The 22nd annual Spring Thaw bicycle race will cover new ground this weekend. For years, this two-day race in the Ashland watershed has featured one cross-country and one downhill stage. This year a second downhill stage on the BTI Trail will be added to the familiar course on the Catwalk Trail.
"We'll also be crowning the 'All Mountain' men's and women's champions, based on the best combined point total for all three stages," says race director Bill Roussel, who is co-owner of Ashland Mountain Adventures with his wife, Sue. "We've also added a beginner's race for the cross-country stage."
For more information on the 2013 Spring Thaw, see http://ashmtnadv.com/ or call 541-499-2298.
Packet pickup and registration is available today at Ashland Mountain Adventures, 700 Mistletoe Road, Ashland.
Race-day registration is available from 7 to 8:30 a.m. on-site near the start/finish line near the small reservoir above Lithia Park.
Saturday's cross-country stage costs $45. The Sunday downhill stages cost $55.
To win the new All Mountain title, riders must use the same bicycle on all three stages. This requirement is a throwback to the roots of mountain biking.
"In the '80s and early '90s, you'd race everything, cross-country, downhill and they'd even throw in a hill climb, but now there's a divide between cross-country and downhill. People race really light cross-country bikes that aren't necessarily very much fun to descend on, and downhill, the bikes are really specialized," says Don Morehouse, an Ashland rider who will compete this weekend.
Many riders have grown tired of forking out thousands of dollars to own a variety of specialized bicycles, says Morehouse, so he's not surprised that so many riders are attracted to the Enduro-format that requires a single bike be ridden for all stages.
This year's course puts endurance into the Enduro format.
Elite and Category 1 riders will cover approximately 22 miles with significantly more vertical gain than last year: 4,000 feet of climbing and descending in a two-loop course that follows a challenging uphill on the Ashland Loop Road to Four Corners and descends on several single-track trails. Category 2 and 3 racers will pedal shorter courses.
The downhill stages are much briefer: 1.7 miles for the Catwalk course and 1.2 miles for BTI. Riders start at 60-second intervals and can reach speeds of 40 miles per hour. Even though most riders finish the downhill stage in 5 to 10 minutes, it will take several hours for all the riders to cross the starting line. As many as 500 riders are expected to compete in one or more stages this weekend, slightly more than in 2012.
The growing popularity of the Spring Thaw race reflects what Roussel sees as the juxtaposition of all the right elements, which are found in the Ashland watershed trail system.
In the mountain biking world, it's called "flow."
"It's a combination of grade — not too steep, not too shallow — and surface material you can ride in any condition, even after a rain," Roussel explains, of the primarily granitic trails. "It's about a nine-percent grade. Any steeper and it's erosive and you need water bars and bumps. Any slacker and you're on the pedals a lot."
While the added downhill stage of this year's competition appeals to many riders, the increased difficulty of the cross-country is what attracts Kathleen Blackshear, an Ashland veterinarian and Cat-2 rider.
"It's fairly difficult; a lot of climbing and a little bit of the descending is a bit technical for a cross-country race," says Blackshear. "I came from the Rockies and the Southwest. The cross-country races tend to be a lot flatter there. The climbs aren't as demanding and the downhills aren't as steep. There they'll be more up and down, up and down, more rolling, whereas here they're more significantly straight up then straight down."
Training for this stage race takes a variety of skills. Cat-1 rider Don Morehouse, who moved to Ashland from Reno, Nev., earlier this month, describes what he thinks it will take to do well this weekend.
"You want a lot of miles on your legs," he says. "It's a tough cross-country race, well over 4,000 feet of climbing. You need the fitness to make it up the Ashland Loop Road, up to Four Corners, and have the skills to make it down quickly and hit another loop."
His strategy is simple.
"I'm going to go as hard as I can the first day and see if I have it the next day."
Daniel Newberry is a freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. Reach him at email@example.com