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Sunday, April 21, 2002 -- Valley Falls State Park, WV
Valley Falls Challenge - WVMBA Pts #3 (iPO Event Id#: 4785)
Story and photos by Don Parks

[Details] [Coverage]
[Overall Results]
Pictures: [Set 1] [Set 2] [Set 3] [Set 4] [Set 5]
[Set 6] [Set 7] [Set 8] [Set 9] [Set 10] [Set 11] [Set 12]
[1998 Coverage] [1999 Coverage] [2000 Coverage] [2001 Coverage]

Race Pic
Sloppin' it up at Valley Falls
What a day for a race - if you are a duck. Come to think of it, all the waterfowl to be seen were safe in the quiet eddies, away from the falls of the Tygart Valley River. They had the instincts to ride out the weather in a manageable form. But if you are one of close to 200 mountain biker racers your instinct drew you to the wet, cold mud of the course at the Valley Falls Challenge. The preceding summer-like days (and sun) were nowhere to be seen; with a temperature change in the 40 degree range and with a rain that soaked racers from the start, and off and on for the next couple hours. If the seasons went from winter right into summer, then winter came back for an encore. Any hopes of a dry start were dashed by the half hour delay, as the cold rain set in on the racers waiting for the 12:30 start.

The lead out of course was manageable over the wet rocks of the hard pack dirt road. The climb was slick but was a good chance to provide a warm-up that was unable to properly obtain prior to the race. At the top of the slick stair-step climb was when it got interesting. With a thick layer of West Virginia mud, the line downward for some was not always the line intended. Prior to crossing the road a new trail that was obviously needed to protect a park lawn, sent racers on the wild chute that can be best describe as a mud roller coaster. Park Staff were on hand at the road to provide refreshments that included - more water.

Race Pic
Now for the tricky part...
The switchback trail that lead towards the river kept racers on their toes as they tried to keep the rubber side down. The upward grade back to the road gave a chance to regroup and pedal the bike in a more normal fashion, splashing through mud holes and picking lines through the rocks and roots. Last year's new trail that cut off through the woods was thankfully eliminated, and traded for the bone chilling wind chill of a 25 mph paved decent.

The course stayed fairly consistent, if not taking on a dryer state as the tread of mountain bike tires help to squeeze out some moisture from the muddier sections of the track. But many multi-lap riders found the conditions late in the race even more treacherous than early on. Temperatures stayed in the challenging range, especially when combined with thoroughly soaked skin and shivering wind chill of the faster sections of the downhills. By the finish everyone was covered by a thin sampling of mud, courtesy of the track at Valley Falls State Park and some punishing weather.

For beginners the test was over after a single lap. For two lap classes the same ordeal laid in front of them for a repeat trip. Expert classes were privileged enough to take on the elements for three laps.

Race Pic
TJ Platt hunts down a wounded animal
Mike Walewski jumped out to an early lead in the expert men's field and built a big gap. But the final descent took its toll providing him with a broken free hub. Frantically trying to stay in front, but futilely, he was caught with not much more than a mile to go.

Patiently pacing himself up through the leaders, it was T.J. Platt who first passed Walewski and went on to win with a time of 1:47:46. But first Platt had to use the final lap to get past Caleb McFadden and then Dave Walker. Then Walker was passed by McFadden in the closing sections of the race to set up the final podium spots. McFadden finished at 1:49:28 for second and Walker at 1:49:44 for third. Walewski (5th, 1:52:03) was helpless as he was finally passed by Jonathan Martin, (4th, 1:49:48) who almost caught Walker in the battle for third.

For the expert women, Tiffany Kenny dropped out early and Missy Showman took a big win at 2:19:39. There were no surprises filling out the women's podium as Sarah Crandall-Fletcher (2:28:02) took second and Mandi Riddle (2:45:13) third.

Race Pic
Just a little fun in the rain
Plenty of post ride pizza helped fill the stomach of all participants and awards were presented to revive the souls at the tops of their class. Park staff, emergency personnel, and volunteers handled racers needs well and is appreciated by all that needed any assistance. A big thanks to the promoter to make sure that all these things were in place.

Spring racing in the WVMBA Series can be more than a test of fitness, by presenting challenges that are set forth by Mother Nature. A mindset of conquering the elements is required to complete such a test. Every rider accepted the challenge and hopefully felt that they won over their self imposed diversity.

Special thanks to Mike Boyes for contributing to this report