AFTON, Minn.— OK, so first thing before we get to the business at hand: has Manhandler always been this hard?
Well, actually yes it has—we've just been a little spoiled these past few years. Because for at least the last three years, we just haven't climbed the *full* length of the Manhandler in the Minnesota Mountain Bike Series races.
But there the full Manhandler was Sunday, in its full quad-and-lung-busting splendor, crushing the pride and spirits of several racers Sunday—just like we knew that it would.
Race Director Scott Finne decided to include the full awesomeness of the grueling climb this year because this year's race was being held at the end of July instead of the beginning of June.
"Usually this is one of the first races and nobody has the legs for it," Finne said. "But since this is the end of July, I thought it made sense. I used to do it when I raced. No reason why we shouldn't."
Not that this was a bad thing: Climbing is all a part of the real mountain biking deal, and Sunday's descents indubitably gave meaning to the phrase "No Pain, No Gain."
Because, truth told, in the more than dozen years I've been personally racing the MnMTB scene, I can't recall a more perfect Afton race. (OK—the 2003 24-Hours of Afton *maybe* tops it—but I'm sentimental about that year).
Afton Alps—as any longtime Minnesota racer knows—holds a unique place in our collective hearts.
From the countless 24-hour races that have been held here to this annual rite of the Minnesota summer (the race is the single longest-standing race in the Minnesota series), MN mountain bikers have probably logged more race laps here than anywhere else in the state.
"I always love Afton, but it's a love-hate relationship," laughed Penn Cycle Expert Racer Ed Alpasa. "It's survival."
Sunday showed that tough tradition is carrying over to the next generation of Minnesota bike racers as well. Sunday was team Maplelag Eleanor Magnuson's first time at Afton. She loved it—but acknowledged it was tough.
"It was a tough, tough course—but it was really fun," she said. "The descents were really challenging."
Of course, conditions had never been better—and I'm not overstating that.
Every single aspect of Sunday's race—from the trails to Scott Finne's expert direction of the race—was dynamite. That probably played a role in the more than 300-racer turnout as well.
"The weather was perfect," Finne said. "It's the end of July and no humidity, zero percent chance of rain, 73 degrees.
"It couldn't have been better."
Troy Melhus is a Saint Paul writer and rider for the Peace Coffee Racing Team. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tag(s): Series News & Events