Midwest MTB Report

by Jay Richards
May 3, 2016

The mountain bike race season kicked off to a grand start this past weekend with the opening race in the Minnesota series, jumping across the border to Saint Croix Falls, WI. A record number of 550 riders and change hit up the popular Woolly Bike Club built trails that saw ideal racing conditions under gorgeous weather. Racers to the south in Iowa also got into the mix with the long time running Decorah Time Trials and the Wisconsin Endurance Series kicked off at Levis Mound Trail system in Hatfield, WI with the Buzzard Buster. This weeks report includes a full recap from the Woolly, a look ahead to the second race in the Minnesota series which will be held at the reborn Detroit Mountain and mountain bike related news and notes including events happening today...read on!

Saint Croix Falls Woolly

The opening race in the Minnesota series fell on one of the earlier dates in recent years. For Midwest riders that don't ride during the winter months or not keen to stationary bike or rollers training, an early date can pose a challenge to training in the spring. But thanks to a relatively nice spring with dry weather, despite slightly cooler temps, most folks were able to get riding in not only on the road but many mountain bike trail systems opened up early to mid April. And, unlike 10-15 years ago, it seems like a lot more people are riding through the winter thanks to the evolution of the fat bike. Also, the explosion of gravel events is a good way for many riders to log some massive miles with good company to prepare for the race season.

May is a busy for our household with spring activities and two graduations on tap with a college and high school graduate. However the Woolly date was open on the family calendar and I made plans a month back to attend. Being a hard core skier and huge fan of winter, naturally, I usually don't start riding until mid March and always try to stretch the ski season out as long as possible. Despite being a relatively dry April, the cool weather kept me off road and on the forest trails and singletrack once it dried out, thanks a early departure of the frost. With that said, coming into the first race with great form isn't a huge priority and the chance to ride in the raw and gnarly Paul Bunyan State Forest with teammates the weekend before the race takes precedent over doing a fitness ride on the road or what not that might better prepare me for "racing". With that said, after racing for over 25 years and having to deal with Lyme disease for almost five years, I'm just happy to be riding my bike and seeing all the familiar faces at the race that I've met over the years along with meeting new folk.

Photo: TMB Images

The Woolly Bike club is an enthusiast crew, taking great pride in their trail system and their hand built work right in the the community of Saint Croix Falls, in fact the course passes through a neighborhood! Coolio! The Woolly group has a great sense of humor, realizing weather is beyond anyones control and a great example of not letting a situation take control, but take control of the situation. Very wet conditions leading up to race day put the May 1st date in jeopardy but the call was made mid week to carry on with the original date based on a favorable forecast for the weekend. Wet trails kept riders from pre-riding until late Friday but thanks to low humidity the course dried up nicely and by race day, the track was buffed and polished to perfection. Sa..wheet!

I made the trek to Saint Croix Falls the morning of the race, pulling in a little bit later getting hung up in traffic east of Saint Cloud. I rolled in to the school parking lot that was jammed pack and riders out on the road warming up for their race while the current sport and marathon races were going on. At registration bumped into the usual suspects including the ultra friendly Tucker and Mandi Hibbert, catching up on happenings, all the while race director Mat Fisk was back at the office printing off more registrations due to the massive turnout. (Mat, missed talking to you). A team photo with the Maplelag team followed by a very short warm up for 10 minutes - it was time to race! I rolled to the back of the staging of the Expert/Elite with the plan to roll from the back and hopefully work my way up during the race.

The start looped around a soccer field before heading in to the main trail system that feature segments of singletrack linked by paved or gravel bike paths. The rollout start strung out the field nicely but with the large number of riders, there was a little big bottle necking going into the first short section of singletrack before the paved path. I moved up a bit in the starter loop and was happy with my position with fellow team mate Ben Olson a few riders up, with plans to bridge up to Ben before the end of the lap. The string of riders continued up to the first rock garden which forced everyone everyone off their bikes, unfortunately, as this was my favorite part of the course and a bit surprised not to see more spectators in this section as in previous years. However, as expected, the field split apart and the next three laps allowed for clean riding through the rock garden. Fun stuff!

