Chatting to Mark Rodgers – the man behind the Pinnacle Championships

“Pinnacle Bike Championship racing consists of 10 riders competing head-to-head down the mountain, dropping 1,500 vertical feet in under three minutes over natural, rough and steep terrain, launching gap jumps of up to 70 feet, plunging off 40 foot drops and reaching speeds of 60mph”

We’re pretty damn excited about the Pinnacle Championships – it’s a one of a kind, multi-rider race that’s being held in the US. It’ll see 100 of the world’s fastest racers battle it out bar to bar down a huge, natural track. It feels to us like something mountain bike racing has been waiting a long time for.

We caught up with the event’s main man Mark Rodgers for a chat to see what we can expect!

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Who are you and what’s your background?
I am a guy from Southern California who loves bikes and racing. My parents met at the MX track in Southern California as teenagers. They wanted my brothers and I to race BMX, instead of MX because they thought it was safer. But we ended up riding both. Then as mountain bikes came about my family started an accessory company called Qranc and based it in Big Bear, California. This got me into DH and allowed me to race all over North America, getting my pro license by 18. I ended up being better at business than racing. So while still racing I started a race team. We brought over these really fast Australian riders that nobody had heard of. It was Johnny Waddell, Nathan Rennie, Jared Rando and Chris Kovarik. It was a great couple years running the Qranc race team with those guys as the world was finding out who they were. As the mountain bike industry seemed to be taking a dip, I took an opportunity in the MX industry. There I was fortunate enough to work for some great companies, White Brothers, Factory Connection (owner of the GEICO Honda team) and ONE Industries. Then I started my own company to do some athlete management and marketing for MX and MTB.

And how did you come up with the crazy idea for the Pinnacle?
During this time with my own company, working with riders and talking to sponsors about exposure and value of sponsorship, is really where I decided that Pinnacle could be a good thing. When you think about bike racing what part of it is known as the highest level of the sport? Where do kids who love riding their bikes, dream about and aspire to race professionally? Myself and our team didn’t feel that was really out there. So we wanted to create the ultimate bike race that would consist of things that people love to do on bikes. Go fast, go off jumps and compete head-to-head with their buddies. The downhill mountain bike is the perfect equipment and the athletes in my opinion are the best bike riders in the world. We hope our format and course will showcase that on a broader spectrum.

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This is obviously a pretty big deal for you? Are you putting it all on the line to make this happen? Do you think there’s any pressure to make something like this work … especially as people have always wanted to see multi-rider DH happen?
It absolutely is a huge deal and yes I am putting it all on the line, just ask my wife. I have been working on this for over two year. A lot of our team have been involved just as long. But the pressure comes from our passion to create an exciting bike race for fans. If Pinnacle can entertain people who like bikes and get them to want to watch it on TV, on their computer or phone, or even better come out and see it live in person, then we have done our job. Our number one objective though is to get kids stoked on bike racing.

“Our number one objective though is to get kids stoked on bike racing”

And what has the reception been like from the industry so far? Are people stoked on the idea?
Overall the reception has been strong and they can’t wait to see it happen. But we understand it is a pretty drastic change from what people are used to. Like with anything new when things have been done a certain way for a long time, there is pushback. We just want to offer the industry another racing platform that hopefully will increase exposure for everyone involved. Like you said in one of your earlier questions, there are so many people who say that they have been wanting this for a long time. And that is in the industry as well. So hopefully we can do it justice.

It’s obviously pretty different to a normal DH race … Is it a reaction to the style/format of normal DH’ing? Are you trying to fix something with DH or add something that it maybe doesn’t have?
Not trying to fix anything. DH is awesome and I love DH racing, that is where I started. I will sit in front of my computer at 6 am in California to watch Ft Bill. We just want to offer fans a spectacular race with their favorite riders in it duking it our head-to-head. Also give the riders a really fun course and format of competition. We all got into bikes because we loved the feeling of riding. Then it grows into a truly burning passion to go faster on our bikes and find jumps and show our friends that we can beet them down the street or hill. That is what we want to bring out in our racing. And I listen to what the riders say, and what I hear the most is they want natural terrain.

“I listen to what the riders say, and what I hear the most is they want natural terrain”

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So tell us about the venue and the track? What’s it going to be like? What can riders expect? Can you give us a talk through of the track?
The venue is a really cool and unique resort called Waterville Valley Resort in New Hampshire, just less than two hours outside Boston with an easy drive right up the interstate. They actually have a great history. It was started by a two time American Olympic ski racer. He had great connection in politics and early on families like the Kennedys were regulars. Actually the first section of our course goes down a ski run named after Bobby Kennedy. They also hosted 11 alpine ski world cups races. So they like big events. They have never hosted a mountain bike event on their ski resort. The reason we chose to do our inaugural Pinnacle event in the North East US is because of the terrain. I raced a ton of NORBA Nationals at Mount Snow, Vermont. And the dirt was always loamy and tacky. The courses there would stay out on the open ski slopes a lot. They had a ton of natural rock out on the open ski slopes. So when we started detailing out how to build a spectacular course for our format, I knew we had to be in this part of the country. With that great dirt and rock, we can have 100% of our course on the open ski slopes. This allows us to build a really wide course to create lots of line choice and passing literally everywhere down the course. The course will be fairly steep most of the way, have a lot of that rock I mentioned, plenty of natural rollers, undulation and off-camber. Then we have planned 5-6 features of gap jumps and drops. But it will be a DH course. There is 1,500 vertical feet and the total course length is 1.25 miles. And the races can be filmed from top to bottom, without missing anything. The ski resort is on National Forest Service land. We had to work with them to get everything approved for our course and that was signed off in May. Right now it is all tall grass and bushes. This is getting mowed tomorrow so we can start pounding stakes.

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And the event isn’t just open to anyone right? Who can we expect to see racing?
Yes it is an invite only race. We have invited 100 riders. And it is all in one class. Fans can expect to see plenty of top DH riders competing from all corners of the globe. Plus some outside the box type athletes as well. Announcements for each rider will be coming shortly. We want to offer unique insight from each rider so they can let the fans into what they are thinking about Pinnacle.

Expect Mick to be back in time for World Champs in Norway.

Mick Hannah is on the list of 100 riders signed up to race. 

And you’ve got what, 8 weeks to go. How’s it all shaping up?
Yeah 8 weeks, it is so close we can taste it. I am in Waterville valley and will stay here through the Summer to ensure everything is dialed in. With the amount of work we have put into this over the last couple years, we are ready. Our team and the staff at Waterville Valley Resort are full speed ahead and have done an amazing job so far to make this a reality. I just got off the mountain walking the entire course again. For myself, sometimes I feel I can actually see the racing on the mountain already. That is how much preparation we have done. But of course there are plenty of details to check off the list over the next month.

And how can the UK fans check out the race … assuming they can’t fly over and watch for themselves?
Wideopen Magazine of course! We will have plenty of pre-race content to help bring the UK fans behind the scenes as we are getting ready. Also talking to the riders, course team and broadcast team. Then there will be a live feed available online of the entire 4 hours from start to finish of the racing on Saturday September 20th. We will take the race footage and edit that into a one hour TV show as well. still finalizing our TV partner in the UK. Keep an eye on PinnacleChampionship.com and our Social media for all the updates.

Thanks to you guys for the time. The UK mountain bike scene is mind blowing. I appreciate the UK fans for their excitement and passion already about our inaugural event of the Pinnacle Bike Championship!

For more from the Pinnacle Champs go here.

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