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Midwest MTB Racing Recap

by Jay Richards
April 24, 2012

This weeks report includes exclusive recaps from Minnesota riders Matt Johnson who was riding the Woolly Mammoth Gravel Classic and John Reinan who made the trip west and raced in the big Sea Otter Classic. Also a look ahead to upcoming events showing up on the mountain bike radar.

Mammoth Gravel Classic

Mammoth Gravel Classic report from Matt Johnson:

This past weekend I drove from the Twin Cities to St. Croix Falls Wisconsin for the first ever Mammoth Gravel Classic. There is a great cycling community in St. Croix Falls led by the Woolly Bike Club. They have been hosting mountain bike races and building trails for a number of years. In addition to a Minnesota Mountain Bike Series event later this Fall, they decided to jump into the gravel game.

Cyclists gathered on main street in downtown St. Croix Falls and filtered in and out of the new Cyclova XC bicycle and ski shop that offered registration. They had two options, 35 or 70 miles. Both were free of an entry fee, you did however need a $5 trail pass since they utilized the Gandy Dancer Trail. They provided detailed course maps and directions. Much more detail than I have seen at a handful of gravel events. Actually a little more than I would have preferred since its tough to read rolling down a gravel road. The good news was that they marked most every turn on the course with signs, and most of us never had to refer to the map.

I joined about 100 cyclists on the 70 mile route. We rolled out of town on the pavement following the lead car at a reasonable pace. As soon as the car pulled off the pace quickened and I was spun out on my singlespeed looking for a drafting partner. Soon a few groups formed and we rolled along on the mostly flat pavement for about 12 miles. We hit the first gravel section, which was washboard and loose. There were a few rolling hills, nothing that put us in too much difficulty.

Next we rolled out onto another pavement section and the pace picked up. We were warned about serious sand at mile 18, mountain bikes were recommended in advance. Sure enough we hit soft sand that fat bike riders would have loved. It required some hiking and riding and a little more hiking on my cyclocross bike. It didn’t last long though and we were rolling on loose gravel again.

Just past halfway we hit the most serious climbing on a pavement section with repeated rollers. It was a little painful after pounding along at a high pace for the first half. There was one more solid section of gravel and then we turned onto the Gandy Dancer Trail headed back to St. Croix Falls. This last section was straight as an arrow, flat, and into the wind. It was a perfect place for a group to draft. I however made the tactical error of stopping at the Café Wren for a quick refreshment and rode the final 15 miles solo. The finish was low key, no numbers, no times, no finish line, just people hanging out telling stories about their ride.

I would recommend this event to someone looking to try something new. At 70 miles, about half of which was pavement, it's much less intimidating than some of the other gravel events. Yes, mountain bikes were the ticket in the sand. You could of course ride a cross bike like many of us. Matt, Mark, Keith, Frank, the folks at Cyclova XC and the Woolly Bike Club were great hosts and I look forward to riding in their events in the future.

 

Mark Fisk provides link for photos and adds a few words about the event:

"It was an awesome sight to see bikes, lots of bikes and cars with bikes on them lining main street. The staging area for the ride was an overlook on the St. Croix River - but most were not keyed in on the sights, most were keyed in on the ride ahead, the unknown course to most and the looming weather that could turn ugly."

Sea Otter Classic

John Reinan made the trip to sunny California which saw record warm temps greet riders. The Pro riders were excited to be racing on the infamous "long" loop despite not being "spectator friendly" as Geoff Kabush and Georgia Gould took the xc titles on Saturday after short track racing on Friday.

John's report:

I decided around Christmas that I would need something to keep me motivated for those all so boring trainer miles this last winter.....enter Sea Otter Classic. Sea Otter Classic is an enormous bike race in Monterrey, California with all varieties of cycling represented, road, cyclocross, downhill, cross country and dual slalom. I set my sights on the Category 2 XC race, 21.2 miles, not tons of elevation and Northern California which I love. The motivation worked great and kept me on track with my training plan.

