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Vittoria is stoked to be the official tire sponsor of this world class MTB event. We caught up with the US Open of MTB founder, Clayton Harper and got the scoop on what goes on behind the scenes.
The first US Open of MTB was in 2003. What drove you to start the US Open back in 2003?
In 2003 I started Diablo Freeride Park at Mountain Creek Resort in Vernon, NJ. My partner and I leased the mountain and chairlift for the summer months and built out a full bike park. I was also a "mid-pack" pro downhiller in the early 2000's and was beginning to get fed up with the state of our sport as NORBA was fading out and we were racing for $300 prize purses. It was apparent we needed something bigger in the US. We had the facility and the know-how, so started to formulate a plan for an open class race with big prize money and a relaxed atmosphere. It wasn't until we had designed the event that we realized it should be called the US Open of Mountain Biking ha ha!
How has it evolved over the years?
The event has definitely gone through some changes. In the early years it was all about being hardcore and the aggressive track reflected that. The industry was different then too. In the US we had just lost the infamous NORBA National Series and World Cup was not nearly as popular as it is today, so the US Open stood out on its own. We paid big prize money, we were unsanctioned, and we definitely had some attitude. I stepped aside from the event in the mid-2000's and it ultimately wound up taking a hiatus from 2012-16. Fast forward to today and the scene is very different. The first thing we did when we brought the event back was add youth racing - that wasn't even a thought back in the day! The current Fox US Open is still a little loose and definitely not as structured as a World Cup event. We still focus on having a big prize purse and good times, but we're also family oriented and focused on growing our sport.
Speaking of evolution, how has the Vittoria brand evolved in your eyes?
Thats a great question! I think a lot of mountain bikers do not realize the history and pedigree of Vittoria. The company has been producing high-end tires since the 1950's and winning road and XC mountain bike championships along the way. In recent years Vittoria, made the move to also build world class DH and enduro tires. I've gotten the inside line on a few new tire projects in the works and I think the industry will be pretty stoked with what's coming too!
What’s the terrain like at Big Bear? Do you think racers will need to run the Air-Liner?
That will be an interesting debate. I think a lot of riders will look at what they've seen for Southern California DH over the past 5-10 years and assume it will be a smooth course. But I have to say there are some rocks on this new course that will be looking to get to your rims.
How do you think Big Bear will be different from Killington last year? Why did you decide to change the location?
The terrain is completely different - Killington is a dense east coast forest with really technical rocks, while Snow Summit in Big Bear is more open and arid, very fast too. It's also safe to say that the 2" of rain that fell during the USO at Killington is going to make the comparison of these two spots even more drastic! Big Bear holds a special spot in the history of mtb and in the 90's to early 2000's they had some world famous DH tracks. We're building a new DH track at Snow Summit this year that's going to put SoCal DH back on the map. We're even utilizing some old course sections. We're really excited to show the world.
We've been talking for years about hosting the USO on the west coast and it just worked out perfect this year. We were planning to host the event at Killington again, but they wound up pulling the trigger on a major construction project that was going to impact our venue. Working with the Alterra Mountain Company, we decided to move the event to Snow Summit. The resort has incredible history in the development of mountain biking and its proximity to L.A. and the coast is perfect. The staff at Snow Summit are very dedicated to the USO and we're beyond excited about their multi-year bike park development plan. The combination of geography, staff and common goals is going to be awesome.
In-N-Out vs. White Castle?
Ha ha ha....IN-N-OUT ALL DAY LONG! I never understood the obsession until I started spending a lot more time in California.
Last year Seamus Powell won the Pro Enduro (he’s riding Vittoria this year). Who are you betting on, to be on the Enduro podium?
I'd love to see Seamus on the top step again. I have to try to stay pretty neutral in my position though, since I'm kind of organizing the event you know.
What’s your favorite tire from Vittoria for the Big Bear course?
The Martello! It corners really well in a variety of conditions and holds its own due to its 4C and G2.0 compound. Speaking of which, Vittoria is the only tire company that makes a 4C compound!
How many hours of work have you put into this event? What’s the most time consuming part?
Oh man...I'm scared to answer that question! It's such a passion that I probably don't even realize how much I work. Maybe you should ask my wife (or maybe that's a bad idea ha ha!) I'm not sure what is the most time consuming part, but I tend to spend a lot of time on the phone just communicating and aligning all the players and components. The work load is a mix of marketing, planning, and some long days on the mountain. We've grown the event a lot in the past three years and like any business, that takes a lot of dedication. We're thankful for the help we've received from the team at Fox Racing this year - moving the event across the country is no small task!
Vittoria rider Jason Memmelaar, has been to all of the US Open Events. Do you see a lot of others returning?
Jason is such a great guy. As far as we know, he and George Ryan are the only riders to be at every event since 2003. The only caveat is that one year in the mid-2000's George broke his arm and didn't make it to the finals. We definitely see a lot of returning riders though. We want racers to have a good time and take home a memorable experience at the end of the day. Racing the US Open is a little different than most other events on their calendar. For one, we try to give amateur racers the chance to rub elbows with the pro's. Also, now-a-days it's interesting because we're seeing some older competitors come back to race. I think that the family aspect and the overall development of our sport attribute to that.
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