I hadn’t lined up for a mountain bike race since May; the summer heat, a trip to Asia, moving to a new house -- all conspired to keep me off the course, and off the mountain bike altogether at times.
But I can’t resist McDowell Mountain Regional Park in Fountain Hills, Ariz. There is absolutely nothing that mountain bikers can’t love about its 60-plus miles of trails. Of course, the McDowell Meltdown (the first race in the 2012 Mountain Bike Association of Arizona series) only consists of the loops in the Competitive Track. Still great!
Here’s what’s on my mind about the McDowell Meltdown.
1. The organizers are exceptionally dedicated and nice. Running these races is a labor of love. Need proof? Brandee from Global Bikes posted on Facebook at 3:30 a.m. about how eager she was to get out there and put on a race (she’s also an MBAA board member). Another example: I signed up the day of the race, which didn’t entitle me to an event t-shirt. But one of the MBAA guys scrounged up some leftover t-shirts from the previous year for us johnny-come-lately schlubs. He didn’t have to. We didn’t expect him to. A really nice "late or not, thanks for being here" gesture.
2. Sign up online. You’ll save stress on yourself, plus a few bucks. And you’ll save some stress for the folks from La Roue d’Or – they have a lot on their hands with managing the registrations.
3. The Arizona mountain bike race scene has changed. My Adventure Bicycle Company boys had no presence. Back in the day, it would’ve been them, Rage Cycles and Landis as the standard bearers. These days, it’s Global, DNA Cycles (the McDowell Meltdown title sponsor), Sunday Cycles and a few others -- and Landis is still around. I didn’t see any familiar faces out there. But I met new people, and hope to run into them again at the next mountain bike race.
4. The first-timer class is a really nice idea. Unfortunately, the women’s field continues to be small. In the late 90s, there were definitely more new mountain bike racers of both genders. I remember Beginner Class (now Cat 3) men’s 19-24 groups with more than 70 riders.
5. Speaking of the people in each field and the various categories -- I still see sandbagging (the fine art of riding a category – or two! – below your ability to get better race results) as a problem.Â The front of the Cat 3 pack is where it’s at its worst. Three quick thoughts: A. Abolish a championship title for Cat 3 racers – it’s a dis-incentive to move up to the proper category. B. No racers attached to teams should be in Cat 3. If you’re so plugged into the mountain bike scene that you roll with a team, you are too experienced for Cat 3. C. If you finish in the top 10 percent, you go up. I’d apply this to Cat 2, also. Getting people in the right categories will get more new riders to mountain bike races. Your race results should never take a backseat to integrity.
Overall? The McDowell Meltdown is one of my favorites, and I’m glad I went. MBAA puts on a fine mountain bike race, and you should give one of its events a try.