This weekend marked the return of one of the greatest gravity fed cycling events in the region, Pedal Fest. The popular bike festival was back for its second year but the big news was the rebirth of the infamous East Coast Open downhill race. After a brief hiatus, ECO returned with a purpose, serving up a new track that had everyone talking. With a cash purse of $4000.00, everyone was ready to lay it on the line.
In 2013, Pedal Fest brought us the Whip It competition. It was a crowd favourite and one of the most celebrated events in 2013. Ontario has such a racing culture and these festival-style weekends really help bring the community together in a low-pressure, fun environment. Everything from the nomination process to the jam format of the event was meant to be inclusive and exciting for everyone.
We arrived for practice early on Friday and got our first look at the new racecourse. It was revealed earlier in the week that the race would be on O-Chute this year. The amount of work the trail crew at Blue had put in was obvious after only ten feet down the track. The trail had been noticeably expanded, allowing for more comfy passage with wide bars, while keeping it far from a wide-open course. The top section made amazing use of the pitch, requiring riders to pump and get in pedal strokes at every opportunity. The trail was riddled with roots and rock wedges that riders could use to gap and link sections of trail.
A beautiful hip jump was built to send riders into a gnarly, Windham-style, open section with loose shale and rutted hard pack. Riders had to choose a hard, natural ladder section or chewed-up outside line that would surely erode their time.
The last woods had an killer mix of magically linked berms and steeps. Parts of the trail remained a bit greasy throughout the weekend, which made picking the right rubber and tire pressure key. There were three distinct types of terrain along the course, each offering up their own challenges to racers.
Friday night the movie Rad Company was premiered on the big screen in the village. It’s always nice to see cyclists and non-cyclist engaged in a movie like this, that shows the pinnacle of our sport. The village square was packed and a group of us looked on from the deck at RFG headquarters. It was a great night.
Saturday morning was the big practice day for most riders. The humidity was off the charts throughout the weekend and athletes struggled to remain hydrated. Having the run adjacent to the lift this year was a true blessing, as the pedal over to Squeaker would have surely taken every ounce of energy out of the athletes. Practice ran very smoothly and everyone seemed to be having fun with no incidents or stoppage along the course.
Seeding runs took place later that afternoon and Taylor Rowlands posted the fastest time down in the open mens division with a blistering 2:08.347. Local girl Arianna Vegter qualified first for the ladies with a time of 2:36.471.
Later that evening the Whip Off competition went down at the base of the hill. Matt Konings did an amazing job shaping the jump this year with help from local senders Ben Reasbeck and Kyle Easby. 32 riders made it into the competition and the level from last year to this one was vastly improved. The theme of the night was #swiperight and the charged crowd determined who advanced to the next round. It was a tough crowd and even the hometown favs got denied if they didn’t go big. Mark Battiston took home the win with perfect whips all night long.
The threat of rain held off for Sunday’s race with only a few drops falling midday. The near 90% humidity posed its own challenges but the race ran smoothly with no delays.
Despite having to miss Saturday’s practice and seeding run, Michael Hermanovsky (Norco Evolution) took the win on Sunday in a time of 2:09:090. Hermo was followed closely by James Frost, who was just under a second behind him and Patrick McCarter in third. Past ECO winner and fastest qualifier Taylor Rowlands went down in the last woods, which cost him the race. TR was on race pace until that point.
“To be honest, winning the east coast open was such a relief and weight off my shoulders. I haven’t won a downhill race since 2011 so it felt amazing to finally be able to lay down the fastest run of the day! I was worried that my transition to higher level XC racing would hinder my ability to pony up and go fast down hills but I guess it hasn’t! I think my success on race day came from my persistent pursuit of practicing my ability to carry speed through bermed and flat turns. Cornering skills were key on the O chute race course as it has some turns that would cause even the most experienced racers to scratch their heads.” Michael Hermanovsk | Norco Evolution
Norco Factory cross-country racer, Cayley Brooks was the dark horse of the weekend taking top honors in the open female class. Cayley posted a winning time of 2:36.578 aboard a borrowed Norco Range all-mountain bike. Paula Drozdzal and Arianna Vegter rounded off the ladies top three. Race favourite and current Canada Cup leader, Kristen Courtney suffered an injury in morning practice. She still chose to race but was unable to ride as hard as she needed to. Kristen is off to B.C. for the next round of the Canada Cup series and we wish her a speedy recovery and best of luck at the next race. You got this Kristen!
“I was super excited to get the chance to race the downhill at the East Coast Open. Blue put together a great course and Norco hooked me up with an awesome bike. I haven’t ridden a lot of downhill so getting on a big bike after a few years of only XC felt amazing. There were a lot of tight corners on the course so I knew I had to stay smooth through those and I would have a good run. There were a lot of fast girls out there so I was very happy to take home the win!” – Cayley Brooks | Norco Factory Team
Complete race results can be found here.
The 2014 East Coast Open was a massive success. While numbers of participants did not reach their ultimate potential, due to conflicting events, the race has regained incredible traction. We’re calling the 2015 ECO DH, the race of the year in Ontario.
Huge thanks to Erika, Jason, Laura, Luc, Delaney and the amazing team at Blue Mountain for putting on such a fun event. Mad props to Matt, Max, Sam, Tyler and the trail crew for building such a rad course and jump. Here are a few shots from the 2014 East Coast Open.
Still looking for more pics? Check the forums and the gallery.