The third running of the Big Sky XC off-road race wrapped up today with another new winner in the pro division. Roughly 400 racers made their way around the rocky, dry course on Saturday and Sunday. Amateurs spent two hours grinding the Montana dirt into silt, and the main action kicked off at 12:30 for a three-hour showdown of experts and professionals. This was the final round of the AMA Western Hare Scrambles Championship and also counted for the Montana XC Championship.
David Kamo was the first rider to put his bike on the starting grid and the early bird approach looked to pay off as the pro class launched up the rocky start. Kamo was leading on his JCR Honda CRF450R as the pack rounded the sweeping, uphill right-hander. Unfortunately for the desert racer, the marbly surface took his front end and he crashed out of the race before it really got going. He retired before the end of the first lap. Husqvarna GNCC rider, Jason Thomas,
inherited the lead and took off in a mad dash to avoid getting trapped in dust. It’s much better to be making it, that’s for sure. He was followed by Jason Raines in fourth as the pack entered the forest and the course funneled down into single-track.
Thomas would hold the lead for two laps but had to retire due to mechanical issues. Many spectators watched from the main start/finish area which was adjacent to the small EnduroCross segment. Others who were more ambitious made the long hike to the rock garden which provided constant entertainment. The riders were forced to find their way through a nasty field of large, loose rocks on a very steep grade. Lap one saw nearly 30 riders scattered across the slope in a massive bottleneck. The carnage eventually thinned. With the leaders pulling off lap times around 35 minutes, there was plenty of time for the other racers to sort themselves out.
Top: Jason Thomas led for two laps before a DNF. Above: Riders found excellent single-track but lots of dust.
As riders started dropping out due to the harsh conditions, Washington rider Rory Sullivan started working his way forward. The Kawasaki rider started outside the top-10 and was forced to deal with what he called the worst dust he’s ever seen. It’s true, the dust was particularly bad, but Sullivan kept pushing forward and ultimately moved into the lead in the last lap or two. He had no idea he was leading and said afterward that he just tried to survive the three-hour torture test by keeping his mind occupied with the fun sections of the track. After claiming the victory, Sullivan was given the Nathan Woods Hard Charger Award. This is a new award that is dedicated to the memory of Woods, who won this race in 2010. The award was presented by Kevin Rookstool, Woods’ teammate in 2011 before he died at the Taft, California WORCS race.
Kawasaki landed its second podium position with a second-place result from Eric Bailey. The Scottsdale, AZ resident made it worth the long haul by snagging the runner-up. Making it more impressive was that Bailey sheared off the end of his rear brake lever around the halfway point. Big Sky Resort is a well-known ski destination thanks to its steep terrain, and for every arm-killing uphill the riders were faced with brake melting downhills. Somehow Bailey overcame a pair of crashes that resulted from his out-of-control descents and still managed to finish three minutes behind the leader. From the podium, the Klim-sponsored rider admitted to liking rough and rocky terrain, so the Big Sky XC certainly played into his strong suits.
Cameron Weaver picked up a very popular podium position by picking off third place on the final lap. Weaver hails from Bozeman, MT and the local crowd was pumped to see one of their own finish in the top-three. Weaver rode his Yamaha into third when the rider in front ran out of fuel on the last circuit.
2011 Big Sky XC Results:
1. Rory Sullivan
2. Eric Bailey
3. Cameron Weaver
4. Keith Curtis
5. Devan Bolin
6. Max Gerston
7. Lane Buchert
8. Justin Bonita
9. Mason Harrison
10. Rodney Spencer, Jr.