Following last year's hiatus, the Ashland Super D mountain bike race is back by popular demand.
Riders will take off Sunday in one-minute increments from Mt. Ashland Ski Area for a flat-out race down more than 12 miles of narrow, tree-lined trails on their way to the finish line at Lithia Park.
"I'm insanely stoked it's back. I've been waiting patiently since its retirement two years ago," said Ashland-based professional rider Trevor Pratt, who mashed through one of his last pre-race practice rides Wednesday on the White Rabbit Trail above town.
"It was a huge race when I did it for the first time three years ago, and now that it's back I hope it can carry on the tradition," said 24-year-old Pratt, who rides for Team Lost Coast Brewery and is sponsored by Marin bikes.
This year's field will include about 100 riders, just a fourth of what the race attracted when it was held annually in June since 2004, said Devin Lyons, its founder and organizer, but the competition this year will no doubt be tough.
"It's one of the best Super D races in the world. It has a wide variety of terrain, from very high-speed, two-track road, a lot of single-track trail and a climb in the middle," Lyons said. "We had a lot of people when we went to enduro last year that said, 'Oh, man, we're really going to miss the Super D format.' This is long-distance downhill."
In 2012, the Super D was morphed into a longer, multi-stage, enduro-style race to be included in the Oregon Enduro Series, Lyons said. The success of the new race format was huge, but the original Super D was too good to let go of.
This year, the Ashland Super D is a final bonus race in the Oregon Enduro Series, of which Lyons is executive director, but it does not count toward the series' five-race championship. Lyons expects the race to double in size by next year.
"For me, this was a great opportunity to bring back a popular race that I was a big part of getting started and really passionate about," said Lyons, who graduated from Ashland High School in 1997, but now lives in Bend.
Lyons, 34, has more than 13 years of mountain bike racing experience, but won't be joining the competition Sunday, he said, expecting a busy day logistically. As an amateur rider in 2011, Pratt, with a time of 38 minutes, 18.9 seconds in the Ashland Super D, placed seventh in the category below pros.
"I really hope to be (competitive). It's always hard to tell who will be at these races, especially this year with the return of the race, but I am always excited for home court advantage," Pratt said. "I try to never shuttle up the hills and just try to ride every other day for several hours. Knowing and being able to practice the course over and over is a huge advantage. Practice makes perfect."
Pratt's no-shuttle practice policy will likely come into play during Sunday's race, which includes a five-minute, 250-foot ascent over a half mile before the course's halfway point.
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 multiple stages.
Ashland's Super D, which is run in a single go for each rider, from one point to another point — like all Super D races — is the second longest Super D in the country and descends 4,250 vertical feet, Lyons said.
"The Super D favors the better climber, any time you have a long sustained climb you're going to need to be in better shape. It's easier to make up time on a climb than it is on a descent," Lyons said, estimating exceptional uphill riders can make up 30 seconds to a minute on out-of-shape riders during the short uphill section of Sunday's race.
Ashland's top mountain-bike racer, Nathan Riddle, 37, who rides for Santa Cruz bikes, has raced in every Ashland Super D event but one, and he will no doubt be fighting for the win Sunday.
"It kind of snuck up on me. I really don't feel like I am in the best shape," said Riddle, who in June won the Oregon Enduro Series race in Ashland, which is held on the same trail system. Ready or not, Riddle said he is stoked to see the Super D reinstated, adding, "It'll be my last race of the year ... cross your fingers for me."
Riddle placed sixth in the pros category of the 2011 Ashland Super D, crossing the finish line in 34 minutes and 57 seconds. More than $10,000 in prize money and product giveaways will be provided for Sunday's competitors by series sponsors Shimano and Santa Cruz bike companies, Lyons said. Most of the products, which include a $3,000 Santa Cruz bike frame, GoPro cameras and other gear, will be raffled off to give all of the competitors a chance to walk away with something, he said.
The race, which includes 11 categories for competitors to enter, will also serve as the championship race for the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association's 2013 Super D series. The course covers the same trails as years past: starting at the Mt. Ashland Lodge, down the Bull Gap Trail to the Bull Gap climb, which then descends to the high-speed U.S. Forest Service Road 200 leading to Four Corners. Riders then begin a technical series of downhill single-track trails flying through Catwalk, Toothpick, Caterpillar, Alice and Wonderland and BTI before ending in Lithia Park on Granite Street.
This may be the last year the original course is used, Lyons said, as several miles of new trails are slated to be approved for rider use by next year.
For more information about Sunday's race or to register, visit oregonenduro.com. Online registration for the race closes at 6 p.m. today, but last-minute riders can sign up with cash or check only at race check-in on Saturday at Lithia Park. The cost to race is $75.
Sam Wheeler is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.