On Saturday, May 17th, 2014, the Ohio Mountain Bike Championship Series (OMBC) will be hosting a race at Mohican State Park near Loudonville, Ohio. The race begins and ends at Mohican Adventures, a private campground with cabins, shelters, water, showers, bike wash & even a playground for the kiddos. Registration begins at 10am and the first racers will sprint off at noon.
You can learn more about the race at OMBC’s website.
Expert and sport racers will race for about 26.5 miles. The main loop at Mohican State Park is about 24.5 miles and racers will add about two miles racing to and from the campground. This is the only OMBC race of the year where sport and expert racers do the exact same course/mileage. That makes it the longest course of the year for sport racers, but an average distance for the experts. The cool thing is that sport racers can compare their times to the experts and see whether they are ready to move up or not.
According to my GPS, the 24.5 mile loop has about 2700 feet of climbing, which makes it about the same amount of climbing for sport riders as Scioto Trails, but a fraction of the 4200 feet of climbing that the experts had to down south. There will be many racers who will hike some of the harder climbs at Mohican State Park, but overall, these climbs are rideable. In my pre-ride, I rode up all of them. There are one or two that have tripped me up in past races. I usually hike one or two of the hills at the end of the race because my quads are burning at that point and need a break.
In general, these hills are certainly easier than the two hardest climbs at Scioto Trails.
Novice racers will compete on a shorter 8 mile loop that is new this season and has about 750 feet of climbing.
(UPDATE Thursday, May 15th, 2014: We’ve received more rain than anticipated. Not sure how the trails will be. The trail group is supposed to decide whether the trail is rideable. With luck their will be 48 hours of drying from now until the race. A decision will be made on Friday, May 16th about whether to hold the race or not. Read this next section with a healthy bit of skepticism.)
The singletrack at Mohican State Park holds up to the weather very nicely. There is some rain expected leading up to the race, but I don’t see that being a big factor in the race. My expectation is that the ground will be mostly be tacky and fast with occasional muddy spots. I don’t think that mud tires will be necessary. If you’re in the mood to change tires, your standard XC race tires should perform well – unless Mother Nature throws us a curve ball. I plan on riding on Kenda Kozmik Lite II’s.
On Your Mark, Get Set, Go! …or something like that
The race begins on a campground road at Mohican Adventures. The first piece of trail is a short, steep climb. I have never seen all of the racers in a division make it up this climb successfully. Somebody always falls and causes a traffic jam. This leads to two separate strategies for starting. The first is to sprint as hard as you can and make it to the hill before the back-up occurs. The second is a planned hike-a-bike. It saves energy on the starting sprint and you can walk right around the racers who have stalled out. I have used both strategies with great success. When I dismount at the bottom of the hill I can usually hike quickly past half the field on that one slope.
If you survive the opening climb, you will enter the state park loop at about the half mile marker. Your introduction to singletrack will be on sections that have rolling hills and good flow. It’s typical of the types of trail that you find in the park and exemplifies why many consider Mohican to be one of the best trails in Ohio. A special thank you to the Mohican-Malabar Bike Club for building and maintaining this awesome trail system.
The trail features many rocky sections, but most of them are easy to find a good line through or to float across. They will certainly trip up some of the riders that aren’t as technically proficient, but they are all rideable. The rock gardens here are easier than the ones at Dillon State Park or Mohican Cabins. I would also consider some of the rocks at West Branch to be trickier than these. That puts this trail in the middle, but slightly above average, when it comes to the technical challenge of the rocks when compared to other OMBC races.
One of the things that I love about this course are all the mile markers throughout. It’s easy to keep track of your progress as the numbers tick by. Around mile 12, you will travel on a brief section of road through a covered bridge. Congratulations – you made it half way. Beware – you are about to get spanked. When you exit the road you have a long 300 foot climb over the course of .6 miles. If your legs and lungs weren’t burning beforehand, they will be afterwards. I’m sure many over-heated racers will hike long sections of this hill.
One of the things that I love about Mohican are the long sections of pine forest that you pass through. Needles are strewn across the trail and you feel like you are riding across a soft, fuzzy carpet. These sections aren’t overly technical, but they can be deceiving. Sometimes the pine needles are hiding roots and other gnarly goodness.
The pine forest feels enclosed by a dark ceiling of branches, but the needles act like mulch and keep the amount of undergrowth to a minimum. This makes the forest feel open at the same time. This can lead to higher speeds and maybe a few near misses as you swerve rapidly through the trees.
Whatever speed you’re going, take a deep breath and appreciate the amazing pine smell that floats all around you.
The climbs may dish out some punishment, but they also have a bright side – the downhills that follow. If you like shooting down the slopes, then this race will be one of your favorites. The trail opens up and let’s you fall merrily through it more times than I could count. Most of the downhills are not twisty or technical, they fill you with confidence and dare you not to touch your brakes. But, if you are a wimp like me, you will eventually cry “Uncle” and feather those disks a little. I spent most of my pre-ride challenging myself to see how fast I could go. On several sections my eyes were tearing up in the wind.
I find the ending to this race to be one of the most mentally challenging moments of the race series. You see mile marker 23 and feel like you’re almost done, but those final three miles hide grinding climbs around every turn. My past finish times have been lengthened greatly when my quads refused to climb up some of these slopes. I’ve watched the podium slip away as riders passed an exhausted version of me in the Mohican Adventures campground near the finish.
Looking Back, Going Forward
When I first started racing the mere thought of finishing the entire loop at Mohican sounded daunting. My climbing and my endurance did not instill me with confidence. Over the years, I have grown a fondness for this trail that is unmatched by almost any other place in Ohio. If you are going to do just one OMBC race this year, then this is the one you should do. It’s an epic trail and there is always a great turnout. It’s a comfortable place to hang out and that makes the post-race gathering just as rewarding as the competition.
My strategy for this race – pacing. Going out too hard on this trail can lead to some serious bonking. I’ve had my best races when I started slow and played catch-up. As a racer, you sometimes feel compelled to power up the steep climbs, but these are the exact moments that fry your legs and this race has a lot of them. I’m going to try to manage my uphill efforts and look for free speed on the descents.
We’ll see if it works. Meet me at the finish line and we can talk about how our plans worked or failed. I’ll be the happy guy with a Great Lakes “recovery drink” in my hand. If my pint glass is empty then you will probably find me next to the keg talking about my Mohican 100k strategy while I wait to “recover” some more.
Please share this article with any mountain biker that you think would have fun racing. Racing is always more fun when there is a good turnout and I want to see a lot of you out there on Saturday.
My Need To Be Loved
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Look forward to racing with you on Saturday. Make sure you say “hi” and introduce yourself. I love meeting all the riders that have been reading this blog.