Colten Jones, a sophomore at the University of Arkansas Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences, will miss a few classes during the spring semester while he's out of the country.
He's not studying abroad or conducting research. The environmental, soil and water science major will be experiencing different environments. Enduring them, might be a better description.
Jones, of Lake Ozark, Mo., is one of the top mountain bikers in the United States and in the world. He is currently ranked No. 14 in the nation and No. 63 in the world in the Enduro under 21 division. He'll be competing in Enduro World Series events and other races during the spring.
Endurance mountain biking is a one or two-day race and typically 20 to 40 miles. Each race has multiple stages and courses that are physically and technically challenging.
The timed stages are mostly steep descents with occasional small amounts of climbing. Between each stage, though, a competitor climbs to the start of the next stage.
While these between-stage transfers don't count against race time, which is usually between 15 and 60 minutes, they do take energy out of riders and can cause a time penalty if not finished within a set time. A single transfer can take up to three hours of nonstop climbing.
Jones finished second at the O-Rock Epic Enduro at Big Cedar, Okla., last April. In May, he competed in the Upper Buffalo Enduro at Red Star and placed second again. In August, he was 51st at the Big Mountain Enduro Aspen-Snowmass in Aspen, Colo.. These races earned him his current ranking.
"Being 63rd in the world for the U21 class is an insane feeling," Jones said. "I didn't know I had that kind of ranking for a couple of days. I received an email from the EWS saying I qualified, but hadn't looked into it.
"A few days after that email, I was on the phone with my dad between classes. He told me, and I was so surprised and elated. Knowing that verified the hard work and let me know I am actually getting somewhere with this, which is an unbelievable feeling."
Upcoming Enduro World Series competition events include the Shimano Enduro in Derby, Tasmania, the MET Val Di Fassa in Canazei, Italy, and the Northstar in Northstar, Calif.
He's also planning to race outside the EWS schedule.
"An EWS course is the most challenging, skill wise, and hardest, physically, out there," Jones said. "The stages are full of super fast, gnarly trail that is very hard to navigate and also very steep, sometimes exceeding a 20 percent gradient.
"Spending close to nine hours on the bike three to four days in a row adds in a very physically challenging part as well. The stages can vary greatly in speed, technicality and difficulty. And from race to race around the world, none of the races are similar."
Most of his local training is at Mt. Kessler and Mt. Sequoyah in Fayetteville and trails in Bentonville. He also schedules seven or eight-hour practice sessions on trails in Eureka Springs or through the Ouachita Mountains in Big Cedar, Okla.
"The terrain down there is super gnarly and great training," said Jones. "I usually only get to do that during breaks from school. I try to ride my mountain bike at least three to four times a week."
Training also includes riding a road bike 30 to 100 miles three or four times a week in addition to strength training several times a week.
"I always make a point to go to the HPER building after class before I do any homework so I know I get a couple of good lifts in every week," he said. "I actually hate lifting in the gym though. It's the only part of my training plan that I don't enjoy."
Jones got into mountain biking as a sixth-grader.
"He was good at it from the beginning," said his mother, Shelli Jones. "He would spend hours outside building and maintaining trails. He also built his own trails in our backyard. Sometimes he would spend more time building than riding."
In high school, Jones wrote papers on the environment and fell in love with the subject, which helped him choose his major. He also sees a correlation between his major and mountain biking.
"There is a lot to do with building sustainable trails and learning how the water runs off trails," Jones said. "Also just being outside all the time fosters a love for the environment and a curiosity for it as well."
Jones chose the University of Arkansas in part because of the trail system, the local mountain biking community and the opportunity to get deeper into his environmental studies.
His goals, as a first-time EWS qualifier this year, are to have fun and gain experience.
"My future goals for the EWS are to qualify in the pro class and continue to race as many EWS races as I can," he said.
"Right now, I'm in the U21 class, but this is my last year. I would love for it to become a full-time career. I know I have the ability. I just have to stay consistent and keep getting better. Hopefully, at some point, preparation can meet opportunity, and I can make a living out of riding my bike."
Sports on 03/12/2019
Print Headline: Mountain biker embraces endurance