The eyes of mountain biking fans across North America and around the world will be on Ironton, Missouri, on May 2 when the Big Mountain Enduro (BME) series hosts its first race of the year at Shepherd Mountain Bike Park.
“Basically, we roll a mountain bike festival into town,” said Brandon Ontiveros, owner of BME. “The race is capped at 350, but we usually see four times that number in spectators. Given the current pandemic, we’re optimistic that we can run a normal event and have all the bells and whistles that BME events are known for.”
Those bells and whistles include a sponsor/vendor village at the bottom of the mountain — probably near the historic Iron County Courthouse on Main Street — as well as a spectator area and heckler zones, media and photographers, cold beverages, and marshals and timers lining the course.
“The caliber of racing and athletes in attendance will be the best in the world,” said Ontiveros. “There’s not a ton of vert, about 600 feet, but I think there will be some technical, good quality runs that will challenge all abilities. The riding will be raw. People are in for a treat…a challenging but at the same time fresh, new, creative trail that they’ve not seen before in the Midwest.”
The enduro format that BME follows consists of multiple timed race segments (mostly downhill) linked by untimed “transition” segments that often require pedaling or climbing. If you never again want to hear the words “three, two, one…go” and then have to sprint up a logging road, enduro racing might be for you, joked David Elkan, business development consultant for BME, who grew up mountain biking in St. Louis.
“I want to race the parts of a trail that I want to race. That’s enduro,” he said. “You still have to climb, but it’s not timed.”
Ontiveros credits Elkan for bringing Shepherd Mountain to his attention. This will be the first time BME has hosted an event in the Midwest; the other races take place in outdoor destinations like Big Sky, Montana; Winter Park, Colorado; Brian Head, Utah; and Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“[St. Louis mountain biker] Klinton Silvey was insistent about Shepherd Mountain, and we knew Alex Scott from Jagged Axe, who is building the trails there,” said Elkan. “One thing led to another, and I got down there to test ride it. I remember this one roll into a gnarly rock garden — steep, raw, narrow — and I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”
Once Ontiveros and BME event director Tony Wilhelms signed off on the idea, all that was left to do was get the City of Ironton on board. Mayor Bob Lourwood said those involved with developing Shepherd Mountain jumped at the chance. “BME is the premier mountain biking enduro tour in North America,” said Lourwood. “This will put us on the map as a mountain biking destination.”
Ontiveros said he would like to see high-end mountain bike racing in each state, which is one of the reasons he’s excited about Ironton. “I grew up in the Quad Cities, on the Illinois side, and I got into BMX and motos when I was young. Then, I went to college in Colorado and really got hooked on mountain sports,” he said. “Mountain biking is a great, healthy sport to be involved in, and with all the trails being built in the Midwest and around the country, we want to keep the stoke high.
“I tip my hat to everyone in the Ironton area for bringing us there,” Ontiveros continued. “The guys on the ground and behind the scenes with event logistics and connecting the dots with lodging and infrastructure have been amazing. A lot of people are making this happen, and it is a team effort. I invite everybody to come and check out the entertainment.”
Being at BME
There’s no fee to spectate at Big Mountain Enduro (BME) events, but some general safety rules apply.
“These are some of the top professionals in the sport bombing down the trails at race speed,” said Ontiveros. “People need to stay off the course and watch where they’re going.”
You’ll be walking through the woods, so wear the appropriate attire, bring the proper gear, and practice Leave No Trace principles. While there will be emergency crews on the course, they’re primarily there for the racers, so try not to create any unnecessary safety issues.
“We want people around the stages and being part of the event. That’s a huge aspect of the vibe,” said Ontiveros. “But be aware and cognizant of what’s going on. Ask our staff, the marshals, and the timers before approaching the course and listen to what they tell you.”
Author: Brad Kovach is the editor/publisher of Terrain Magazine.
Photos: By Eddie Clark. Courtesy of Big Mountain Enduro.