I finally felt compelled to raise my fists in celebration after I crossed the finish line. I didn’t come across the line in first, so why celebrate as I did especially in this society where if your not first your last? It has been a while since I put together a run that I was truly happy with and proud to call my own. Even if I ended up in 15th place, I would have been pleased with my performance.
Highland Pro GRT and National Champs - Brian Buell
I picked my brother and teammate Michael up at the Hartford airport on Tuesday afternoon and we quickly departed northbound to Highland Mountain Bike Park in Northfield, New Hampshire. Last year was the first time I got the chance to experience this place, and it sure didn’t disappoint. I was excited to get back up there to do some midweek shredding and to get Michael back on the bike as he had been in the Grand Canyon kayaking some serious white water. I was sure he would get back up to speed in no time and after one day of riding he was starting to feel like his old self again. I’ve always been impressed with Highland MTB Park, they do so much with what they have to work with and they have everything here from full on downhill, flow trails, dirt jumps, cross country to a legit slope style course. For a few extra bucks I got an experience of a lifetime by back flipping my DH bike 50 feet into their 50X50 AYR Bag, it was so much fun I had to do it a half dozen more times, probably the highlight of the trip so far. With so much to do here, it was tough to concentrate on racing as I had been so focused the last few weeks at the World Cups, so I didn’t fight the urge. I rode everything all day trying to have as much fun as physically possible.
The downhill track was the same one as we had raced last year, but the trail crew put some major work into it by smoothening out some rough technical sections and creating some serious flow. Out of the gate it was a sprint after a fruit bowl drop in to a table top and roll. After putting the pedal down hard for a few seconds the track diverted left into a tight tree section full of roots and technical chutes. Not much line choice was required on this track but if you made a mistake it would be very costly as momentum is your best friend. There are so many little things that make this track so much fun and if you can get the flow right you’ll be rewarded. After a high speed decent off of a bridge it is back into the trees and into a new cut loamy serpentine single track section. Over the course of the weekend this section would burn in and reveal its hidden rock slabs and diagonal roots. After navigating this new section it spit you back out onto the original track and the flow returned with some developed hard packed bermed turns and rhythm sections. A hard sprint into the last bit of the track sent you flying through the last few trees, up and over rock roll in chutes, big berms, and double jumps. This section is so solid and fast that you could commit one hundred percent and trust the track to point you in the right direction all the way down to the finish arena.
The weather was incredible this past weekend. Unlike last year where it was a muddy mess, a bright blue sky was a welcomed sight. I for the most part didn’t mind the sweltering humid heat. Michael and I had a good few runs in the morning practice session and were ready for seeding. Micheal in his first recorded timed run since April put together a solid time and into 22nd place primed to up the ante on the final run. In his final run he improved upon his time and moved up five spots to a very respectable 17th place overall. With some more time on the bike in the next two weeks he will be ready for National Championships. I had been so relaxed all weekend and felt like playing a little hackie sack before dropping in. This little warm up seemed to pay off as I finished in 2nd place, but I still had plenty of work to do to get that top spot. The competition for the top spot was very high, many of the top US contenders and some international athletes were out here competing for the top spot and the $1500 grand prize. I was excited on my seeding run result, but I knew that it was just one run and one that many just use as a warm up to their final run. As always, there seems to be about a 5 hour break in-between runs and instead of trying to conserve energy and to stay out of the sun like so many other I grabbed my Banshee Amp dirt jumper and rode the trails. I ended up even riding the cross country trails on my single speed focusing on finding the smooth line and having fun getting bounced around all over the place. Took one more run down the mountain to feel the flow and warm up a bit, even though I felt more than warmed up. This may have been the reason that I went into a really loose turn blowing myself up, smashing my ankle hard, getting dirt everywhere and tweaking my bike a bit. I dusted myself off quickly and thought it wasn’t the worst thing that I just got that out of the way. I spent a while up at the start before dropping in, and once I did it was over almost before it started. This track was short, half that of most tracks so the racing was extremely tight. I put together a great run, didn’t ride out of my comfort zone and felt I could have gone faster. I missed a few peddle strokes and that was about it, might have cost me the win but I wasn’t too concerned about that. My goal was to ride well and when I came down in 2nd place I was so pleased with myself. It had been a long time coming and to do it against some top notch competition was a plus. Justin Leov was the only rider standing between me and the top spot. He has been such a fixture in the World Cup and North American downhill scene that I was happy to be standing next to him in the top spot as I have always looked up to him. 1 second was the difference on the day, but I felt as though I had won because I had more fun than anyone this past weekend, and that was what I’m most happy about.
