The 2nd race in the West Virginia Mountain Bike Association (WVMBA) XC Series was held on Sunday, May 23rd, at the Big Bear Lake Trail Center in Bruceton Mills, WV. The event was sanctioned by WVMBA and USA Cycling with sponsorship provided by Pathfinder of WV and Stan’s No Tubes – Thank you!
The race brought in 155 participants under dry, sunny, and hot conditions. We decided to stray from the lap course that was offered the last few years in favor of a more “classic” course. The Big Bear XC Classic has a long history. I was able to find results online dating back to 1998, read that race recap HERE, and based on local knowledge we know mountain bike races were held on the Big Bear property dating back as early as the late 80’s as part of the Big Bear 100 (click for some classic footage) motorcycle racing events. To honor this history, I decided to bring back some of this old track for the 2021 race – with a few add ons for the Expert Division. The course lengths were 21+ miles for the Expert course, 16 miles for the Sport course, and 9 miles for the Beginner course. The course length for the Big Bear XC Classic in 1998, mentioned above, was 34 miles!
We once again used everybody’s favorite start, which is down the gravel road a ways. This is the best way to try and spread out racers before immediately entering the rocky singletrack stretch that parallels the airstrip venue area.
The race in the Men’s Expert Division started off fast and furious with Merv Davis, Ian McDonald, Joey Riddle, Jim Litzinger, and Grant Rumble up toward the front. The course offered a real mix of terrain, plenty of fast trail interrupted by sections of extended rocky descents and technical ups. I was able to catch a glimpse of the racers at about mile 3 or 4 and it seemed that Merv had a bit of a gap on the other racers.
After seeing many racers come through early on in the race, we moved out toward the Pines to see if we could catch the lead group after the Pine Spur section, which offers some pretty punchy climbs and a long section of slightly uphill rock jumbles. We were able to catch Merv coming back up through the pines still in the lead. We also caught Ian McDonald walking back up from the Pine Spur downhill due to a race ending drivetrain mechanical. He mentioned that his chain kept dropping and unfortunately the last time it dropped it also got wrapped up and mangled his derailleur. Ian’s lucky Jorts, that he wore in his 2020 2nd place overall finish, didn’t provide that same level of advantage in his effort to place well in 2021. So with Ian out of the race, we witnessed Joey Riddle move into the 2nd position with Jim Litzinger on his Singlespeed in 3rd place.
In the end, Merv Davis led the race from start to finish winning the overall Men’s Expert Division and Men’s Expert Open Class by over 8 minutes. The race for 2nd and 3rd was much closer with Jim Litzinger (2nd place overall Men’s Expert Division, 1st place Men’s Singlespeed Class) putting down some horsepower on the last rolling, somewhat rocky, mile and a half to overtake Joey Riddle (3rd place overall Men’s Expert Division, 1st place Men’s Expert Vet 35+ Class). Joey mentioned that he is at a size disadvantage in that type of finish and wasn’t able to get enough of a lead on Jim to stay in front. Rounding out the top 5 overall was Grant Rumble in 4th and Zach Bittinger in 5th.
The race in the Women’s Expert Division was, as always, an exciting one. All of the expert racers start as one large group on the uphill gravel road, which means there is generally racer traffic to contend with once in the woods. Cassie Smith and Jen Malik were leading the Expert Women’s Division, riding together, at about the 3 to 4 mile mark.. At that point in the race, Alyssa White was in 3rd and Mandi Riddle was in 4th place. In a social media post, Alyssa mentioned, “Had an awesome time racing today at Big Bear Lake. I felt really tired at the start of the race but once I got warmed up, I was able to finish strong. It was so amazing to race with a strong field of women”.
On a side note, It is really cool to see the positive change in mountain bike racing that can be attributed to the presence of the National Interscholastic Cycling League (NICA) in our region. The West Virginia League (WVICL) has continued to grow and there are also leagues in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and now Ohio – plus many others throughout the U.S. In the two photos above, you’re seeing the West Virginia League Director battle it out with the Ohio League Executive Director while being chased by a high school student who is a member of the Highlands Composite mountain bike team that competes in the WVICL race series. WVMBA has seen a lot more junior racers showing up to compete. It’s something to keep an eye on and we thank everyone involved in getting young riders interested in mountain bike racing. Thank you!
Now back to the Women’s Expert race action. At some point in the race Cassie was able to put some time in on Jen. Also, Alyssa was able to close the gap on Jen. In the end, Cassie was able to finish with almost a 5 minute lead on the 2nd and 3rd place finishers. Knowing that the last 4 to 5 miles was uphill, that Cassie is a wicked strong climber, and that a few of the ultra technical sections in that last 4 to 5 miles are some of her favorites, I’m not surprised that she was able to put some time in on the non-local racers behind her. The race for 2nd and 3rd was very close with only 6 seconds between the two. I wish we could have witnessed the last few miles to see how that battle unfolded. When it was all said and done, Alyssa was able to edge out Jen to take 2nd place in the Women’s Expert Division, with Jen in 3rd, Mandi Riddle in 4th, and Robyn Brewer in 5th place.
Looking at the numbers of entries for the three different Divisions there were, 41 Experts, 62 Sport course racers, and 50 Beginner course racers. Even though the Sport and Beginner Division courses were shorter, they still presented many challenges for the racers. The trails at Big Bear are rugged natural surface trails, with a lot of rocks and roots. We always try to design our courses where a rider with a true mountain bike skill set will have somewhat of an advantage. After all, this isn’t road cycling!
In the Men’s Sport Division, your overall top three finishers were Eli Ballantyne, Gunnar Shogren, and Jonathan Leavitt. The Women’s Sport Division saw Kaya Toler, Stephanie Swan, and Sara Ellem finish in the top three respectively.
In the Men’s Beginner Division, your overall top three finishers were Dominic Cartmel, Adam Freed, and Mike Morgan. The Women’s Beginner Division saw Ashley McBrayer, Ava White, and Donya White finish in the top three respectively.
Thanks again for coming out to race the 2021 edition of the Big Bear XC Classic. Also, a huge shout out to WVMBA, USA Cycling, our volunteers, course sweepers, timers, sponsors, our photographer Boyce McCoy, and the owners of the property for helping to make this a great event. We’ll see you next year!
Here is the link to the full results: Full results for the 2021 Big Bear XC Classic
Here is the link to the photos provided by MountainBurst: Link to event photos
And a note from Boyce on how to purchase race photos: “Photos from the Big Bear XC Classic race taken by Boyce McCoy of MountainBurst are now up at the link above. For $20, Boyce will provide you with an edited, full-sized photo file (for non-commercial use), correcting the exposure (lightness/darkness), giving the color some punch, and removing the watermark prior to delivery. He accepts payment via PayPal, Venmo, and CashApp. The file numbers of each photo can be found in the lower left of each photo, and you can either send him the file number via Facebook’s Messenger to his MountainBurst page, or by email to MountainBurst@gmail.com. You can also message him regarding any questions that you may have.”
Race recap written by Jeff Simcoe: BikeBigBearWV@gmail.com