Sunday, March 08, 2009

Devil's Backbone preview

I did my first mountain bike race in Virginia in 1994 and have seen races come and go. Hurricane Isabel alone brought the former "Dan's series" races to a halt in 2003. Kyle's series had been around for many years and looks like a go for this year also. The VA Derailer series is no longer happening according to their website.

Looks as if the current Virginia Off Road series combines races from several promoters of mountain bike and off road duathlons. It was very well organized last year, and it combines longstanding races (O'Hill, Tidewater, Walnut Creek) with some new courses like Devil's Backbone, scheduled Saturday, March 28. This is a photo of one of many climbs on the Devil's Backbone course that I pre-rode on Saturday.

The race starts on the road--YEAH for those who hate those rushes for the singletrack. The road section lasts at least 15 minutes (my speed). It's a switchback climb up what I have always called the 151 mountain pass, but the local name is Brent's Gap. You turn off the road to double track and climb some steep sections. It will be at this point that I will be asking myself why I am racing. It transitions to newly built singletrack that takes you to the top--well, not to the real top, but the double track climbing in the next section is more tame.

It goes back and forth from single to double from there. All rideable climbs with some fast descents. The switchbacks are a bit too tight, but the newly cut trail means no ruts and the babyheads are still buried for now. No rock gardens, no extended hike a bikes.

There are distinguishing characteristics on the course like this arch. I also saw a cool hunting stand. A few washing machines were left for dead out there. There are a few natural overlooks that no one will have time for during the race.

The race ends back on the pavement. The climb up the other side of Brent's Gap is much shorter than the beginning side, and the descent into the finish is fast. Best bet is to run a tire that sheds mud easily. If it's wet, the tacky new singletrack will be a calf burner. I can't see finishing the 2 expert laps under 2 hours so I am bringing lunch. It is a great course.

I also took the opportunity to photograph the course site as signified by the handcrafted regional map located at Afton Visitor's Center. The Afton complex (Rockfish) has deteriorated even more than last time I was there. It looks as if bulldozers came, hit a few buildings, then left bored. Even that gas station with the nasty snacks and doorless bathrooms has pulled out of the Afton complex.

The only remaining open building is the Visitor's center where this map is located, and there is a huge gaping hole in the roof. The bathrooms inside are closed since they have no water. I suspect the building will be condemned soon, and I hope this map finds its way into a local museum. (The course is in the section to the lower left of 664 and just above 151. The red line above the course is the Appalachian Trail, and yellow line is Blue Ridge Parkway.)

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