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2003 Mountain Bike Racing Season Preview

By Jay Richards
March 25, 2003

Expert Race Start at the 2002 Afton Alps Race

With the minimal snow cover this year and the rapid warm up, the ground in the majority of the Midwest is brown. Most folks have made the transition to running, biking or recovering. Mountain bikers are eagerly waiting for the frost to pull out and the trails to dry. Some of the downhill areas have hardened up and have been offering some nice early season riding.

The biggest news in the mountain biking scene is the absence of the Minnesota State Championship Series (MNSCS). Failure to secure a title sponsor was one of the biggest reasons why the MNSCS wasn't able to continue this year. However, all the races that were part of the series last year, except for the Cherry Bomb, will be held. The promoters of the Cherry Bomb have reported some bridge issues with the DNR into the Plowline trail, so the Cherry Bomb will be on hold for one year, then back in action in 2004. The MN racing season will unofficially kick off on May 10th at Buck Hill and finish up on Labor Day weekend at Maplelag Resort. Last year, over 400 racers pulled into Buck despite rain, mud and 40 degree temps. The MNSCS is maintaining a message board which contains information related to mountain biking in Minnesota, as well as opinions and thoughts on the ATB racing scene. The racing schedule for the summer is located on the site as well.

The Wisconsin Off Road Series (WORS) enters its 12th year as strong as ever. Highlights this year include short track events at 6 of the 12 venues, a joint venture with the Midwest Mountain Bike Festival (formerly Pedro's Fest) with a single lap marathon race at the Levis Mound area near Hatfield and its first ever mega-event in early June with the introduction of the WORS Cup Stage Race at Devil's Head Resort near Merrimac. Planned activities include mountain bike stage race (time trial, short track, & cross-country races), trail run, bike swap, metric century road ride, downhill, dual slalom, trials competition, consumer expo, and musical entertainment. WORS continues to amaze MTB riders around the country with huge fields and races suited for all abilities.

Doug Swanson leading Jeff Hall and Dan Swanson during the short-track race at Laddies Loppet last fall.

Other options for mountain bikers this year include races in the BLAST series. A good "fitness tester" is the Burly Blast classic on May 3rd. It is held on the trails at Hillside Park in Elk River. A fun course with nearly all singletrack. The BLAST also promotes epic races that last 5-8 hours in duration.

For riders living in western Minnesota or those looking for a change of pace, the racing scene in North Dakota should be checked out. Don't laugh -- there are some great races in ND! One thing I like about the ND Cycling Federation is a membership. For only $15 riders can be a part of the federation. Although the rider numbers are lower, this is the way to go. (States such as Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and California have seperate organizations, and with membership numbers from 5,000 to 20,000. This might be a something that could get the MNSCS up and running again!) Anyway, after a one year hiatus, the Prairie Nights Casino race returns. This is a great race basically located in the middle of nowhere (feels that way anyway). Actually it is located 40 miles south of Mandan, ND. I raced there the past two years it has been held and it is a really fun race. The prize list has been huge, drawing top regional riders like Steve Tilford, Jeff Hall, Geno Obrepriller, Phil Busching, and Bill Stolte. The big buffet at the casino afterwards is one of the highlights. I also highly recommend the race in Jamestown, ND, the Gear Grinder. Russ and Dean are always tweaking the course and rumor has it that they might be adding a second race at a totally different location. There have also been races at Medora, utilizing the classic trails of the Mah da Hey.

With no Nationals in the Midwest this year (last year Alpine Valley, WI hosted a NORBA National) the Nationals at Schweitzer, ID and the long running event at Mt. Snow, VT look to be the best bets. Sandpoint is a little bit lower in elevation compared to other west venues and is located near the beautiful town of Sandpoint, Idaho. I have raced there a few times in the past in the WIM series races and the course is a typical mountain course with sustained climbs, rocky singletrack and signature dust if it is dry. With National status at this event, I expect Gino and Wendy to come up with some technical, gnarly stuff for the pros.

A newer event held later in the summer that has gained in popularity is the 4th annual Ore to Shore Mountain Bike Epic weekend on August 8-10, 2003. This race is similar to Chequemegon as it is point-to-point and is about 45 miles in length. There are also shorter races including three kids races. A great event for the family. Minnesota riders Jeff Hall and Kyia Malenkovich have done well here in the past.

The highest ranking race in the Midwest this year (USA Cycling-wise) will be the American Mountain Bike Challenge (AMBC) race at Maplelag on Labor Day weekend, Laddies Loppet. A fun event for the whole family with short track racing on Saturday and the cross country event on Sunday. Laddies Loppet will also be part of the Alison Dunlap Junior Olympic series. Top placing Junior riders at Maplelag have the opportunity to participate in USAC sponsored training camps to help develop junior riders.

Climbing up Fire Tower Hill, 2002 Chequamegon.

Last but not least, the typical end of season race for most riders is the Chequemegon Fat Tire Festival. The March 15th deadline has passed for riders to earn their chance to be one of 2,500 riders in this epic event but the set of events on Sunday are always open.

Although there won't be a series for racers to check their standings against one another this year, the competition will be running high in Minnesota. Jeff Hall and Doug Swanson will be battling at the front. Rumor was a handful of riders from Minnesota were in Arizona this spring cranking out huge miles. Jesse Rients putting in two-a-days and 20+ hour weeks and Brian Narum pushing the big ring all day on the rollers. My money is going on junior rider Chris Ziegler of the Detroit Lakes area. He is taking the spring off from track, and instead has been putting in some nice miles and pumping iron in the weight room.

Although the MNSCS is out of action for this year, there will be plenty of racing and lots of options (don't forget the midweek series at Buck Hill and Afton Alps for the metro folks). Remember to wait to hit the trails until the frost is out of the ground and have fun cycling!!

About the author...

Jay Richards maintains a very active lifestyle. He somehow finds time between managing a full-time resort (Maplelag) and bringing up a family of four boys with his wife Jonell, to compete in both mountain bike and cross-country ski races. Richards finished second overall in the MNSCS expert series last year and 11th in the Chequamegon, and has notched top 100 finishes in the Birkie the last two seasons. Jay rides for Bokoo Bikes, located in Chanhassen

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