Mountain biking: Palos Meltdown plugs in to circuit
By Tim O’Brien For Sun-Times Media August 2, 2012 9:12PM
Mountain bikers climb up a hill from Bullfrog Lake during the 2011 Palos Meltdown. | File photo
Palos Forest Preserve System
Pulaski Woods West Grove; Wolf Road south of 95th Street
10 a.m.: Category 3
(Novice - 8 miles)
11:30 a.m.: Category 2 (Sport - 15 miles)
1 p.m.: Kids Race
1:30 p.m.: Pro Category 1 (Men Expert - 28 miles)
1:32 p.m.: Pro Category 1 (Women Expert - 21.5 miles)
1:36 p.m.: Category 2 (Comp - 21.5 miles)
Updated: September 4, 2012 6:11AM
A mountain bike racer for the past 15 years, Ben Jenkins always is looking to promote his sport whenever possible.
The Geneva resident first got involved with the Palos Meltdown in 2010 and became more devoted to the race in 2011. In 2012? Well, his contributions were noted.
Voted the Meltdown’s race director by the Palos race committee, Jenkins hopes to help keep building up mountain biking.
“The race is a best possible scenario (for mountain biking) because everyone gets involved,” Jenkins said. “I want to make it bigger and better for the racers and spectators, and to be able to do that each year.”
In its fifth year of existence, the Meltdown clearly is on the climb up the ladder of mountain bike races. This Sunday’s running will be the first with the race as part of USA Cycling’s American Mountain Bike Challenge, a national circuit that offers races March through September around the country.
Jenkins and the race committee contacted USA Cycling in late winter to see if the Meltdown could become a part of the circuit, and the wheels were moving. Palos had to meet criteria to qualify for the circuit — ranging from prize money (prizes have been doubled since last year) to spectators in attendance to course layout.
When all was said and done, Jenkins filed the application and soon after heard back. The Meltdown was a part of the AMBC.
“We’re excited to do it, even if we were a little late to the game,” Jenkins said. “There is just a lack of races in the Midwest. It’s our first year doing it, though, so next year we’ll be ahead of the game and really gain some momentum.”
For now at least, the Meltdown is not one of the official 10 races offered by the AMBC that count toward points standings. However, it is listed as part of the AMBC calendar and certainly has the potential to become an official race on the list.
The top 10 racers in each category and age group racing Sunday can qualify for the Mountain Bike Cross Country National Championships, scheduled for July 2013 in Lehigh Valley, Pa.
“Palos went through the application process and met the criteria,” USA Cycling National Events Director Kelli Lusk said. “It is a good recognition for some top-level riders, and there is the opportunity to qualify for next year.”
Races will be offered starting at 10 a.m. with the Category 3 (novice) and wrap up at 1:30 p.m. with three races going off within six minutes of one another. More than 500 riders signed up through online registration, which ended Monday, and riders also can register the day of the event.
The Men’s Pro Category 1 race will start at 1:30 p.m. and runs for 28 miles, or about four laps on the course through the Palos Forest Preserves. The race is expected to finish in around two hours. The Women’s Pro Category race kicks off at 1:32 p.m.
“At eight miles, it’s a longer course,” Meltdown committee member Gina Kenny said. “Spectators at the start and finish line can see the riders come through a couple of times. It was a lot of work, but it’s definitely a privilege to say we’re a part of the AMBC.”
The Palos Meltdown is run as a fundraiser for the Chicago Area Mountain Bikers.
Jenkins recommends the casual fan coming out to see a new sport.
“This isn’t just for experienced riders so it goes casual through elite,” Jenkins said. “People just want to try it so they come out. Some people are out there just to be part of it and the energy of it all.”