Near the end of the first lap I quickly found myself in no mans land riding solo which I was hoping to avoid. But a rider came from the rear and I were were able to close the gap to Ben's group right before the soccer field and start of the second lap. However, Ben's group made a surge in the soccer field and I couldn't match the effort and didn't want to dig too deep trying to do so with a lot of racing left. Not having the best warm and adjusting to racing I was still trying to find a comfort zone but that really can't be expected in mountain bike racing!

The last three laps I see sawed with Ed Alpasa and Joe Surla. It was fun riding with these guys as they have been doing the racing thing for a while in fact Joe and I were on the "Cheap Team" back in the 90's which was the first team for both of us. Dang, time flies. We were able to pick up a few riders and move our way slowly up in the field. The last lap I was feeling pretty good and could tell I was getting closer to Ben and saw I was gaining on long time racer and the every present in cycling endeavors, Jay Hollywood Henderson. Our small group had to manage lapped traffic the last few laps which made for another challenge but it worked out fine and everyone was in good form showing good sportsmanship.

The final climb up to the "erratic rock" segment I knew would be the place to gain time before the fast fun and flowy descent to the finish. I put in everything I had, loosing Joe but the course was ripping fast and Ben and H-Wood were drilling it while jockeying for position making it challenging to move up. As we neared the end of the lap I was maybe 5 seconds back on those guys but at the start of the soccer field Ben drilled it trying to drop Jay knowing he was ultimately settin up nicely for the sprint. I had the rear view of the sprint as H-Wood just edged out Ben. Fast race, fun finish that was good racing and felt solid for the first race.

Photo: TMB Images

In the women's elite race, Corey Coogan Cisek rode here way to victory with a cyclocross bike in a close race with second place finisher Megan Barr just four seconds behind. Stacy Kalemkiarian, Anna Christian and Andrea Horner rounded out the top five respectively.

Photo: TMB Images

Post race had a short spin with Ben and his son Jake replaying race highlights than made it back for awards talking to overall winner Jeff Hall who crushed the field in a custom half-fat by LaMere cycles. Jeff and I talked about races of old back in the day including the old Spirit Mountain course which we were both pumped to see back on the MNMBS series and most recently Jeff's win in the Chequemegon 40 last fall, detailing the race and tactics that went down. Great stuff. A quick snack at the infamous drive in at Taylor Falls than made my way to Duluth to visit Jake including a sweet ride at the Piedmont trail system early Monday morning before making it back home for evening chores.

Great job to the Woolly crew, volunteers, and MNMBS crew for putting on a fantastic first race of the series and setting up another super season of mountain bike riding and racing!


Photos from TMB Images 

Photos from Adam Emanoff

Up Next

A month break until race #2 in the Minnesota Series, the Detroit Mountain Shakedown. Riders will head northwest to Detroit Lakes, hitting up the slopes and new flow trail built last summer at Detroit Mountain. Comp and Expert riders will be treated to classic hand cut singletrack at the Mountain View Recreation Area adjacent to Detroit Mountain. I touched base with Detroit Mountain "trails boss" Tony Schmitz and he provided details on the course including specific trail names for those familiar with the trails:

Photo of Mountain View Recreation Area Singletrack

Kids Comp and Citizen will be a mix of our Freshly Built West Side Singletrack along with doubletrack/ski trails and a few sections of our bermy and fast East Side Flow Trails. Sport Race will start out with a fast roll out around the west side of the ski hill and a climb up the north side before entering all of our East Side Flow Trails and finish up the lap with our freshly built West Side Singletrack. (2 laps). Comp/Elite/Expert - Same as Sport Race With additions of Mountain View's tight and twisty singletrack, and adds the switchback climb up Sasquatch (up the face of Bad Medicine Ski Run "Old Chipmunk" ) and leads to a fast decent down Peek-a-Boo before dumping back into the East Side Flow Trails for lap 2. (**Comp only does 1 lap at Mountain View) NOTE: Subject to change.

