On Sunday, August 24th, 2014, the Ohio Mountain Bike Championship series is holding a race at Dillon State Park. The race is appropriately nicknamed “Dillon Rocks” because of the rocky terrain it traverses. The 2014 course should be similar to the 2013 one and by my GPS that includes about 14.25 miles and 1500 feet of climbing per “big” lap. Depending on your division you will face different challenges in the race. Here are the distances from the OMBC website:
- Men’s Expert, Vet Open, Singlespeed, Expert Masters – 2 Big laps – 29 miles
- Women’s Expert – 1 Big lap and 1 Beginner lap – 24 miles
- All Sport divisions – 1 Big lap – 14.5 miles
- Novice/Beginner – 1 Novice lap – 9.5 miles
The race starts out in a grassy area near the lake. There is a short sprint down a paved park road to the beginner’s field loop. The path in this section is very curvy which slows down the pack significantly and prevents it from being an all-out hammerfest. Riders have to keep their speed under control or risk washing out into the weeds in the turns. I have seen numerous riders miss their turns (myself included) and lose ground to other racers.
After about a mile, maybe less, you take a left turn and climb a short, steep, ROOT-COVERED hill into the woods. Beware. If you are in a pack of riders, someone is sure to fall on one of these roots and cause a traffic jam. I see this happen every year and if you play your cards right you will be able to ride around and pass a few racers at this point.
As soon as you enter the woods, you begin seeing rocks, more rocks than you see on most OMBC courses. These are just foreshadowing for what is to come. There are two main rock gardens that define the course. Sport and expert racers will have to tackle them, while novice racers are routed around them. My prediction is that less than half the riders can successfully navigate through the rock gardens without stumbling. So, if you fall, don’t be ashamed, everyone else is doing it too.
If you enter the rock gardens in a pack of riders be prepared for the rider in front of you to fall or come to a complete halt at any second. As soon as this happens, make sure you yell curse words at him or her for blocking your line. He or she will appreciate that you’re being a big jerk. I’m joking of course. Don’t kid yourself, that stone would have taken you out too. The average rock size is just big enough to stop a 29-inch tire in an instant if you pick the wrong line. And trust me, eventually you will pick the wrong line.
I usually plan for congestion in the rock gardens. I dismount and carry my bike through or around the mayhem. It’s not very sexy, but it gets me and my bike safely to the other side without using up too much energy.
I pre-rode the course the weekend before the race with sport riders Cory Knight and Nahum Burt. At one point, Nahum fell in the rock gardens and snapped his brake lever in half. I’ve heard numerous stories of people bending their derailleurs on the rocks. While I have mad respect for anyone with the technical chutzpah needed to clean these sections of trail, I also think it’s respectable to be cautious and make it out alive. Remember, the podium is reserved for the riders who finish the course the fastest – regardless of how they get there.
The good news is that both of the rock gardens are in the first half of the big loop. Once you have survived them, the course gets easier and has more flow. However, that doesn’t mean it’s an easy Sunday stroll.
“This is a much harder course than I remember,” Nahum said as we pre-rode the trail. He later added, “This is the most technical riding I have done all year.”
I never crashed in our pre-ride, but I was forced to stop or put my foot down more often than I’m accustomed to. I think this is an amazing place to ride and training here often would make you a better rider. I seriously wish I got out to Dillon more.
Some of the features here are so intriguing to me. They have several man-made features that will test your balance and handling. There are at least a dozen bridges that cross ravines. There are several jumps, but those are taped off during the race. Some of the boulders are fun to roll over or have small drops off the backsides. There is a long skinny that transports riders over a wet section of the course. Usually a couple of riders go astray and end up in the muck.
Dillon is not known for it’s climbing but that does not mean there is none to contend with. There are several notable climbs that are rideable, but steep enough to get the heart really racing. However, these climbs are not too long. Most ascents will be made in under a minute. A couple of the climbs are steep enough that they will force the majority of riders to hike-a-bike. But, don’t be afraid of the climbing. Most of the hills are rolling and fun.
Trail Conditions for 2014
This summer has been a wet one in Ohio. The trails at Dillon a week before the race were definitely not dry and dusty, but they weren’t bad. When I initially entered the woods there was a big muddy spot in the trail and I started to wonder whether the course would be wet. It turns out that the initial mud was the exception to the rule. The course was mostly dry and tacky. The forecast leading up to the race is spotty, but I think the course can handle a little rain. If is does rain a few hours before the race, the roots and rocks could get slippery.
The OMBC race at Dillon State Park is a great technical challenge. It may not be the hardest race you ever take on, but it won’t be the easiest. This race favors the riders that are true mountain bikers at heart. There are rocks, roots and gnarled sections that will test every aspect of your riding. Many riders who are lower on the fitness scale can make up ground by staying calm and upright when the trail gets rough. If you survive the first half of the big loop, then you are definitely up for the obstacles on the back half. I challenge you to come out and test yourself. At the very least, even if you get a little beat up, it’s a good excuse to go for a relaxing swim afterwards!