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Ashland hosts Mountain Challenge on Saturday

About 300 of the most accomplished mountain bikers in the country will descend upon Ashland on Saturday to compete in the Ashland Mountain Challenge, the fourth leg of the six-leg California Enduro Series.

The race, which itself is broken down into four stages, begins at 10 a.m. when riders at each of the four stages begin simultaneously. The all-day event wraps up with an awards ceremony near the swimming hole above Lithia Park.

Though the race is celebrating its 10th anniversary, according to its website, this year marks its first as a leg of the California Enduro Series after a long run as a Super D race followed by a three-year affiliation with the Oregon Enduro Series. Why the switch to the California Enduro Series? Race organizer Bill Roussel, who owns and operates Ashland Mountain Adventures (700 Mistletoe Road), said that historically about 70 percent of Challenge racers hail from California anyway, so the CES partnership is a natural fit.

As for the Enduro format replacing the Super D, Roussel said it’s about giving the riders what they want, and lots of it. While Super D races amount to one continuous, but relatively short ride down a mountain, Enduro breaks up that descent into stages, extending the ride into a competition that can last most of the day.

“I changed the format to Enduro because it was obviously coming,” said Roussel, 50, who moved here with his wife, Sue, from Salinas, Calif., in 2009 to run Ashland Mountain Adventures full-time. “The Europeans have been doing it for years. I used to race motorcycles and Enduro was one of my favorite formats to race because, unlike a hair scramble or a motocross race where the gun goes off and you’re racing for a short amount of time then it’s over, (Enduro) is an all-day event. There are times when you’re just cruising and there are times when you’re actually racing the clock. So you get more bang for your buck.

“We’ve got people that are crossing over from the cross country side — all they did was fitness racing and they’re coming in and they’re doing this because it is fitness based but it requires skill as well. Same thing with the downhillers. The downhillers are coming over and they’re going out and … they’re racing this type of format because they’ve got skill but they’ve got to go out and get some fitness to be able to be competitive.”

For those reasons and others, the Enduro format has become increasingly popular in the United States. California Enduro Series’ first three stages quickly sold out, and so did the Ashland Mountain Challenge, Roussel said, as did the next stage of the CES, the Northstar Enduro, Aug. 29-30 at the Northstar California Resort in Truckee, Calif.

“I love it,” said Ashland mountain bike racer Nathan Riddle, who won the Ashland Mountain Challenge two years ago and will be gunning for another title Saturday. “This is my favorite format of racing because you get more racing for your money than other formats. You’re out there all day for the most part.”

The 2015 California Enduro Series kicked off with the Battle Born Enduro, May 9 at Peavine Mountain and continued with Stage 2, the Wild Wood Adventure Enduro, June 13-14 at Mendocino Coast in Caspar. Stage 3, the VP EnduroFest at China Peak, was held at the China Peak Mountain Resort, June 27-28 in Lakeshore, Calif. The series finale, the Kamikaze Bike Games Enduro, will be held Sept. 24-27 at Mammoth Mountain in Mammoth Lakes.

Racers are divided into 14 categories, from beginners to sport 50+, to pro men and pro women. The pro men are scheduled to begin the third stage at 12:11 p.m., the fourth stage at 12:42, the first stage at 2:27 and the second stage at 3:07. The times from each stage are added together for a final mark which will be used to determine places.

There’s a $1,000 cash purse for the men and $1,000 for the women which will be distributed according to place. The top three amateur placers will receive prizes.

Pro men and women and expert men and boys racers will begin on the Horn Gap trail on the western ridge of Mount Ashland. All pro and expert racers must climb from the venue to their first stage, a 2,700 climb that covers eight miles. After they complete that stage, riders are required to pedal back up another 1.2 miles to the second stage at Hitt Road, where they will have a “roll on,” or first-come, first-served start time.

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@dailytidings.com.

Ashland mountain biker Nathan Riddle negotiates a corner during the 2012 Ashland Mountain Challenge. Photo by Jason Van Horn
Ashland mountain bike rider Nathan Riddle powers up a hill during the Ashland Mountain Challenge in 2012. Photo by Jason Van Horn