The Mountain States Cup Series had a decisive final showdown for the 2011 series at the Sol Vista ski resort last weekend. The overall series titles were still up for grabs as the Rocky Mountains beckoned its elite endurance racers for one last weekend of racing. With the coveted MSC title on the line, along with a winters worth of bragging rights, the ninth and final stop of the series was fought over two days of racing.
Saturday started the weekend with a brutal short track course at the base of Sol Vista. A grass climb lead into an even steeper old service road ascent, which transitioned into a ripping fast singletrack descent that gave racers a brief but needed recovery before crossing the line to start all over again.
The weekend and MSC season was capped off with an epic cross country which included sections from the now legendary 2010 USA Cycling Nationals course. Rider’s legs were screaming right from the gun, as they kicked up a quick initial climb with a gradient of over 20%. A mishmash of trails and fire roads gradually brought racers up the backside of the resort, until they were once again tested by a series of punchy rocky climbs through tight aspen trees. An equally challenging set of narrow rock strewn descents matched by punishing steep quick climbs brought the race back onto the ski slopes. An insanely sharp and rutted shot through another set of dense aspens kept even the best technical riders on edge. The course made a final run down the front side of Sol Vista through the well-buffed bike park, giving riders a chance to catch a little airtime before crossing the start finish.
Unphased by the big weekend ahead of them, the pro women got right down to business setting an unreal pace for the short track. The dominant force of Sage Wilderman (Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory) was out for scalps that morning, and took the win over Rebecca Gross (Velo Bella) by an astounding two minutes. Sarah Rawley (Yeti Beti) hung on for a stellar third place performance.
With the overall series title well within their grasp, Mike West (Yeti Cycles), Nick Truitt (Yeti/Jett), and Ernie Watenpaugh (LifeCycles/Specialized/Honey Stinger) came out guns blazing for the short track. After numerous attacks and changes of lead, Watenpaugh rolled in to claim his first victory of the season. Truitt claimed second with West nipping at his heels.
Sunday morning welcomed the pro women with bluebird skies and a fast dry course. Looking to keep here winning streak alive, Wilderman broke off to an early lead with Molly Throdahl, Gross, and Melanie Long (Tough Girls/ Scott) hot on her tail. The elastic was quickly snapped as Wilderman went to work distancing herself from the other three through a steady powerful cadence. As the ladies entered the technical trails of the course, Wilderman’s luck took a turn for the worse. Her lead was brought to a screeching halt as a twisted ankle during a dismount forced her to drop out of the race. Throdahl and Gross quickly grabbed the reins, and would exchange turns on the front numerous times over the remainder of the race. "I kept bringing her back on the singletrack, but she would ditch me on the downhills. I am just not used to riding that kind of stuff.” Said the Jersey native Throdahl of Gross and the Colorado course. Gross used her Colorado homegrown bike skills to snatch the victory ahead of Throdahl, crossing the line in 2:15:23. Throdahl came in for second just over one minute back, with Long hammering in for third.
The start line was slightly tense for the pro men Sunday, as three big laps and the MSC overall were hanging in the balance. Watenpaugh started from where he had left off the previous day, and jumped off the front with Benjamin Moore through the first set of climbs. John Nobil (Bear Valley Bikes) tried to keep the two under close guard, and grabbed their wheels as the trails flattened out. Moore slowly pulled away from the two, and looked as if he might have the legs to ride away with the race. But as the trails began to tilt downwards Truitt and West let their presence be known by adding themselves in the mix. Once the boys rolled through to start lap two, Moore was still off on his own with Truitt not far behind. Watenpaugh knew he was no match for West nor Nobil on the descents, and made a searing attack on the climbs to put as much time between himself and the veterans. His plan worked better than he could have hoped, as he also caught and held Truitt through the rocky climbs. Truitt was having none of it, and pinned down another blazing chain of descents to leave Watenpaugh, as well as catch and pass Moore before the start of the third and final lap. Watenpaugh again tried to make up the time he lost on the descents by laying down a heavy string of efforts to try and close down the gaps. He soon passed a fading Moore, and got with in striking distance of Truitt, but it would not be enough. "Nick was descending like a beast today. I just couldn’t hold him.” Said a battered Watenpaugh at the finish. Truitt put it all on the line to drop Watenpaugh and take the win. Watenpaugh cruised in for second, while West managed to salvage third.
After nine stops, the 2011 Mountain States Cup Series crowned the series champions. The queen of consistency, Sarah Rawley won the series by a hefty margin for the ladies. Ernie Watenpaugh edged out Nick Truitt by just over thirty points in 2700-point season to claim it for the men.
The 2011 MSC Series has wrapped up after another thrilling season of mountain bike racing that has covered the greater part of the Rocky Mountains. Racers have been treated to some of the finest singletrack in the world, and have probably even had a few laughs along the way. Big thanks to the MSC for a great season.
Special thanks also goes out to Vast Action for all the incredible photos. Racers can find and purchase all of their personal race shots from all of the Sol Vista events and all MSC races at http://www.vastaction.com.