A greater challenge

Ashland's popular Mountain Challenge Super D bicycle race is expanding. Starting this year, it will morph into a longer, multi-stage enduro event, to be held June 23-24, and be included on the schedule for one of Oregon's top-notch mountain-bike racing series.

"I am really excited about the new format," said mountain-bike racer Nathan Riddle, who found some time to train above Ashland on a recent Sunday. "This race, I think, used to be decided by the climbing, the uphill sections "… but that shouldn't be as decisive a feature anymore."

Riddle, 36, an Ashland-based professional rider, raced in the Super D event five out of the six years it existed.

"Never won it," said Riddle, who also teaches classes at United Bicycle Institute's Ashland campus. "It's just gotten increasingly popular over the years, and more and more awesome riders are showing up."

As for this year's race, "I think I've got a shot," said Riddle, "but the competition, I'm sure, will be even tougher than last year."

Riddle won the 2011 Oregon Super D Series, a four-race summer series hosted across Oregon. That series, which began in 2010, was restructured into the Oregon Enduro Series, which will include the new Ashland Mountain Challenge Enduro Race in 2012.

This year, instead of the Super D's 12-mile, start-to-finish stretch of downhill and uphill trails, which took riders from the lodge at the Mt. Ashland Ski Area to Ashland, the challenge will be broken into four stages.

The main difference between a Super D race and an enduro event is that a Super D typically has a more balanced ratio of flat and uphill cross-country terrain to downhill terrain. The enduro leans more toward downhill, with about half as much uphill trail in its timed stages as the former Super D, said race organizer Bill Roussel. But there will still be plenty of uphill pedaling for riders between stages.

For two stages on the eastern rim of the watershed, riders will have to pedal about four miles to the starting line of the day's first stage, and another 1.5 miles from that stage's finish line to the start of the next stage. Those stages, length unannounced, will include Horn Gap and Hitt Roads, Roussel said.

The western ridge of the watershed, where the old Super D was held, will host the two other stages, whose placement will be determined based on snowmelt, said Roussel.

The organizers are working to integrate live timing into the event so spectators at race headquarters can see the stage times of competitors as they cross "the little finish lines out in the woods," said Devon Lyons, 33, of Bend, who founded the race.

"We're really working hard to make these world-class events for our riders and spectators," he said. "This is a statewide gem of a series that is starting to get a lot of international recognition."

The former Super D was the second-longest Super D in the country, and the new additions might make Ashland's enduro race the longest in the nation, Roussel said.

"I think people are going to dig it," said Roussel, who took the race over in 2010 from Lyons.

Lyons, formerly of Ashland, is executive director of the Oregon Enduro Series, and he's the person who persuaded Roussel to include the Ashland Mountain Challenge in the June-September series.

"We've been getting a lot of buzz this year," Roussel said. "It was definitely time to make the race a part of this series."

The race will feature nine separate categories of riders, including professional men and women. Racers must be at least 13 to enter.

The race, which carries a $3,000 purse for professional riders and includes $7,500 worth of raffle prizes for competitors, will allow 300 riders to compete, said Roussel.

"I wouldn't be surprised to see some of the biggest names in the sport attending these events," said Lyons.

Riddle, who calls it "a classic Oregon race," agreed.

"In the U.S., it's one of the most important races of the year," he said of the former Super D. "We get a lot of national and international bike magazines covering what we're doing."

For information or to sign up for the Ashland Mountain Challenge Enduro race, see www.ashmtnadv.com, and click on the "races" tab at the top of the page.

About 80 people already have registered for the race. The entry fee for the Ashland race is $90.

Registration for the Oregon Enduro Series costs $240. More information on the series can be found at www.oregonenduro.com.

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email swheeler@dailytidings.com.

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