By John Higgins — 300 riders rendezvoused in Ketchum, Idaho for the USA Cycling Marathon Mountain Bike National Championships held on July 6th. After the scorching summer heat in the Utah valleys, the Sun Valley area was a welcome respite offering refreshing temperatures ranging from overnight lows of 45 to day highs of 85. Great mountain biking weather, coupled with great hospitality from our neighbors to the north made for a stellar weekend.
The 40-mile course was a two lap version of last year’s USA Cycling XC mountain bike nationals, climbing up, around and down Bald Mountain using the Cold springs and Warm springs trails. The start began with a stout climb up a service road behind the River Run ski base area, a technical descent back to the base, and then the bike path out to the sustained and long climb up the Cold Springs trail, leading to the blazing fast descent back to the base area. Oh, and a few other climbs were thrown in for good measure. By far the sketchiest section was the 30 – 40 mph descent down a loose gravel road to connect to the river run trail for the final descent on each lap. The finish line crowd enjoyed the thrills and spills on the spectator-friendly “rock wall” section. Some riders either took the optional but longer bypass or hiked their bikes down this technical section, which provided an abundance of opportunity for photographers looking for action wipeouts.
The event was not without some drama, starting with a rider pile up on the rock wall descent on the initial starting shake out loop, prompting a sudden course diversion between starting categories. This section was reopened for each successive lap. At the end of the first lap, riders who were without personal pit crew support had trouble finding their bag drop for resupplies, due to a reorganization of the bag drop area. Not a great experience to have at a national event, and a source of great aggravation and lost positions for a number of racers. As expected. the course extracted a price from bikes and riders, with each category reporting a number of DNF’s. Slashed tires and destroyed derailleurs contributing to the toll. Utah rider Eric Dupuis was one to suffer this misfortune.
Utah fielded some two dozen riders at the event, gaining notable podium results. First place results and a Stars and Bars jersey went to Dwight Hibdon (M60-64), Zan Treasure (M55-59) and Kris Walker (W50-54). All three riders added to their existing haul of National championship medals. Brad Betebenner and John Lauck also carried off podium medals in the M55-59 category.
In the M50-54 category there was much muttering of discontent about mountain bike legend and Sho-Air / Cannondale sponsored rider Tinker Juarez lining up for the start. He must have thought age was catching up with him, but he rode off from the front of the group to secure an easy win, with a time that would have placed him 14th out of the 40 deep field in the Pro Men. Old guys rock! John Higgins (M50-54) edged onto the side of the podium with Tinker for a 5th place medal.
Amongst the young guns, Aaron Campbell and Aaron Hagge rode strongly to finish 3rd and 5th respectively in the M35-39 category, while Josh Brown also picked up a 3rd place medal in the M19-29.
Fastest time across the finish line from Utah was Alex Grant (Sho-Air / Cannondale) who rode to an impressive 3rd place finish in the Men’s Pro/Open category. Alex is unbeatable in any race he enters in Utah, and has confirmed his standing as one of America’s top mountain bikers, having bettered his 5th place result at last year’s marathon mountain bike championship. Taking the overall men’s win and retaining his title from last year was Olympian Todd Wells riding for Specialized. The women’s Pro/Open was won by Alex’s team mate Pua Mata. Local rider Meghan Sheridan courageously took on the pro women, and proudly finished the course while realizing that going on a stout 5 hour hike the day before the race may have taken some zing out of her legs. The Sawtooth scenery is so enticing it’s hard to resist doing a spectacular hike, even if you go there to bike!