Racing in Angel Fire, NM means a common thing for most racers: ROAD TRIP! Because Angel Fire is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, we all have to drive to get to it. Lucky for me, and a lot of others, the drive is gorgeous, while also passing through some classic Colorado and New Mexico small towns. And with the pot of gold that is Angel Fire Bike Park waiting at the end of whatever route you take, the fun is just about to begin.
Racing this year consisted of three backcountry stages on Day One, followed up by three or four stages (depending on if you raced Pro or not) on Sunday in the bike park. With wet weather forecasted for both weekend days, the decision was made to bump up start times by 30 minutes for all classes. This had the Pro Men leaving at approximately 7 in the morning. Yikes! That’s early. But a good decision in my opinion. Amateur men left on the seven mile initial climb around 9am. It would also end up being a hot day, so leaving early was fine with everyone I talked to. Just meant you had to get fueled and caffeinated first thing in the morning.
Day One started with about six miles of climbing on a dirt road, followed by another mile of off and on hike a bike, to the start of Stage 1. None of this climbing was brutal by any means, and was a really nice way to start off the day. Loosen those legs up. The three race stages that followed were all short and sweet. Stages 1 and 3 were about five minutes long and Stage 2 was only about one minute. But all were super fun, with real dirt to be ridden (a treat for this high mountain rider-we get more cinders and super packed, dried out concrete type dirt). And lots of rock gardens. In fact, Stage 2 may have been just one long rock garden. The riding was damn fun, with nothing huge or highly technical, but enough rocks to keep you focused, and to keep that suspension warmed up. Some of the race stages were old trails that basically were burned back in for, and by, the race. This gave Day 1 kind of a Euro feel. Riding on fresh trails, with loose dirt underneath, and after some rain the night before, made for a kick ass, smile inducing first day. And, on a really cool side note, the Colorowdie’s own Liz Cunningham ended up Day 1 in third place in Pro Women. She was flying!
Day Two was lift served (most of it) bike park day, with slightly longer stages. Angel Fire Bike Park has absolutely awesome terrain to play with, and after some creative routing of the stages, racers were rewarded with fun, challenging, long downhills. Lots of rocks on natural trails, mixed with newer berm and jump flow trails made Day 2 one of the most fun days I’ve had on a bike in a long time. Pros added an extra stage to make it four on the day. I was completely whooped and was glad to finish after three. There was one climb before Stage 3 on Sunday. Whether it was due to pure luck, or awesome planning on the organizer’s part, I would say about 90% of the climb was in the trees, making it shady and pleasant. You were still pedaling your bike uphill, but on a very warm day, to be in the shade of the aspen trees, with a babbling mountain brook within hearing distance, made for a really awesome way to get back up the mountain before you pointed it downhill again.
All in all, this race ranked extremely high on the fun factor. Certainly, there was some challenging technical features on course, but nothing “Pro Only”. There was a little bit of everything for all different types of riders. The race was never so burly that you got pissed off. You didn’t want to shoot yourself at any times, as I’ve felt during the day of other races. I say these things to let you know that the race was fun and tough, but never too much.
I thought the race organizers, Enduro Cup MTB, did a great job of designing, and running, the race. Transfer times were estimated accurately. There was never a huge wait to start any of the stages, and we’ve all been in that situation. Timing was also fast and accurate, another big plus.
This was a great enduro race for anyone thinking about doing an enduro race. You could certainly show up with the “bike you have” and be fine. You would not have felt undergunned by showing up with a four inch travel trail bike. I also thought the decision to have an extra stage for the pros was a creative way to give them a little bit more challenge, instead of making the other stages scary and not fun.
One additional bonus is that renting a VRBO type condo is CHEAP in Angel Fire. And camping was basically on site and free, both tent and RV style. These are some nice things to know when you’re thinking about doing a race.
Angel Fire Bike Park hits a home run. I can highly recommend doing this race next year if offered. Go early and get some early season lift riding in. I’ve said it a couple times now, but the riding is super fun. Challenging enough to be not boring, but never death defying. Add in the road trip flair, and you get to see all your summer camping buddies. Being a part of the North American Enduro Tour (NAET) and an EWS qualifier might also give you reason to go South. For anything else you might be wondering about, check out the Enduro Cup website at http://endurocupmtb.com/