The last competitor standing after the high-intensity event was none other than Telluride homegrown Life Cycles-sponsored rider Ernie Watenpaugh, who claimed his first career win in the pro division in the short track event.
The win catapulted this relative rookie into the big leagues, putting him at the top of the field to take the overall 2011 Series Champion title. Watenpaugh narrowly edged out fellow pro rider Nick Truitt by just over thirty points in a 2700-point season, to claim the title for the men.
“It was definitely my biggest weekend of the season,” Watenpaugh said this week in a phone interview from Fort Collins, where he is a senior at Colorado State University.
Taking the overall title for the pro men is indeed a laudable feat, especially considering Watenpaugh is relatively new to professional mountain biking. He competed as a teenager here in Telluride, but took a 12 year hiatus before coming back to the sport just last summer.
“I hadn’t ever really settled that with myself, and regretted that I hadn’t kept racing,” he recalls. “So I decided last summer to give it a try again.”
Watenpaugh went on to win every race he entered, and by the end of the season had been upgraded to the Pro division.
In this, his first season as a pro in the Mountain States Cup series, Watenpaugh took the field by storm, winding up in the top ten, the top five and even on the podium in a number of races (of which there are nine in the season, including one here in Telluride called the Full Tilt). Watenpaugh took fifth at the Full Tilt, following it up with a seventh place at the Blast the Mass race in Snowmass.
Those high-ranking results helped put Watenpaugh in prime position for an overall Series Champion bid, although the race for the top came down to the final event, the Sol Survivor contest at Sol Vista ski resort over Labor Day weekend. With his first-place victory in the short track still fresh, Watenpaugh carried his momentum into the cross-country event, placing second. The results gave him just enough points to eke out the 2011 overall season title in the endurance series.
Watenpaugh credits his illustrious rookie season to “a lot of training,” specifically with well-known mountain bike coach Gaile Bernhardt, who took Watenpaugh under her wing last season.
“She saw a lot of promise in me, and felt like I wasn’t even close to reaching my potential,” Watenpaugh says of his coach. “I definitely owe a huge part of my success to her.”
Watenpaugh also credits strong support from his hometown as a significant factor in this racing season’s successes.
“I’ve received a lot of support out of Telluride,” he says. “I’m really looking to take this as far as I can.”
Watenpaugh plans to compete in the National Series in its entirety next season, which will take him to races across the country. With a 2011 season title under his belt, Watenpaugh’s next goal is to garner more sponsors to help him with travel expenses for the National Series.
If you are interested in helping Watenpaugh with a sponsorship or with fundraising for his next season’s travels, he asks you email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.