Saturday brought the first organized mountain bike race at Cane Creek State Park in Star City, AR. It also brought a 70% chance of rain and as I loaded up my bike at 6am Saturday morning it was already pouring in Little Rock. Text’s from friends confirmed the worst, that it indeed did rain most of the night in Pine Bluff, but the promoter was saying that it only drizzled for a few minutes in Star City. The Jeep loaded, I headed south into more rain but held on to the hope that the course would remain semi-intact for the 10 AM start.
The weather finally broke and I realized I was driving on dry roads. I got to the park and things were a bit damp but all signs indicated that it was a great day for a mountain bike race.
I geared up and hit the trail for a bit of a recon. The trail was in fantastic shape and it was apparent that it had only sprinkled a bit and maybe even made the trail better traction wise. When I pre-rode it the day before, there was a good amount of organic material on the trails that made the corners and such a little slick but the rain had firmed everything up remarkably. There was also a new section of trail that I was afraid was going to be absolutely grease but I was pleasantly surprised to find it in good shape as well. The trails at Cane Creek are a little bit of Springhill mixed with Hobbs, except there are absolutely zero rock gardens and more smooth straight-a-ways. The trail system here also includes a ton of bridges, which when wet would make things completely miserable. This race was going to be a big ring spinfest with the 8 mile loop capable of being covered in 30 minutes if the short, steep climbs didn’t catch anyone by surprise.
I returned to the pavilion and found out that there were over 30 registered and ready to race. A great turn out for a first year, grass roots race. Factor in the rain and the turnout was borderline remarkable. It was also great to see so many families in attendance and a good field of younger riders.
The Cat 3?s were off at 9 and I volunteered to be the course sweep. The decision was made not to start the 1/2?s until all the 3?s were back, which allowed the beginner racers all the time they needed to ride and not worry about the faster riders catching them. It worked out really well and I was able to take a full lap as a warm up. I settled in behind the younger of the Arkansas Mountain Biking Family and watched in amazement as these two kids were in complete control of themselves on the trail. The course was in really good shape and I realized that the 1/2 race was going to be fast! I hit the brakes hard on a couple of the wooden bridges and things seemed to be better than the hockey rink conditions I was expecting.
I got back to the finish/start line, grabbed a couple of gels and made my way to the starting line. I’d met another racer from Blood, Sweat, and Gears earlier in the day, and we chit-chatted a bit waiting for the rest of the riders to line up. He mentioned that he had a big off road triathlon next weekend and that he was going to ride smart…which is code for I’m going to test my legs and go mach one.
The course started with a half mile of paved road and then we hit the trail for two laps for the Cat 2?s and three laps for the Cat 1?s. Things were fast from the gun, with road speeds in the 20?s and trail speeds around 16. This was a big fitness check for everyone and we settled into the race with a bit of hesitation, as we were all unsure about those bridges. There were four of us in the lead group, three of us from CARVE and the guy from Blood, Sweat, and Gears I’d mentioned earlier. In one of the early corners the BSG guy washed out his front tire and took a tumble. He jumped up quickly and was able to catch back on without too much effort. We hit a few more bridges and traction was not a problem, so the pace went up to about 17 mph. We started to get strung out a bit on the hills as one minute you were in a valley, crossing a bridge and the next you were climbing a short but rather steep grade. I came into a bridge way too hot and smacked the inside of my left knee…dumb Brent, dumb. Right after my mishap, Scott Penrod from CARVE slid his front tire out on a hard angled approach to another bridge and found that his front tire was actually wedged into the timbers. He was in the lead so we all pulled the emergency brake and came to an abrupt stop! Luckily he was able to free his wheel after a few seconds and we all had a laugh. Once again, the pace went right back to terminal velocity. Craig (BSG guy) took a great line through a corner and went right to the front. A perfect move as this lead right up to another short, sharp climb. We all bunched up again and I ran right up into the guy in front of me. “SHHHHHEEEEIT!” I had to bail off while the rest rode away. I ran up the hill, jumped back on and proceeded to chase like hell.
Lap one went by in a little over 30 minutes. I felt good but the knee that I’d hit earlier was letting me know that it wasn’t happy. I continued to chase, holding the lead group just in sight entering the second lap. When I hit the tree’s I went to a huge gear and gave it all I had. There was a nice sweeping downhill and I was flying to get back on. I came across an intersection and the course marshall said the group was right around the corner. “Sweet!” I dug a little harder and then the one thing that I let slip out of my mind happened, it started pouring like hell! The trail held up for the most part but the bridges went to treacherous quickly, meaning that you really had to pay attention to your angle of approach or you were going to find yourself on the ground. I ended up second, a few minutes down on Craig from BSG. He rode a great race and that guy was FAST! Scott Penrod ended up with the win in the Cat 1 field.
The rain eventually came to a stop right after the race, allowing us all to hang out and give a few high-fives. We had the award ceremony, some of us snagged some swag, and then headed out. It was great to be a part of the first mtb race at Cane Creek and I hold high hopes for it in the future as low and behold, the one and only Fred Phillips not only came to check it out but he also raced with the Cat 3?s. I think he liked what he saw and we’ll all have to stay tuned to see if the race gets a more official status next year. In the mean time, check out Cane Creek State Park. I think you’ll like it!
Overall results here.
(Editor’s note: First, thanks again Brent for the photos and story. Second, Cane Creek State Park has some great mountain biking opportunities including a 15 mile loop and three suspension bridges to cross that aren’t on the race course. If you haven’t ridden it you need to check it out.)