Like many ski resorts, when the winter snows melt, Angel Fire Resort’s mountain opens up for a variety of high alpine summer activities. The Bike Park there has become the premier destination for those who enjoy downhill mountain bike thrills.
After successfully hosting the Collegiate MTB Nationals the past few years, Angel Fire Resort earned its place in the spotlight. Earlier this month, America’s best downhill and dual slalom riders descended on the resort in New Mexico for the 2013 USA Cycling MTB Gravity National Championships.
Among the nearly 400 riders who competed for 30 podium spots on some of the best new trails in the Rockies was Higher Gear’s own Brandon Olson.
Brandon is an anomaly in a field of DH racers that is flooded with competitors from Colorado, Utah, California and Arizona. Our boy from the Midwest has to overcome two significant challenges when he shows up for competition. A lack of mountains in the Midwest means that Brandon has fewer opportunities to practice. It also means that when he arrives in the altitude of the mountains, Brandon’s body has to compete with access to much less oxygen than it’s accustomed.
Brandon took advantage of a recent trip to California to prepare for Nationals. Before heading to the Specialized Dealer Event, he spent a few days training at Keystone. While Colorado has many places to ride downhill, Brandon specifically chose Keystone for its similarities to the Angel Fire course. At 10-11,000 feet, its elevation is similar. Also, the rocky and rough terrain mimicked the Nationals course in New Mexico that he would experience Sunday, August 4th.
Brandon arrived in New Mexico in time to get in a few practice runs before his big dance. He got in three runs on Thursday and another six hours of practice over the following two days. Before his race run Sunday, he squeezed in another hour of practice.
All that practice helps familiarize Brandon with the course – so he can memorize when to speed up, when to slow downs, which way to lean and what line to take. Interestingly, at such a competitive level, Brandon and other racers don’t necessarily practice the lines they will take for their race runs while they are practicing – which would might allow the competition insight to something they may have missed.
The Chile Express chairlift carried racers to the summit, at 10,600 feet elevation. From there, racers navigated through a technical 2.8 mile-long course and 1,700 feet of elevation loss. Skilled racers would make this trip in six to seven minutes.
The course offered a bit of everything. It had technical sections that included rocks, jumps and steep off-camber turns. It also had fast wide-open sections – on fire roads and cat walks – that means speeds up to 40mph.
The sunny, dry weather of New Mexico meant that racers were denied the tacky dirt that allows them to lay into the turns. Instead, they had to track over slippery sand and dirt. Dust was a factor, decreasing visibility, as was the sun. With the light coming through the tall trees, racers were subject to a game of shadows.
Longer courses like this make for a battle of attrition, favoring the racers who have the opportunity to practice on similar long trails. Longer courses are also tougher on the hands and wrists, which take a beating over all the rocks.
In the rock garden, during his race run, Brandon took a trip over his handlebars. Despite this, he recovered and placed seventh in a field of ten in his second year of racing Cat 1. There to witness his feat and to cheer him on were his biggest fans, his parents. Brandon was racing on his Specialized Demo 8.
This was Brandon’s first trip to New Mexico. He was grateful for the experience, learning the course which is to be the site of Nationals again next year. For next year, Brandon has his sights on the podium.
Racers were not allowed to take video during their race run, but Brandon was able to capture the course while out on a practice run. Check it out:
For more information, check out the following links:
- Brandon’s 2012 DH Nationals race, his first DH race as a Category 1 racer.
- Angel Fire Resort in New Mexico.
- All things mountain bike.
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