The Battle for Townsend’s Ridge is quickly becoming one of my favorite mountain biking events of the year. Not just because I podiumed for the first time in an Arkansas Mountain Bike Championship Series race last year, I didn’t have that kind of luck this year. It’s more about the “vibe” of the event. Yes, I said “vibe”, maybe I’m a bit influenced by the Wakarusa Music Festival that also happens in the Ozarks on the same weekend or maybe I’m just an old hippy.
The trail is beyond fast. The Hidden Diversity Multi-Use Trail handles water exceptionally well. The day before the race, the trail hosted the War Eagle Tailtwister trail run. It poured down rain before and after the run yet the trail was never in danger of hosting large areas of standing water or mud. This trail drains so well that when I showed up later on Saturday afternoon to pre-ride the course it was ready for racing. By the next morning it would be perfect. The Cat 2 and 3 course uses the Little Clifty section of trail for just shy of a 9 mile loop with two climbs. The trail is a test for riders to see how little they need to use brakes. The eastern section of the trail that follows Piney Road and the western section that follows Townsend Ridge Road are in my top five sections of trail in the state. The Cat 1/Pro course adds in some more climbing by using the War Eagle Loop section of trail.
This race is fully supported by the Ozark Off-Road Cyclists (OORC), Friends of Hobbs and the State Park staff. The OORC crew has it all figured out, from course maintenance to set-up, everything rolled well. This group is working hard to create, protect and maintain mountain bike trail all over Northwest Arkansas. I refer to them as trail builders with a mountain biking problem. They do a lot of work for many of the other mountain biking events in Northwest Arkansas including the Ozark Mountain Bike Festival at Devil’s Den and the Fat Tire Festival at Eureka Springs. Look for more great things coming from these mountain bike enthusiasts in the future and support them any way you can.
The park staff and friends group worked tirelessly to make sure everyone was safe and had easy access to the event location. They do a lot of the trail maintenance on the park trails and work closely with user groups like the OORC to make improvements to the trails and resolve course management conflicts. We couldn’t have these incredible trails to ride without them.
I’m not sure that there is another mountain bike race in the AMBCS series that attracts more kids (maybe Eureka Springs Fat Tire Festival). The kids races were well attended and OORC does a great job of keeping them involved throughout the day. A skills course was heavily used by the kids once they were done with their races. They also had a chance to try their hand at some trail building with an extension of the skills course that included a “Gravity Cavity” feature. A limbo bar, and push up contests kept them engaged while we all waited for the awards ceremony.
The race has it’s own band, Nu Onion. Two guys brandishing an acoustic guitar and drum kit that played everything from Prince to Johnny Cash. Hamburgers were provided plus the folks from a soon to be open restaurant in Bentonville, Pedaler’s Pub, brought in a pizza oven on a trailer to make custom pies. Phat Tire Bike Shop was there to provide neutral bike fixes and a tent was set up to dine in. We ate our fill and hung around for the awards ceremony. Custom wood cut “medals” were handed to the winners on top of custom designed podiums. A drawing was held for various swag including tires, clothing and gear. We stayed longer than usual, it was so hard to pull ourselves away from fun and friends.
Oh yeah, The Race
Personally, I rode well but didn’t race well. I held too much back for too long and spent the last few miles playing catch up which wasn’t enough to grab a podium spot this year. It did afford me some fast fun riding. The course went clockwise, the opposite direction of last year’s race. A fast dirt road section of about 1000 yards before dropping in to the left and the first downhill. I rode the tail of my 50+ Cat 3 group with only one or two people behind me. After negotiating some tight switchbacks we crossed a small bridge and began our first real climb. Along here a couple of guys stopped to grab some air and another had some sort of mechanical allowing me to move up a few places.
Heading up toward Piney Road, Fred Phillips (DLT Multisport) and I got separated from the guys in front. I decided to just hang on to Fred’s wheel for the ride along Piney Road and the drop back down some very tight switchbacks to the creek again. Fred was just fast enough to make passing tough but I should have tried earlier. As we climbed up the substantial hill toward Townsend Ridge, Fred finally gave it up to walk some and I made my move, clearing the top and gasping for breath. I used the section to the dirt road to recover some and by the time I crossed the road I was moving really well. I felt like I was flying down this final section and I passed a couple of other 50+ racers before getting on the road for the final sprint to the finish. I saw one more rider that I wanted to catch just ahead but didn’t quite have enough gas in the tank to get him before heading into the finish. I got fifth in a field of 13 while passing all but two of the Clydesdale racers who started before my group. I had fun. All the results are available on the Phat Tire site (ignore the fact that the top of the sheet says 2008).
Even if you don’t race, head up to Hobbs State Park – Conservation Area and mountain bike, run or hike the trails. You’ll really enjoy it. Also stop into the state of the art visitor center at the park to learn more about the park history, flora and fauna. We can’t wait to go back.
Check out over 800 photos from the race and festival on our Facebook Page, share, download, tag, comment on them.