on any mistake. Morrison edged out Perry by mere tenths of a second and we wonder what might have been for the CES series leader had she not let so much time go on the opening tracks of the day. Swider gave up 18sec on the stage to finish 3rd but it was still good enough to improve her overall position to 4th after Sylvester let the course get the better of her giving up 53sec to the winner and finishing 5th. 4th on the stage was taken by Tasha Thomas (Barton Health / South Shore Bikes) at 34sec who after quietly riding a consistent pace all day was able to ramp up the tempo and move into 5th place overall just in time for the awards.

Après-race

It was pure stoke through and through back at the main venue after the race. New friends and old traded compared their experiences over brew and pasta while waiting for results to be tallied and podium to commence. As winners of all categories took to China Peak’s iconic wood stage and prizes were handed out, the vibe throughout the crowd – beginner to pro, DNF's to top finishers, those who crashed to those who miraculously kept the rubber side down all day – reflected the congenial, down-to-earth energy so inherent in the enduro community. Getting after it and pushing limits on your favorite steed on rad courses with buddies old and new ... that's what California Enduro is all about!

Trading race stories at the end of a hard yet exhilarating day.

The top ten Pro Men also divvied up $4,000 in Golden Tour prize money. The day's top five winners were: 1st - Dillon Santos 2nd - Cory Sullivan 3rd - Evan Geankoplis 4th - Ryan Gardner 5th - Matthew Koen

The top ten Pro Women shared $4,000 in Golden Tour prize money. The day's top five winners were: 1st - Amy Morrison 2nd - Janea Perry 3rd - Jackie Swider 4th - Zephyr Sylvester 5th - Tasha Thomas

Scroll to bottom for additional photos that illustrate this epic weekend in the southwestern Sierra.

Check out full race results and current Golden Tour and series overall standings at californiaenduroseries.com. Just around the corner: Round 5 – the Crafts and Cranks Enduro at Big Bear July 22-23!

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 renowned for fostering an exceptional sense of community and encourages its participants to be involved in its planning.

The series is grateful for the support of VP ComponentsFOXClif BarWTBCanyonKali ProtectivesMichael David WineryCranked NaturalsKenda TiresDHaRCOKMCAdventure Sports JournalGamutVolerESI GripsMike's Bikes and TrailWorks.

*

*

*

Jackie Swider (DSENDiT) shows us the braaaapp line on the top of a Stage 3 rock garden in practice.

Brian Astell (TrailWorks) demonstrates riding technique through a loose rocky section on practice day. Astell leads a complimentary course preview/skills class before each CES event.

Stage 3 waterfalls and rock gardens are no joke.

Still a bit of moisture up top. This spot ain't nuthin', but certain areas on Stage 1 were bona fide mud bogs forcing riders to carry their bikes across cyclo-cross style.

Kenda Tires marketing manager Roger Hernandez and The Path team hanging out after dinner Friday night.

China Peak Enduro race director Nick Cohee and CES director Steve Gemelos share the 411 at the rider meeting race morning.

Janea Perry (Marin) grinds her way to the first stage of the day.

Evan Geankoplis (Marin) crushing a Stage 3 rock garden.

Zephyr Sylvester (Mike's Bikes / Yeti) drops in to a chunky section of Stage 3.

Matthew Koen (Marin) ripping through Stage 3 chunder.

Riders checking their times and standing in between stages at the CES Live! timing booth.

Nick DiNapoli (Scotts Valley Cycle Sport) all smiles as he takes a break mid-day. Scotts Valley Cycle Sport currently leads the team competition.

Clif Bar kept racers well energized as always.

Evan Turpen (Orbea) gets set to take on Stage 4.

Dillon Santos (Ibis) pinned on a techy corner.

Jackie Swider (DSENDiT) opens up for the straightaway after navigating a rocky, loose corner on Stage 4.

Blaise Janssen (The Path) re-hydrates at the top of Stage 4.

Shade, snacks, and Cranked Naturals hydration were greatly appreciated at the top of Stages 4 and 5.

Jesse Buerster (K-Man) taking on the already-renowned freshly-hewn Stage 5.

Freshly cut by a crew of dozen volunteers just days before the July 1 event, Stage 5's route was loosely based off of a Pro GRT downhill track that Turpen scouted in 2013. The Stage 5 trail crew included Turpen and his girlfriend Margaux Elliott, current China Peak Enduro director Nick Cohee, CES co-founder and former China Peak Enduro director Erik Saunders of VP Components, Saunders' son Stone and friend Paul, and Santa Cruz Factory Racing team members Kyle Harder, Matthew Wilbur, Sam Markling and Sam Carr.

