National Mountain Bike Series comes to Deer Valley

By By Kirk Turner

By Kirk Turner

This Friday through Sunday, Deer Valley Resort will host the fourth stop of the 2008 National Mountain Bike Series.

As a professional under-23 mountain bike racer, I’ve seen a lot of different race courses over the years, but Deer Valley is one of the best. The classic dusty single-track and tight switchbacks are hard to beat, and this year promises to be no different. This national level race will feature races in five different disciplines: cross country, downhill, super downhill, four cross and short track. One of the great features of the National series race is that individuals of all ages and abilities can compete, from 55 year-old beginners to the pros, there is a category for every off-road cyclist.

The national cross-country courses usually consist of multiple laps on a 7-10 mile course with a few thousand feet of climbing each lap, producing a total racing distance of 20-30 miles. The number of laps completed by the racers depends on ability and category. The classic Deer Valley course is slightly different this year because of construction. It still consists, however, of a mix of single-track, fire roads, horse trails and the occasionally short pavement section.

For me, cross country racing has always been a blast, but it also involves lots of pain and suffering. For this course, the climb out of the start chute hurts, when you have 60 guys all with one thing on their mind: to be first. Most of the climb is not horrifically steep, and the descent isn’t all that crazy either. It keeps you on your toes, but never makes you think about life insurance. This race is an endurance test, and since the pros race at 2 p.m. on Saturday, the race promises to be hot, and hydration is a major factor.

Short track racing is a somewhat different animal all together. It is more of a high intensity effort where the course is one-quarter to three-quarters of a mile long and racers perform laps for 25 minutes. These shorter courses often have some climbs to slow the speed down a little and chicanes or switch backs with rollers to keep things interesting. Riders in danger of being lapped are pulled and the field gets whittled down in short order. The one who can tolerate the most pain usually wins. However, things like strategy do come into play.

Super-Downhill was a new creation a few years ago, but is steadily gaining a following. It consists of a Le Mans start (every competitor starts simultaneously on foot, and runs the few hundred feet to their bikes) followed by an extended downhill run that consists of roughly 70 percent descending and 30 percent climbing. The first person to the bottom wins. It can be pretty crazy, but it just might be my favorite discipline. Super-D is exciting because it’s a mix between cross country and downhill, but not nearly as physically demanding as an endurance race. Massive training programs are not all that necessary, but good handling skills and some stellar lungs always seem to make their way onto the podium.

Downhill is a different animal all together. First off, the chair lift brings you to the top, the bikes are much more heavy duty (many resemble motocross machines), and the runs are much shorter. Racing is done all against the clock. Seconds and milliseconds matter and crashes or mechanical problems often cost competitors the race. The one thing to mention about downhill races is they are fast. The technical sections are rough and competitors have to be on their game. Drops and gaps are also thrown in on occasion to make things even more interesting, and body armor is standard. Downhillers are normally a different breed, and there are not too many individuals that race both XC and DH.

Four cross and dual slalom have cross-over elements, they are basically like a BMX or Moto X track. Jumps, gaps and brims abound and these may be the most spectator friendly events of the weekend, though style is not important as speed wins the race. In four cross only two riders advance out of the four-man heats, so competition goes quickly. Dual is a little more complicated with each rider guaranteed a run on each course and then his or her times are averaged to see who advances.

Historically, the resort has not allowed these events to be held on the premises. That has changed recently so I can’t attest to the specifics. I surmise it will be a legit course compared to its various cousins on the mountain.

Some of these events are more spectator friendly than others, but there is something for everyone. If you’re a bike enthusiast and you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to race, or how to get started, this is the place for you. For a full schedule of events check out www.mtbnationals.com or for more information on racing in general visit www.usacycling.org.

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Art Nelson, Kirk Turner and Gregory Carpentor compete in a mountain bike race. The 2008 National Mountain Bike Series will make a stop at Deer Valley Resort this weekend.