Carrabassett Valley Back Country Challenge 2018

Words and Photos by Matt Merkel of Leska MTB Racing

Since moving to New England five years ago I have become very familiar with making the weekend trip to Carrabassett Valley or “the loaf” for great skiing, and even better mountain bike riding. The local mountain bike chapter has gone above and beyond, continuously expanding and enhancing their extensive trail network.

I stumbled on this gem of a “race” five years ago after moving to New England.  Endurance racing was my go to compared to the more popular cross-country races. After signing up, I lined up at the start with 157 other racers. This turn out seemed huge at the time. Year after year local riders and land managers build more and more incredible single track making it an ever-growing destination to ride. This ever going network of trails, having been widely realized, created huge growth in participant numbers, topping out at 500 plus riders this year. The race continues getting better, bigger, and faster each year.

This year was my fourth go at this epic 100-kilometer race. I myself can never think of the day as a race but a means to cover ALL the best local single track with some familiar faces. Over the course of 64 miles, riders are faced with  approximately 6,800 feet of climbing. Not exactly your typical 100k race.

The race began and riders went through the outdoor center single track before heading up the resort. The first ten miles is comprised of smooth and fun rolling New England single track that is impossible to not enjoy, even when red lining. A solid group had formed in front of me but I stuck to my plan of riding smooth without hitting a dark place throughout the day. Heading up the mountain I was able to catch several riding buddies and continued picking up the pace.

The extremely dry trail conditions allowed for us to zoom through the ski mountain portion of the course compared to the last two years where it was muddy and wet. I entered the second aid station at mile thirty feeling good. However, I knew the loose, rocky backcountry was just starting. These miles were traveled solo but I was able to keep a fast pace. I rolled into the last aid station before I kicked off the Crommett’s final climb. In the past, this a spot I have bonked tremendously. This was the year where I got over the hump and was able to roll the uphill with good watt’s and not completely fade as I had done the two years prior. My reward was the flowy oak knoll downhill that takes riders back to the finish.

I love this race and was lucky enough to cross the line first in my expert age group and finished in the middle of the elite field in a time of 5:34. Everything went smoothly and I rode in my “happy place” all day. The aid stations were top notch as the volunteers took care of my bottle’s as I crammed my face with PB& J sandwiches and fig newtons. My Niner RKT 9 RDO kept me rolling well and had me grinning ear to ear with no mechanicals on a continuous choppy course. This slaying machine even left me with enough throttle to push it up the final climb for the first time. The Niner five star build held up to its rating providing absolute perfection. Super happy with the result and look forward to another great experience in the Carrabassett Valley next year!