By Katy Savage
The FOX U.S. Open of Mountain Biking is bringing some of the best athletes around the world to Killington this weekend. It’s also giving a chance for amateurs to ride with some of the biggest names and some locals are taking advantage of the opportunity.
Ashely Stearns, 27, of Mendon, is riding in the U.S. Open as an amateur for the second year in a row after she won the open enduro race, taking home $2,000 in prize money.
“When you hear that beep go off when you’re at the start gate, it pushes you a little harder,” Stearns said. “I wanted to see how I could line up against the best racers in the world.”
She finished 14th in downhill after a crash in a practice run. She plans to compete in both downhill and enduro again this year, though she admits the latter is her better race.
“It takes me a little bit to warm up,” she said. “I feel like I progress as a rider throughout the day. Downhill, you have to be perfect to be on the podium. As much as I like to say I’m a perfect rider, I’m not.”
She said enduro, a 3-hour race that crosses Killington’s peaks, allows her to make more mistakes and find opportunities to make up for them.
“Physically I find it to be more challenging,” she said. “Downhill doesn’t give you the opportunity to make those mistakes.”
Stearns, an avid skier and snowboarder, works as a massage therapist. She started competing in mountain bike races in 2019 at the pro and amateur levels.
“I spend all my free time on my bike,” she said. “I’m on two wheels almost everyday if not everyday in the summer. I’ve had a lot of time in the saddle.”
Stearns and her boyfriend, who is also competing in the US Open, spent her prize money last year on a SurRon — a type of dirt bike.
“We kind of foresee using it to help build trails when we have our own property,” Stearns said.
The win last year got Stearns local recognition and sponsorships from Base Camp Outfitters in Killington and Lawson’s Finest Liquids in Waitsfield. Stearns is looking forward to the event’s return.
“It’s my home mountain,” she said. “It’s cool to see elite athletes from all around the world. They can look at the trail just one time and just fly. It’s a super humbling experience. I ride here all the time and I’m comfortable riding the trails we have. They come in and they feel like you’re barely moving. They’re just incredible athletes and it’s cool to share that space with them.”