What goes up, must come down.
But that basic law of gravity was the furtherest thing from Milton McConville’s mind when he recently achieved it better than anyone else in his age category at the Canadian Open Challenger Enduro race that was part of the annual Crankorx mountain biking festival in Whistler.
Enduro is a discipline that requires riders to pedal their 35-pound dual-suspension bikes up the mountain before bombing back down again in a timed descent, then repeating it as many as four or five times.
McConville’s top run at Whistler concluded a successful season in which he also won races at Blue Mountain, Ont., and Camp Fortune, Que. Those results qualify the 15-year-old Port Moody resident, who is in Grade 11 at Heritage Woods secondary school, to compete against older, more seasoned riders from around the world next year in the World Enduro Series.
It’s been a long ascent since McConville’s dad, James, first taught him to ride in the family’s driveway when he was four-years-old. Which is just the way he likes it.
McConville, who also competes in downhill races, said he prefers the combination of fitness, technique and derring-do that is required to ride enduro where an event can last up to six hours. Chugging 1,000 metres or more up mountain trails or logging roads multiple times with other competitors is a great way to make friends, compare notes about bikes, talk about the day. But when they reach the top, the gloves are on, and their helmet straps cinched. It’s every rider for himself as each competitor tries to get back downhill as quickly as possible, often along steep, technical trails that twist through the trees or bound over rocks and roots. In an enduro race, only the downhill sections are timed.
“It’s the most fun,” McConville said of his enduro races. “You’re hanging out with your friends, chatting when you ride up. It kinda seems like that’s what mountain biking is all about.”
But the banter subsides when it’s time to point the front tire back down the mountain. That’s when McConville said he has to check his breathing, calm his excitement and narrow his focus because attacking the mountain with too much gusto can lead to mistakes. His two cracked helmets, a broken thumb and a concussion are testament to lessons learned the hard way.
McConville said the key to getting down the mountain faster than his competitors is making smooth turns.
“The race is won in the corners,” he said. “There’s so much technique involved to make the corners as round as possible.”
With his eyes fixed ahead to a corner’s exit, his heels down and his weight shifted to the outside, McConville finds himself in the zone, where the bumps don’t seem as jarring and the trail just flows beneath his Norco bike like a downward conveyor belt.
“It’s an awesome feeling,” McConville said. “When that happens you know you’re going fast.”
McConville, who earned his mountain biking chops on local trails at Bert Flinn Park, as well as Eagle and Burke mountains, said a chance to attend a training camp in Squamish last spring that also included several national-level riders showed him what it takes to be a top mountain biker, including their dedication to training and diet off the bike. And racing at Crankworx, the biggest mountain biking festival in North America, gave him a taste of some of the payoff for that dedication, like seeing his name in lights on the big video scoreboard and hearing his name announced to the crowd at the base of the mountain.
“It’s pretty crazy,” McConville said. “It’s just a huge event. It pumps you up.”