2003 Mountain Bike Racing Season Preview
By Jay Richards
March 25, 2003
Expert Race Start at the 2002 Afton
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
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
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
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