I flew out to California on Wednesday before the Sunday race. I went to the venue, Laguna Seca Raceway, on Thursday to check in and that's when I realized just how big this event is, but registration went very smoothly which is impressive considering the number of competitors I heard ranges between 8000-10000. There are tons and tons of vendors setup all throughout the infield of the racetrack with every major manufacturer having tents set up and meet and greets with their sponsored athletes and all of them have giveaways and swag everywhere.

I pre-rode the XC course on Friday of race week and it went really well, with only one really tricky section of steep downhill sand about 10" deep. The XC course is 21.2 miles long with the beginning section being a prologue on the racetrack, and the rest being a good mix of singletrack, fire roads and jeep trails. The course is basically made up of climbing and descending two large hills with elevation range of about 800-900' and a total of 3500' of climbing in the Cat 2 race and two laps of that for Cat 1. There is a few longer sustained climbs on fire roads and a few in the singletrack. The singletrack is pretty narrow and some of it was rain rutted hard packed sand which made it just a little challenging but not bad. The most difficult section technically and physically was a singletrack climb about a mile long referred to as the "Goat Trail" some of it is a very narrow rain rutted path that gets a little interesting when it comes to the switchback parts. All in all a fun course with truly great views, I actually felt like a tourist taking pictures the first few miles of my preride until I had to actually tell myself to get to riding.

Race day comes and it is very foggy, to the point that moisture is building up on the outside of my sunglasses. So much for sightseeing this time I guess. My wave started off about 5th and had 41 starters in my age group. Start was uneventful and I actually was leading for a bit on the racetrack until I realized that leading at this point is not all that much fun and it is preferred to be a drafter and not draftee at this point. Got off of the racetrack in 8th place in my wave, things are going well but I'm being a little more cautious than I probably normally would be just because I didn't want to take myself out of a race that I traveled across the country for. One of the sustained climbs "The Wall" (think Stairway to Heaven in Red Wing only steeper) became a jam point and people were all off of their bikes, oh well at least it is everyone. I got to the deep sand section that I mentioned earlier and got a little crossed up and ended up having a controlled crash/dismount that cost me some time but came out unscathed but losing a few spots there. The rest of the race was pretty uneventful, I got hooked into the lead group of a later wave just when I got to the Goat Trail so that was good for motivation. I started to cramp up with only 2 miles or so left in the race on the last of the rolling fire road climbs but pushed through with the motivation of a fellow racer that came up from behind and kept calling for me to keep going and go faster. All in all I was happy with my finishing time of 1:43 and placing 11th of 41 in my age group.

I had a fantastic time at Sea Otter and am strongly considering making this a yearly winter motivator for me. It was great getting to watch the pro dual slalom, seeing noted pros like Rebecca Rusch and just being surrounded by 50,000 bike people in a great setting like Monterrey.

 

Sea Otter is the place for early season looks at the latest and greatest in mountain biking developments and

Bicycle Retailer takes a look at the 650b movement on display at Sea Otter.

 

Looking Ahead

As mentioned in last week's report, Iowa is the place for early season mountain bike racing as many Midwest riders have made the trek to Decorah for the Decorah Mountain Bike Time Trials. The course winds through the rolling, wooded areas of the Decorah Parks System and includes lots of technical single track, some along the river. Riders are released singularly on 1-minute intervals starting at 10:00 am. This year's course will be approximately 6.2 miles (10K).

Maplelag Spring Opener: Probably should be titled "summer opener" with spring coming early and even a few summer like days already! The mountain bike trails are in great shape and the early season riding has been amazing especially when many years we still have been skiing. Short and sweet will be the theme, racing on the full loop as two races providing a grass roots feel and celebrate son Jake's graduation from high school!

Farther down the calendar to keep in mind for the summer is the mountain bike event of the CXC Triple crown, the Telemark Forest mountain bike festival. The course will be non-technical following wide ski trails, fire-roads and two-track trails, making it suitable for those who are newer to the sport or who are less comfortable with “curvaceous” trails.

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/Paramount mountain bike team and enters his 22nd year of racing and promoting mountain bike races.


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