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For the second stop of the 2021 Big Mountain Enduro Series, racers found themselves in the breathtaking town of Big Sky, Montana. This is the third year that the BME has made the resort a stop on the tour—fortunately, last year the race had inadvertently been scheduled to coincide with the reopening of the country, which made it arguably the biggest enduro race in the United States for 2020. This gem of a mountain bike resort, located in the Rocky Mountains of southern Montana, provides awe-inspiring views, combined with some of the roughest, rowdiest and steepest trails on the Big Mountain Enduro tour. Big Sky is a favorite for riders and spectators alike.
It’s also one of the most anticipated races on the U.S. Enduro calendar and as a result it’s a must for the heavy hitters, the likes of last year’s winner, Mitch Ropelato and fan-favorite Cody Kelley. The Yeti Fox Team stacked the men’s field, and while the Pro Woman’s category had no slouches either, all eyes were on Kate Lawrence, first-place finisher at Ironton and Isabella Naughton, both fresh off competing in the first four rounds of the Enduro World Series in Europe.
The stage was set for the two-day, eight-stage race. All of the athletes on the morning of the first day knew that if they could hold it together, keep their bodies full of fuel and stay upright, they could be in contention for that top step. There was no doubt that the first day was going to be the day that would separate the contenders from the rest of the pack. With no lift access, riders were faced with just over 4,000 feet of climbing to transfer themselves to the start line of the four stages and right out of the bat it was clear that there was no doubt that Richie Rude showed up to Big Sky for two reasons: to redeem himself after his fourth place finish last year and to also buy a cowboy hat. Grabbing the top spot on three out of the four stages for Saturday, with a third place finish on the fourth stage only half a second seperated the top three, with Ropelato taking the win and Kelley grabbing the second place.
Day one for the woman saw Kate Lawrence showing her dominance on the first three stages with top of the field finishes, however, a crash on the fourth stage left the door open for Isabella Naughton to show Lawrence that one mistake is all it takes for Naughton to demonstrate to the field what she learnt in Europe over the past couple of months. Although, it should be mentioned that Lawrence’s mistake was no small hiccup, at the end of day one she was left with a large gash over her left eye, and an impact to her shoulder that would have had most of us calling it for the weekend.
Day two had the riders starting with an 1,144-foot climb to warm the legs and lungs up, but after stage five they were treated to access to the Ramcharger lift for the remaining three stages of the weekend. Not only were the transfers easier on the second day, but the courses were on average shorter—not to be confused with easier.
Ropelato started the day off with a win on stage five, then Kelley said, “Watch this” and took the win on stage six. Stage seven had top ten contender Colton Peterson swoop in and snag that top place and then after Rude had placed 2nd on the first three stages of the day, he finished first in stage eight with a 2 second lead over Kelley on a 2:19.8 minute course. The consistency that Richie put down throughout the weekend paid off with him taking the top step of the podium once racing had concluded for the event, with Kelley and Ropelato rounding out the top three respectively. It was great to see Myles Morgan scooping the fourth place step and always a pleasure to see Yeti / Fox Factory athlete Shawn Neer rounding out the top five.
The Pro Women’s category had just as much excitement with the stage win honers going back and forth throughout the day between Naughton and Cannondale SRAM rider Kera Linn. You could tell that Lawrence’s crash on stage four from the previous day was affecting her riding but her results were nothing to scoff at as she stayed consistently in the hunt. However, after two days of grueling racing on some of the gnarliest courses that North America has to offer, Isabella Naughton came out victorious with a total time for the weekend of 30minutes 51seconds – a 7 second lead over Lawrence, and Linn nipping at their ankles in third place. Porsha Murdock, who is no stranger to the podium, sat on the fourth spot and Lia Westerman, who is fresh off winning Enduro National Champs a couple weeks previously rounded out the top five.
As racing concluded and the athletes reconvened in the sponsor village, there was no lack of high fives, hugs and positive words shared, and this is what mountain bike enduro racing is all about—the camaraderie, congratulations and conversations about different line choices and who’s was inevitably faster, the trials they had to overcome throughout the weekend and the glories that resulted. Big Sky provided amazing racing, fantastic hospitality and a weekend full of good times for all involved. The 2021 Yeti Cycles Big Mountain Enduro series returns to Winter Park, Colorado, on August 14 for the third stop of the series, where again, the racing is going to be tight, the stoke will be high and the tales of the trails will be aplenty.