Sunny midweek weather at Sugarloaf Mountain provided Adam Craig the chance to add some final touches on the mountain biking trails he and his modest crew have built throughout the summer.
Some extra stakes and tape were being placed along the several new trails, providing added direction and safety for an estimated 500 mountain bikers who will race down those rooty routes this weekend during the MAXXIS Eastern States Cup ESC enduro and downhill series debut in western Maine.
Practice is scheduled for Saturday with races set for Sunday beginning at 9 a.m.
The event represents a step in Sugarloaf’s effort to establish a lift-accessed mountain bike park with trails for all ability levels, part of the resort’s 2030 development plan.
The Eastern States Cup races will introduce mountain bikers from the mid-Atlantic states and New England to the beginning stages of that effort, which is being guided by Craig, an Exeter native who was the lone American to compete in the men’s mountain biking event at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
Craig is just as stoked to bring top-level mountain biking to his home state as those who will be competing on the new courses.
“We’re wicked happy,” he said. “We’ve got a bunch of new trails up here to share with everybody. We can’t wait.”
Sunday’s event will mark the eighth of 11 stops on the Eastern States Cup enduro circuit this year and has drawn a full field of 340 riders, in part because top finishers will earn points toward qualifying for the Enduro World Series that Sugarloaf will host next August.
“The Eastern States Cup enduro races are wicked popular but they’re limited by the amount of timing chips they have, so they all fill up,” Craig said. “Next year for the World Series we’ll have more like 650 or 700 racers.”
Another 150 riders from along the East Coast will enter the downhill races.
Competition for the enduro race will involve four stages in which riders are timed only on their descents. Riders will have approximately 10 miles of riding with 2,000 feet of vertical climbing on their bikes to reach the first two stages, and while those climbs are untimed they will add to the physical challenge.
“The Sugarloaf SuperQuad [chairlift] will be running to get the riders to the third and fourth stages, so they’ve got to earn some and then they get some for free,” Craig said.
The trails being used for the races range between 1 and 2 miles long.
“It’s not a super distance-oriented event,” Craig said. “The fastest enduro riders will have about 20 minutes of racing time on descents that they’re time trialing. For the downhill racers it will be about 5 minutes, which is a pretty long downhill course.”
Craig, the former top-ranked American on the International Cycling Union’s World Cup circuit, modeled the Sugarloaf trails after those he raced on while competing internationally for more than a decade.
“What’s unique about our trails is that everything’s pretty much hand built,” he said. “We’ve had a tiny bit of equipment to help us out from the ski area folks, but the trails are all hand built so they’re nice and rugged and they’re new.”
Craig encourages mountain biking aficionados from around the region and others interested in competitive events to check out the races as Sugarloaf begins its effort to become a destination for both competitive and recreational mountain bikers of all ages.
“We’ve put a map together with spectator points, but a bunch of the racing finishes at the base area so people will be able to hang around the base and see some of the action there,” he said, noting that the downhill course also includes jumps near the bottom.