After sampling some of the best all mountain riding Asheville had to offer Michael and I made ours he two hour trip up north the Beech Mountain for the MTB Gravity National Championships. This is the 2nd year this race has been held here but it was a first for us in terms of new racing venue. This course was going to be short but packed in a little bit of everything. It took a few runs to find the flow and lines, but by the end of Thursday we were getting the slick upper woods, middle rock garden and big jumps dialed in. We made a quick trip to pick up Team Junior 15-16 Roy Benge and machanic John Hartmann at the Charlotte airport early Friday and pinned it back up to the mountain in time to get some l practice runs. Immediately fallowing practice was qualifying for Michael and I in the Dual Slalom. We were both stoked to have dual back and jumped at the opportunity to race. Being on longer travel bikes on such a smooth track with tight radius turns put us in a bit of a disadvantage over those who rode hard tails. Michael would qualify 10th and I ended up 6th. Immediately fallowing qualifying, John began dismantling the single speed setup on my Banshee Amp Hard-tail swapping drivetrain and tires making it race ready. The next day was downhill qualifying. It had rained off and on throughout the night leaving the track a little greasy but come the afternoon most of the course was perfect. Michael has been battling an injury and his goal was to keep it upright as he finished 50th looking forward to a stronger finish on race day. I didn't have a good idea how I stacked up on this track so I rode loose fallowing the main lines and getting drifty towards the bottom finishing in 6th place. Pretty happy considering I had to take my feet off a few times. Later that day we switched bikes and headed back up the hill for the dual main event. A beer festival was going on in the base and many patrons found there way up the hill to spectate which made this event really fun to participate in. The crowd was loud, my bike was feeling great and I was having fun. Michael gave it his all but could not make up a first run deficit and was ousted in the 1st round. I cruised in the 1st round finding my flow and then turned up the heat advancing to the round of 4 where I was narrowly defeated by .07 overall by number two seed Blake Carney. Cody Kelly and I put on a good show for the crowd as I took the heat and bronze medal. I was jazzed on the whole experience, I usually always have a great time racing dual and this was no exception. The support from the fans and my teammates really helped me push back up the hill as many times as I did. Rain fallowed that night and foggy morning conditions greeted us for morning practice. I was smoked from the night before and decided to session 1 run and to take a good look at the course trying to figure out line and tire choice. Racing began late in the morning and Roy was the first one of us down the track. He put together a decent run but was hampered by a few mistakes. Not what he was looking for, but it was a great experience and will help him in the future. After many hours of waiting Michael and I were making our way up the hill. The sun had been out and baked the track surface making for a quick track in the open sections, but in the trees word was it was still very greasy and slow in spots. Michael set out to improve greatly on his qualifying time, but was derailed mid run by a get off and hammered it across the line for a 39th place overall. Due to re-runs I was held up at the start for a half hour longer than anticipated. Trying to keep occupied I visualized the track, stayed warm and even played some rock hackie sac. Once on the track I got a hair off line and overlooked it into the first woods and over the bars, game over. I tried to give the crowd a show after dusting myself off and readjusting my brake levers but nearly ended up on the ground again through the rock garden. I put it onto auto pilot and rode to ride another day finishing 47th overall. It's been a long trip out east and I'm excited to head home. We'll switch it up next weekend as we pull out the Banshee Spitfires for the Colorado Freeride Fest, Trestle Enduro stage race at Winter Park. Thank you to all of our sponsors for supporting our journey.