Spectators stood for miles wrapped around the steep sloop and cheering on their favorites as riders literally flew over their heads at the Mountain Bike World Cup finale in Windham last weekend. The four-day event kicked off on Thursday, and riders spent the first two days registering and training for the race.
The event took place mere days before riders compete at the World Championships currently taking place at Mont-Sainte-Anne in Quebec, and the small town of Windham went all out with the festivities – including a block party, bike stunt show, rock concert by Chris Barron and the Time Bandits, fireworks, a pool party and an indoor/outdoor expo that would make any mountain bike-lover drool.
The race itself was hosted by the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) and put on by hard-working volunteers that helped to carve and cut the mountain, converting it from a smooth ski resort into rough terrain fit for the pro bikers.
The competition consisted of 4X (four-cross), downhill and cross-country races. The downhill race is exactly like it sounds – a dangerous descent down 2,200 feet of the mountain face with riders contending with the dirt and blazing sun, as well as shaded woods and slippery mud. The 4X race forces four riders at once downhill over obstacles such as metal trailers, tough gravel and tall jumps, while the cross country consists of tough climbs, tunnels, bridges and tight corners over rocks and boulders.
The event – which drew 10,000 to 15,000 people – was free to the public and family friendly. Many brought their children for a kids’ fun race, while others brought along their buddies, cowbells and beer.
Approximately 1,000 professional racers – both men and women from around the world – as well as “citizens” or amateur racers competed against each other for prizes and bragging rights. From early on in the competition, racers battled blown or flat tires, dropped chains and harrowing crashes.
On the downhill, 25-year-old French rider Damien Spagnolo over-steered a treacherous jump (named “the road gap”) only to tumble over and over before landing with a nasty crash in the rocks. But he bounced back up in a matter of seconds. The crowd gasped in shock and then exploded into cheers as he quickly remounted his bike and returned to the course. Even a crash like that probably won’t ruin his year – Spagnolo still ranks 11th in the world in the UCI’s downhill mountain biking, but it was Great Britain’s Gee Atherton who won the Men’s Downhill Final that day.
When all the dust had settled, and the only remnants of the weekend race were some sunburns and bruises, a long trail of all-terrain vehicles with bikes strapped to their backs could be seen descending the cliff of the mountain and fading into the late afternoon sun.
Story and photographs by Lindsay Malachowski