In the sleepy little foothills town of Grass Valley there is a private 240-acre ranch that boasts some of the best singletrack on the west coast. The ranch is owned by the Sanchez family and with their skills with heavy machinery and collaborative networking they have created what expert and pro riders alike consider one of the best enduro events in the world. Sure there are bigger races, but few are as well run as the TDS Enduro. For a detailed history of the event click here. Here are this year’s podium finishers. For full race results click here.
Bell Helmets “Fastest Man and Woman” Results
Tucked away on the side of a large hill, the Sanchez family has created a dizzying array of trails (over 20 total) that crisscross the land among towering conifers, through manzanita brush tunnels, down dry (sometimes) creek beds, across meadows, and even across jagged rocky mini-cliffs. Some are flowy with tall berms sculpted out of reddish clay loam that snake off into the distance and often end with a huge booter jump. Others are rowdier.
Thanks for such loamy goodness is owed to Casey Sanchez, the man behind the majority of the machine work. With help from pro riders from around the world, the trails incorporate nearly every kind of feature a mountain biker could want.
While flow trails and berms sound appealing, there are also plenty of more raw trails with rocky terrain, chunk and all things steep. I’m not embellishing when I say these trails are very difficult to ride and even more difficult to ride fast. Thus they are a big reason for this event to be designed invite-only. There are no beginner or sport classes. Beginners have no place on these trails. But there is no elitist attitude or vibe at this race. Instead, everyone’s No. 1 goal is safety. By restricting the racer list to pros only it creates a safer environment for riders and spectators alike.
Day 1: Stages 1-6
The weather was in the racer’s favor and the impending storm forecast for later in the weekend was thankfully holding to schedule. At 8 a.m. what sounded like a battle horn from a Lord of the Rings movie bellowed from the central staging area notifying the racers it was time to gather for the pre-race rider’s meeting. Ron Sanchez gave the morning announcement which included a quick rundown of sponsors, partners, what trails would be raced, and a quick safety talk. Racer’s also learned a little more about the Semper Fi Fund MTB Camp. It’s an amazing program that’s worth checking out.
Racers then climbed the hill and lined up at the gate while spectators made their way down the trail to find choice spots for viewing, photography or heckling. Spectators who got lost were greeted by women riders dressed like gnomes complete with fuzzy white beards and tall hats, who provided logistical information as well as directed traffic and kept the racer/road/spectator intersections safe.
Soon racers were zipping by in 30-second intervals and calls of “rider!” echoed from various points along the trail as spectators warned photographers, Loam Gnomes, and anyone else who needed to know that a rider was coming down the trail. As a wannabe photographer I found these calls rather helpful in getting set up to snap a shot that you have less than 2 seconds to frame a shot. Props to the real photographers out there. Your job is not an easy one.
As the day wore on a few riders dropped out due to crash-related injuries. No one was hurt too terribly but it’s never good to see a fellow rider go down. In each case, medics were by their side within moments and had the rider safely off the trail. By the end of day 1 at least 12 racers were out, most notably Marco Osborne and Joanna Peterson, last year’s TDS Enduro winners, as well as crowd favorites Mitch Ropelato, Shane Leslie and Ryan Rodriguez. This opened up new possibilities for past winners and fast newcomers alike.
Day 2: Stages 7-12
The cold began to creep in and clouds started dotting the sky. The smell of rain was in the air but with luck it wouldn’t fall until after the last racer crossed the last timing sensor. As it did the day before, the racer’s meeting horn sounded at 8 a.m. and they all gathered for the day’s announcement and instructions, which included the news that the event was slightly behind schedule and fear of rain loomed so racers would be shuttled back to the top after every run. The TDS fleet of Polaris Ranger UTVs was lined up and ready to go. This saved quite a bit of time and a lot of energy for riders already fatigued from multiple days of practice and racing.
Despite the drop in temperature riders were eager to start and the increasing cloud cover was helpful in combating the sudden lighting transitions from dark canopy to open sunlight the riders had to deal with the previous day. By stage 9 this extra visual assistance may have made racers a little more comfortable trying to reach ludicrous speeds in an effort to win Bell Helmet’s “Fast Man and Woman” contest. Stage 9 is comprised of fast swoopy turns and a long straight and steep downhill section with an equally steep upward G-out to sharp right turn. Speeds were measured on the fastest section of downhill and spectators were updated as each rider went by via a very loud walkie-talkie held by Debbie Sanchez – “35mph, 37mph, 41mph, 42mph! He’s gone!”
One stage 10 a couple of racers gave up just as they came into the brutally rocky and slick section of Red Beard Trail. They didn’t give up out of exhaustion or fear. They gave up the race for beer. That’s what kind of race this is. Beer is a vital part of this event and fun is more important than race results for most racers so when you feel the urge to pop a cold one simply pull over and some kind spectator will hand you a drink. With Ol’ Republic Brewery sponsoring the event and providing a seeming never-ending supply of custom brew can you blame them?
With 2 stages to go and the weather looking increasingly dicey the rest of the field pushed on. They completed the final stages with no major injuries and an exhausted group of racers and spectators made their way back to the central staging area for food, drinks, warmth, and the podium presentation.
With everyone gathered round the main stage, Ron Sanchez announced the winners as well as the loser who apparently mouthed off to a volunteer shuttle driver. The unnamed individual was subsequently asked to pack up and leave, never to return. This is a very homegrown event where respect is paramount and bonds are strong. With the announcements made, awards given, and podium pictures taken the crowd dispersed just as they had come in, from all different directions. Some headed back to the trails, some to their vehicles, and some back to the fire pit for warmth and more beer. Then the rain started to fall and within hours the rain was replaced by snow. It seems even the heavens smile upon this great race event and all who participate.