Sunday will feature a long and short time trial.

Happening Now!

Mountain Bike Videos Short Films

The Parkway Theater in Minneapolis will be host to a evening (tonight!) of short mountain bike films titled the GiddyUP! Film Tour, featuring many female riders and female produced films.

Penn Cycle Thursday Night at Buck Races

The popular Thursday Night Buck Hill races kick off today for another season for mountain bike racing fun. Seasoned grizzled vet John Sandberg provides a report on how he keeps young and fresh:

The summer of 2016 marks the 25th Anniversary of the Penn Cycle Thursday Night MTB races at Buck Hill. Might be hard to believe those of us who have been running and riding these races for two and a half decades are still there every Thursday, but the laid back and easy going vibe of these family-friendly events makes everyone feel young and fresh.

The deal now is the same as it was 25 years ago, only better: We have classes for beginners, regular racers and speed demons, with entry fees that top out at just $10! (That's the same as it's always been.) Plus we have kids' races bunched according to age and starting with training wheels, for free! It's a very different atmosphere than weekend races. WAY laid back and festive. Having 40-50 kids 10 and under doing laps in front of the chalet, with all the adults circled around cheering, is really cool.

Some people use these races for training, some use them for skills, some to try out the sport of MTB competition, yet all return for the fun. Races start on May 5 and run every week through July, with special themes each week during this anniversary season. 

News and Notes Looking Ahead

MW MTB Camp at Lebanon Hills

The fun fast flowing network of mountain bike trails will be host to summer camps for kids in July.

Fat Bike Fun

The fat bike has exploded the past few years as we all know, I think more so in Europe! It's great to have another option and maybe the only option for some who have become keen to a ride with super wide tires. The Grand Forks Herald recently had a nice article on the growing popularity in Grand Forks.

More Trail on the Shore

Mountain Biking at Piedmont near Duluth

The development of trails has exploded in recent years, and we've tried to stay on top of all the new systems being developed in the Midwest in recent years in the Midwest Mountain Bike report. The latest news comes from the Duluth area where plans are to build a backcountry network north of Duluth on the Splitrock area utilizing tax forfeit land which would feature nearly 50 miles of singletrack to the tune "$30,000 to $60,000 per mile", said Jim Shoberg of COGGS. The majority of the funding is anticipated to come the from legacy grant as part of the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission.

Gears Greenbush Grinder - WEMS #2

Race #2 in the Wisconsin Endurance Series hits up the Greenbush trail system in Glenbeulah making for some serious racing back to back weekends!

Fat Tire Triathlon

Suzan Mouw contacted us to herald the return of the Fat Tri near Telemark, WI:

Due to popular demand, the organizers of the Fat Tire Triathlon decided to bring the race back. One of the largest off-road triathlons in the country, the race originally took place at Telemark Pointe, a Telemark Resort property 9 miles east of the now-defunct vacationland destination.

For 2016 the Fat Tire Triathlon will be moved to a new venue at Lake Silverthorn in Seeley, WI, ten miles north of Hayward, WI. Race date is Sunday, August 21st. The event will again... feature a short and long course. The swim takes place on the sandy beach of Lake Silverthorn, a small picturesque lake surrounded by pine trees. The off road bike and run courses traverse the rolling hills of the popular Seeley Hills trail system. 

Happy Mothers Day to all you Mudders out there...Keep the wheels moving!

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 a few cross-country ski races. Jay rides for Maplelag Resort, manages the Maplelag/LaMere/Paramount/Jake's Bikes mountain bike team and enters his 26th year of racing and promoting mountain bike races.

Have an event or mountain bike related information to share from the Midwest? Feel free to contact Jay at