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Pro mountain bikers compete in Ashland

Ashland's own Nathan Riddle will defend his downhill title at the 25th anniversary edition of the Spring Thaw Mountain Bike Festival Saturday and Sunday, May 21-22, in Ashland.

The Rogue Valley Race Group hosts the races, which will run between roughly 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. each day.

Saturday features the cross country race, a 26-mile ride through the Ashland Watershed begin at the Ashland swimming reservoir parking lot. Sunday features the two-stage downhill challenge, a time-trial race which begins at Four Corners and ends at the reservoir.

These events draw mountain bikers from all over the Western States — professionals, beginners, and everyone in-between. Local bike shop and racing teams also participate in the events. Bike shops such as CycleSport will present bike demonstrations between events.

There are many great "fishhook" points along the trails near the reservoir for spectators to watch, according to Chad Wikander, event manager. He advises spectators to watch out for riders because they will race down the mountain at great speeds.

Last year saw almost 300 racers over the course of the weekend and nearly 450 spectators, according to Cynthia Moscaritolo, event manager. The Spring Thaw is an Oregon Bike Racing Association (OBRA) sanctioned event and part of the Oregon Off-Road Series. According to Wikander, there’re more than 300 OBRA events in Oregon each year with roughly the same turnout of 300-350 participants.

Wikander said the watershed area is great for mountain biking because a large amount of trails are downhill and the soil is consistent.

Cash prizes will be awarded to the three fastest women and men in each event. First place will receive $75, second place $50 and third place $25.

Ashland local Riddle will compete in the downhill race Sunday. Nathan has been a professional racer in Oregon since 1998, after moving to Ashland in 1997 from California.

He trains four to five times a week in the Ashland watershed, Riddle said. Last year, Riddle won the downhill challenge at the Spring Thaw.

“Anytime you know the trails that you’re riding, it’s an advantage,” Riddle said.

Riddle also teaches an array of classes and bicycle maintenance instruction at the United Bicycle Institute in Ashland full time.

Riddle even has a bike tire named after him, “The Riddler.” Wilderness Trail Bikes (WTB) has sponsored Riddle for 11 years now. After winning the Spring Thaw four years ago, Riddle pitched a design for a bike tire that allows pedaling and rolling speed, as well as traction while cornering. According to Riddle, there are many tires that are good at one of these aspects, but not both. WTB accepted his design and dubbed it “The Riddler,” his nickname.

Riddle competes in 10 to 15 events a year, usually west of the Rockies now because of his two children, he said.

Riddle’s favorite trail in the watershed area is “Missing Links.” The watershed has many wide-open fast trails with smoother terrain and not as many rocks as other bike trails, according to Riddle.

“Ashland trails are kind of unique,” said Riddle. “There’s very few trails like the ones in Mt. Ashland where you can ascend 5,000 feet and then drop into the town of Ashland for a burrito.”

It draws a lot of traffic because it’s a great mid-way stopping point for people traveling between the Bay Area and Portland, said Riddle.

“Having people here that have never been here before and seeing their reactions to the trails is a lot of fun,” said Riddle.

Email Tidings intern Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@dailytidings.com.