Christine Eikmeier (Michael David Winery) scorpions on stage 5 with the bike chasing her down the hill. The brutal stage saw its fair share of crashes.

The man who started it all, Evan Turpen, enjoys a well-deserved beer post-race. He says, "The China Peak Enduro has come a long way since I first ran it five years ago. I'm stoked! In its inaugural year, there were 197 competitors and four stages, and unfortunately timing system issues. Since then, the event has grown into one of the best stops on the CES schedule. With 400 racers, five stages, live timing, an EWS Qualifier, and a large pro purse, this is much more along the lines of what I had envisioned it being long term. I can see this event continuing to grow, and I would love to see the world's best tackle the China Peak Enduro full-on!" Turpen spearheaded the trail building efforts for Stage 5. He explains, "Back in 2013, for the first race at China Peak, I wanted to utilize that steep top section under the lift, but I simply ran out of time and couldn't add it to the course then. When we were building it this year I found marking tape still attached to tree branches from when I had hiked it four years prior!" He adds, "I would have to say Stage 5 turned out to be one of the toughest tracks to ride in recent enduro racing history. Very steep, dry, and loose ... which makes controlling your bike more of a roll of the dice than a sure thing."

ES is excited to showcase the Canyon Spectral, a replica of the bike Canyon rider Joe Barnes is racing in the EWS. This fine steed will be on display at the remaining 2017 CES races, and Canyon will be on hand with their demo fleet at both the Crafts and Cranks and Kamikaze Bike Games events.

The Kali Protectives Road Warrior, Cedar Kyes (right), was on hand to hook riders up with demo helmets as needed. Kali Protectives launched its Race Support helmet demo program to support events and racers of all levels. If a rider's helmet becomes damaged and unsafe to continue to use during an event that the Road Warrior is at, the rider can demo a new Kali helmet at no charge and continue on with his or her race. Learn more at the Kali Protectives website.

Team CES shows off the brand new series jerseys provided by Voler. Left to right: Josh Baker, Michele Charboneau, Megan Gemelos, Steve Gemelos, and Justin Beck. Learn more and order yours on the CES website. Trail and XC styles available. A percentage of the proceeds benefits CES, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.

Big thanks to Fox for donating 2018 forks to be raffled at each CES event of the year. Congrats to Jason Morvay (Scotts Valley Cycle Sport), Round 4's lucky winner! Morvay took 3rd Sport Men on the day, and currently stands at 3rd overall for the series.

Expert Boys U18 put in a solid day on this mountain, taking on all 5 burly stages. These young guns are the next generation of pro riders – keep an eye on them! 1st - Max Sedlak 2nd - Blais Janssen - 3rd - Jake Snow 4th - Hayden Wenger 5th - Lee Faraola

Pro Women winner Amy Morrison (Marin) with the new Wolf Ridge, a bike that handles the rough and tumble howling with stoke. Morrison says, "This race is always physically demanding due to the longer DH stages, altitude and sun, but one more stage really made it a battle for the best rider to hang tough all day. Stage 5 was a great addition to the pro/expert course. The top was super loose with rocks and steep sections and it had a good power pedal section in the middle before finishing on lower stage 2. My goal was to ride smooth on the top which meant being super conservative then power through the bottom." She adds, "I'm racing the rest of the Golden Tour, which I hear has a stacked women's field for Northstar. I would love to see myself in the mix with the Gehrig twins there, but landing a spot just below them is the definite goal."

Pro Men winner Dillon Santos with his trusty steed, the Ibis Ripley LS. Santos says, "I had a blast at round 4 of the California Enduro Series. This was the first stop of the golden tour series and the stoke level was high! The trails offered up a good mix of loose corners, fast straights, rocks, and as much pedaling as you were willing to put in. This weekend really pushed me mentally and physically. At the end of each stage I needed a few minutes of top tube drooling to get my thoughts back together." He adds, "I'm really happy to have earned the win and celebrated with loads of ice cream! As for the rest of the series I will be attending the remaining Golden Tour Events as well as the CES final in Ashland."


Related:
Create New Tag
3 comments
Show More Comment(s) / Leave a Comment