Kennebec Pass Big Mountain Enduro

By Zach White in Durango, Colorado | Monday, September 10, 2012 11.00pm

Enduro events are growing in size and number in the US, as the format appeals to a wide range of riders, combining cross-country and downhill racing with plenty of all-around fun. It’s taken Colorado a while to embrace Enduro-style racing, but if the Kennebec Pass stop on the Big Mountain Enduro Series is any indication of potential, the state definitely has the trail and terrain to host some of the best Enduro racing in the nation.

Kennebec Pass itself is part of the famous Colorado Trail, which connect Durango and Denver diagonally across Colorado with almost 500 miles of trail. And, like many segments of the Colorado Trail, Kennebec Pass flirts with treeline ( 12,000ft elevation at this latitude), which makes for amazing views - and a bit of unnerving exposure - from its impressively tight, high-alpine singletrack.

The Race Course

The Sept. 2 Durango stop in the Big Mountain Enduro Series featured four segments: two timed and two untimed. Racers were shuttled from town to within five miles of the top of Kennebec Pass, leaving approximately 2,200ft of climbing for stage 1 (untimed) up steep, loose forest service road.

Stage 2 (timed) started essentially at treeline, and traversed across a high-alpine meadow to a lung-busting two-tiered climb that had many racers reach for the granny gear, if they didn’t get off and walk entirely. But those few minutes of apneic pain were quickly rewarded with almost seven miles of descending some of Colorado’s finest singletrack.

Durango’s horse gulch trails provide an easily-accessible ride right from town: Durango’s Horse Gulch trails provide an easily-accessible ride right from town

Stage 3 (untimed) was 4.2 miles of pure singletrack, and while challengingly steep at times, it provided much more mountain bike flavor than the first stage. With the untimed format, many racers found beautiful vistas between Junction Creek and the final stage start at High Point to take a breather after two hours on the bike already, before starting the final stage.

From High Point, racers descended approximately six more miles of tight, twisty singletrack to the finish. Unlike the second stage that traversed across highly exposed scree fields and had short, steep climbs lurking around unfamiliar corners, this lower stage wound through the forest at a much more consistent and flowy pace.

Can you spot the 29er?: The day started early with a shuttle ride up to the start of the first untimed stage

The Bikes

While 29ers have all but taken over the mountain bike market, the vast majority of bikes at the Enduro were 26-inch trail bikes with around six inches of travel. Even cross-country star Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski traded in his familiar big wheels for Travis Brown’s personal Trek Remedy for the weekend.

Some riders opted for a single chainring up front with a chain guide, while many riders ran a double or triple chainring setup specifically for the climbs, including 4th place pro Anthony Diaz, who switched over to a triple the day before the race.

Dropper posts were seemingly mandatory, along with high-volume tires, hydration packs and baggy shorts. Overall, the bikes being raced, as well as the racers on them, were ones that looked like they were simply set up for fun trail riding, without much concern for what was light or time-saving.

JHK looked out of his element at a gravity-fed event, but took second overall on a borrowed bike: Everyday riders mingled easily with the likes of Olympic cross-country rider Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski

Durango

If you haven’t ridden in Durango, you’re missing out. The town itself is surrounded by trail, including the very accessible Horse Gulch trails that provide anything from mellow to more than challenging for the average rider, yet never venture out of view from town. And the list of options nearby is a long one, including Hermosa Creek, several Colorado Trail sections (obviously including Kennebec Pass), and Phil’s World.

The riding is seasonal with the region’s snowfall, and Durango isn’t limited to just mountain biking in the summer, so check the town’s calendar of events before showing up as lodging may be limited. A huge motorcycle rally was happening the same weekend as the Big Mountain Enduro, which filled up hotels and restaurants, made camping spots scare if not extremely loud, yet also made for some great spectating of life in leather.

Durango’s Main Avenue provides plenty of options for eating and entertainment, but make sure to stop by the very mountain-bike-friendly Ska Brewery and Zia Taqueria, just south and north of town, respectively.

Stop into the strater to get a litle fix of western flavor: Welcome to the West

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