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Downhill Rockies: Angel Fire Race Recap

Long gone are the days of the Mountain States Cup and Pro GRT racing in the Colorado/New Mexico/Utah region, and seemingly the dust had settled on some of the greatest tracks in the country. Enduro racing shot to the top of popularity as fanny packs and two-piece helmets replaced chest protectors and dual crown forks. While it doesn't matter why or how the sport of downhill receded into dormancy in the birthplace of mountain biking's world competition, the time has come for its swift resurgence.

The new Rock Garden Chute
More support = more speed

Photos by Ben Jacobs

There probably isn't a better place to kick off the  "the F1" of bike racing than Angel Fire Bike Park, on the track used for the 2005 World Cup event - the last World Cup in the region. As soon as the event approval came through, the AF Trail Crew sprung into action re-routing a top section of the track into the woods. They absolutely slayed it and included a couple new berms, flat turns, plenty of rock compressions, and a new rock garden chute that had all the riders on their toes and scoping lines throughout practice. The new section hopped back onto the original World Cup course right at the Easy Street bridge. From there it was Jasper's Road to the Vortex and onto the rider-favorite Drops and Pops finish. The track was physical, dusty, and fast AF (in that order) and had Clay, Luke, and the rest of the bike shop gang rebuilding wheels late into the evenings. The weekend's terrain was sure to test all riders and their equipment.

Riders were flying out of the start gate all weekend.
Local legend and former Decline Team America member Alex Morgan showed up on a smol travel bike with mustache bars and proceeded to ride circles around most of the competition.

Racing on the course was tight and competitive throughout the classes with racers giving full commitment to their runs down the mountain. Saturday racing was for Cat 2 and newer riders of sport to show everyone what they had in the tank for the blue course Duke to Lazy Suzan. It was inspiring to see that the sport has gained interest from those that had no chance to race DH until this event. The lack of experience didn't seem to hinder the intensity of their race runs as the times were quick and close throughout the categories. The day concluded with pro men and women seeding runs for the next day's finals, an aspect of downhill that we will be offering to the Junior Men (Cat 14-17) for the rest of the season and hope to offer all Cat 1 classes next year. Seeding finished up and the awards were given to the warriors from the blue course. The party ended early that evening as the looming thought of giving a 100% effort on the monster of a track set an unforgettable mood throughout the resort.

The Outlaw Racing team out of Utah brought an army of riders that occupied many of the podium spots over the weekend. So refreshing to see programs like this popping up.
The Single Crown categories had riders chomping at the bit to prove they would not be intimidated by the bomb holes and square edges throughout the trail.

Sunday morning practice was the last chance for all the competitors to tighten up their plans of attack before the course was closed, swept, and ready for what the day would bring. A showdown was set....Rider vs Track, and it was set to be a battle. The Junior mens 14-17 Cat 1 field was the largest of the weekend and contained some of the fastest amateurs of the weekend. ABQ local Ryan Pauley gave it the twizzlers and landed in 3rd place just shy of Outlaw's Cohen Bundy second place time. In the end it was GT Factory's Asa Vermette taking the top spot with a time good enough for 3rd place in the pro class. This kid's program and support is dialed and we hope he is a good indication of what potential USDH has.

Local rider Anaiise Puzack charging to 2nd place in the women's pro division.
The fastest woman on the day looking smooth to take home the win. Congrats to Janelle Soukup.
Shawn Neer picking up where he left Angel Fire...Winning
Kenneth Gustafson showed up, had a couple practice laps, and sent it to a top 5 finish in pro. Impressive.

As the weekend was winding down, the times were getting faster and faster. The women's pro riders started off the show and held nothing back on the path to the podium. Local rippers Anaiise Puzak and Hanna Weinman lined up to keep the champion's time coming from a NM resident and both put down heaters, but it was just outside Bros Racing very own Jannell Soukup's time. The women's winner rider pedaled her cheetah race pants down for the only sub five minute in the women's race. In the men's race Yeti's Shawn Neer retired from retirement, decided pedaling up mountains was cutting into coffee time, and sliced the track in pieces with an insane time of 4:00:75 on a borrowed bike with a Boxxer on it that would make any dentist cancel their Friday golf games to save some cash for immediate order. Rooted MTB/Specialized rider Austin-Hackett-Klaube was just a bit off time for second place and Jack Pederson rounding out the podium on a single crown bike which is a great indication of this young rider's pace.

Cat 1 14-17 men; Asa Vermette, Cohen Bundy, Ryan Pauley, Luke Mallon, Collier Kee
Women Pro; Janelle Soukup, Anaiise Puzack, Hanna Weinman, Bethany Sprinkle, Celia Ferguson
Men Pro; Shawn Neer, Austin-Hackett-Klaube, Jack Pederson, Shane Ellis, Kenneth Gustafson

"The first Downhill Rockies race was the best thing I’ve seen for DH in our region in a long time. Proper racing on an amazing track with some fresh cut sections. Angel Fire is one of my favorite DH tracks in the world. Lots of speed, line choice, rocks to smash and jumps to hit makes it so much fun. There were lots of familiar and new faces, and tons of kids there were stoked. It was a super fun weekend and I can’t wait for more. I think the future of this series is strong with the great venues and tracks we will get to race. There was genuine excitement from the people that were there. This is what our region needs and I’m stoked to see racing is back."  ---Austin-Hackett-Klaube  Rooted MTB/Specialized

"This event was so much fun. It’s awesome to see DH racing back in the Rockies. The new cut out section at the top of World Cup was challenging and different for everyone. However, it was a rewarding feeling after getting your line dialed! Can’t wait for more."  --- Janelle Soukup

"Angel Fire was the first place I raced downhill almost 20 years ago and couldn’t be more stoked to be back for the Downhill Rockies event this past weekend. The DH scene in and around Colorado has been lacking since the Mountain States Cup ceased to be over a decade ago, the Downhill Rockies event was a breath of fresh air and brought me back to the good ol days of racing for the love of the sport. Cant wait to line up at the next round in Purgatory at another World Cup track!" --- Shawn Neer  Yeti Bikes

Riders on their way to the next stop in Durango like....

We can't thank Angel Fire staff, the volunteers, the riders, and the spectators enough for making the first race of the series so memorable. Our next stop is Durango CO, August 13-14 and if you're familiar with that course you will not miss a shot at this behemoth of a track. Diggler will be on tap for most Cat 2 and younger riders and the schedule breakdown will be on our website soon. We're very close to finalizing our last venue for the season and will formally announce soon. Hint: All 3 tracks have something in common. For results and updates check out the website www.downhillrockies.com or follow us on Instagram.

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