In its first year as an Enduro-format mountain bike race, the 22nd annual Spring Thaw ended with a tie in the men's division on Sunday.
Both Jared Kessler of Auburn, Calif., and Nathan Riddle of Ashland ended the two-day, three-stage competition with 255 points. Kessler was ultimately awarded the win and title of "All-Mountain Champion."
In past Spring Thaw races, separate winners have been declared for both the cross country and downhill stages. In the new Enduro format, an All-Mountain winner was also declared, based on the highest combined point total for the 22-mile cross-country stage and the cumulative time total for the traditional 1.7-mile Catwalk and new 1.5-mile BTI downhill stages. Courses for all three stages are set on trails or fire roads in the Ashland watershed.
Kessler's overall win was set up by his victory of 2 minutes, 45 seconds over Cody Kaiser in the cross-country stage on Saturday. His winning time was 1:35:09. The new course featured longer hills and more single track trail than last year, something Kessler welcomed.
"You have twice as much descending and more quality trail time," said Kessler. "Cross country is my strength at this point."
In an Enduro-format race, riders must use the same bicycle for all stages. This played into Kessler's strategy.
"This year I brought a bike that favors cross-country, because I knew it would be my strong point," Kessler explained. "One of my big goals of the season, I want to win this cross-country race this year."
This is Kessler's third Spring Thaw race. Last year he finished 11th in the cross-country stage.
In Saturday's downhill races, Mark Weir of Novato, Calif., edged out Riddle by four seconds with a combined time of 7:12. Weir had the fastest time in the Catwalk stage at 4:04, five seconds ahead of Riddle, while Riddle earned the top spot in the BTI stage in 3:07, one second ahead of Weir.
The two riders have often traded wins and podium spots in this race. Riddle is the two-time defending champion of the Spring Thaw downhill race and also won it in 2007. Weir won in 2009 and 2010.
Though he won the new BTI stage, Riddle finds it more challenging than the traditional Catwalk race.
"It's shorter, it's got a lot more corners, it's a different soil compound — decomposed granite — that when it's dry like today, there's not a lot of traction," he said.
Because he was riding for the All-Mountain win, Riddle was forced to alter his all-out racing style on Saturday's downhill stages.
"They were kind of conservative. I felt a little tired from the cross country race yesterday," Riddle said. "I was happy with second today. I didn't feel like I made any mistakes. I was consistent."
Weir finds the new Spring Thaw format to his liking, especially with two downhill stages raced within 15 minutes of each other.
"It's morphing into something that's more legit for the average cyclist, more riding, less waiting around," said Weir. "I'm all for riding my bike more."
The women's race was never in question, as Rosara Joseph, a native of Christchurch, New Zealand, won the cross country and both downhill stages en route to being crowned the All-Mountain queen. Joseph currently lives and trains in Bend.
While many of the men in this week's competition came to Enduro racing as downhill racers, Joseph raced cross-country as a pro on the world circuit for six years before getting into Enduro last year. She finds this Ashland course quite different from the international courses.
"X-C at the World Cup level, you have a lot of really short climbs, like 30 seconds to 2 minutes, so it's all very sprinty, fast," Joseph explained. "Yesterday, I hadn't raced up a long climb like that in a long time so it was a bit daunting."
Daunting, maybe, but Joseph still managed to edge out Carolynn Romaine in both stages, ending with a combined margin of victory of 24 seconds for a time of 8:27. Joseph was the lone women pro in the cross country race, finishing with a time of 1:53:32.
Joseph described the downhill course as "very fast trails, so I was trying to keep off the brakes as much as possible. ... To stay upright was my first goal."
Category 1, 2 and 3 riders also competed in separate divisions in Spring Thaw. A total of 173 riders in all divisions raced the cross-country stage, while 154 competed in the downhill stages.
For full results, visit the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association website at http://obra.org/events/21270/results.
Daniel Newberry is a freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org