As the 2016 mountain bike race season comes to a close, final stops in the Pro GRT National Downhill series and California Enduro series went down a couple weekends back at the fourth-annual Mammoth Mountain Kamikaze Bike Games.
Few resorts have a history as rich in mountain biking as Mammoth Mountain. It's hosted numerous National Championship events, the televised Reebok Eliminator series, and the notorious Kamikaze downhill where white-knuckled racers reach speeds over 60 miles per hour while descending three miles of rugged, gravelly fire road. This year's Kamikaze Games featured four days of downhill, dual slalom, Kamikaze, enduro, and cross-country racing. Additionally, many riders who helped put Mammoth Mountain and the Kamikaze on the global mountain bike map were recognized in the Legends of Kamikaze race.
The final race of 2016 Pro GRT National Downhill series was the only event of the weekend with UCI clout on the line. Pro and Cat 1 racers faced off on the rowdy and relentless Bullet downhill track, the same course used for the National Championships two months prior.
When the infamous moon dust fell back to earth, 17-year-old Samantha Kingshill of Sacramento bested second-place finisher Heidi Kanayan by a jaw-dropping 30 seconds to win the pro women's downhill race, while Amanda Wentz of Reno brought home the bronze medal. Kingshill's Mammoth victory would also seal her first Pro GRT National Downhill series championship. The Pro Men's race experienced unusual drama, as Austin "Bubba" Warren of Alpine, California, hot off winning the dual slalom the day before was forced to come to a stop about 75-percent of the way through his race run to avoid the injured Walker Shaw, who'd gone down violently a few minutes prior and was receiving medical attention on course. Despite his race being derailed, Bubba continued his run and remarkably recovered enough speed to land in third place and only a few seconds off of the win.
A bronze medal and a Pro GRT National finals podium would satisfy most racers in the field; however, Warren accepted a rare re-run opportunity. He jumped back on the chairlift and a few minutes later put down a blistering pace which impressively erased nearly five seconds off of his previous time and dethroned then-leader Logan Binggeli by over three seconds in the process. Nearly as remarkable as his winning re-run was the fact that Warren raced on a borrowed downhill bike from Cam Zink and YT’s demo fleet in the pits. The men's Pro GRT National series overall title went to 20-year-old Shane Leslie of Birmingham, Michigan. He raced to to fourth place on the day, and clinched his first National Series Championship in the process. As Saturday's racing came to an end, a black-and-brown billow of smoke from a brush fire seven miles north of Mammoth Mountain in the Inyo Forest was barely noticeable.
By Sunday morning the fire had reportedly grown from 500 acres to 7000 acres and was 15-percent contained (or, 85-percent out of control). Racers woke to thick smoke and falling ash throughout the mountain village and bike park. Due to poor air quality, California Enduro officials granted riders the option of racing in the current conditions, or dropping out and receiving a discounted race entry for next season. Enduro racers from all categories were on course from 7 AM until the early afternoon, so it didn't appear many riders were deterred by the lung-busting conditions.
Forty-five-year-old World Cup Downhill veteran and multi-time 4-Cross World Champion Brian Lopes' bike handling and horsepower proved too much for the 50-plus competitors in Pro Men's field. He took the win over Sacramento's Evan Geankoplis and North American Enduro Tour points leader Kyle Warner. After four stages of racing, former Junior Downhill World Champion Kathy Pruitt edged out burgeoning enduro racer Lauren Gregg for the Pro Women's enduro win, while Auburn, California's Amy Morrison earned the bronze medal.