Words by Justin Mann, Photos by Allison Mann and Justyna Wlusek
I think that everyone can agree that the purest form of bicycle racing is the Individual Time Trial. ITTs are elegant: one person, a bike, a specified course, and of course the clock. There are different ways to approach an ITT and you dont have to have a silly helmet or wind tunnel tuned parts. In fact, downhill mountain bike racing is a very pure form of ITT requiring tons of skill, fitness, and even luck, to ever approach greatness. So if you were to sit down with some typical mountain bikers and invent an appropriate Cross Country Individual Time Trial, what would it look like?
The ideal course would be just long enough to really test the person’s ability to pedal as hard as they can and go really fast. It would be just technical enough to create a chance for errors. If an error was made then of course there would need to be a time penalty. Ideally one would be able to eliminate external factors like course conditions and wind. Add in a bunch of screaming fans, some jumps, berms, drops, maybe a bunch more screaming fans, and a whole lot of cowbell Sound pretty awesome? It is!
On January 16, 2010 a few top cyclists were invited to participate in the 2nd Annual Tri-Flow XC Indoor Invitational in Cleveland, OH. For those who have not been, Ray’s Indoor Mountain Bike Park is the perfect venue for such an event with literally hundreds of lines and features to ride including jumps, bridges, whoops, skinnies, berms, and even climbs! With equal payout, $5k in prize money, and killer unique “Leg” trophies this event is quite a show!
The riders are allowed a rolling start and trip a beam to start the clock. Once the clock starts the riders drop off the GT platform and onto the “Prologue” line with a tricky turn, some 10-inch high speed skinnies, through the “whoops,” 2 fast corners then out onto the “XC Loop”. The “XC Loop” starts with a quick up, a tricky left, then a drop into a big left-hand berm. Option lines abound on course as one can choose to ride a “plateau” with speed bumps or drop into a “Rock Garden,” then all lines go over a tabletop jump and up a ramp into the rafters. Dropping out of the rafters the racers fly through left, then right-hand berms, over another tabletop, and into the “Beginner Room”.
At the entrance to this room a high speed left hander leads to a ramp back up toward the rafters, then a treacherous downward sharp right hander. A short sprint through a hallway leads to a sharp 90 degree right and a steep up onto a platform. Dropping off the other side of the platform throws the rider into a right-hand berm and an option to jump the table top to the right or roll it to the left. Carrying speed, the riders fly through a hard right, then a left and sprint to a 180-degree uphill turn through a doorway. After negotiating this speed robbing turn, the riders sprint off a 3′ drop into a right/left option. The left-hand line is higher and takes more energy, but sets up the next corner with more speed. The proper technique and a bit of risk taking can make the right-hand line very fast as well! Another right-hand berm and then the racers face the horrible leg burning climb into the rafters.
The climb is tortuously steep and riders are forced through a momentum-destroying tight 180 switchback midway. A narrow catwalk provides the racer with a moment to reflect on their new found max heart rate and the pain in their legs and lungs before dropping from the sky into a series of left-hand berms and high speed rollers and finally back to where they started.
At this point you might think the course was done, but indeed you have to make three complete circuits of the “XC Loop” and in between each one the riders are forced to ride 2 of the 6 “Technical Lines.” These “Technical Lines” consist of bridges and skinnies and other obstacles that can be tricky when fresh, but when your eyes are blurred from sweat, and your heart is trying to jackhammer its way out of your chest (not to mention lack of mental function due to oxygen debt) it gets really interesting! To make these lines even more treacherous, 15 precious seconds are robbed from your elapsed time for an “Incomplete Line”. So a slip of a tire or a dab of the foot, or worse yet a full on yardsale crash, can spell disaster for a race run. Now this is mountain bike racing!
The male contestants came in all forms including: Scott’s Aaron Snyder on a full suspension Scott Scale with an integrated seatpost (this alone was a feat of courage on this course); local neo-Pro and fast man Kyle Spisak on a Cannondale Scapel; and Trek’s Tyler Morland (Canadian National Downhill MTB Champion) and Giant’s Adam Craig (Olympian, and holder of both National and World titles!) rocking hardtail dirt jump bikes. A last minute addition allowed Rock N’ Road Cyclery’s own and yours truly, Justin Mann, to race with the big boys on a rental 26″ dirt jump bike courtesy of Ray.
Competing for the women, the only returning contestant was Lindsey Bishop, representing Mafia Racing and rocking a SRAM XX equipped Felt full suspension race rig. She was up against some stiff competition though. Also on a full suspension bike was Rock N’ Road Cyclery’s Allison Mann on a full carbon Specialized S-Works Epic and a fierce duo racing on hardtail dirt jumpers consisting of Lizzy English (Giant STP) and 15-year-old local ripper Lyndsey Prososki on a Gary Fisher.
Out of this mayhem the winners were awarded their $1,000 prize purse in $1 bills and a full mannequin human leg trophy custom painted for the occasion. Adam Craig showed in dominating fashion how to rip up a course with skill and power and won despite a 15 second penalty (yes even the best make mistakes!). His time without the mistake would have blown away the course record previously set by nearly 15 seconds! Allison Mann showed off not only the power to speed to a winning time, but the skills to make a flawless run to the top of the women’s podium.
1 Adam Craig (Giant)
2 Kyle Spisak (Canondale)
3 Aaron Snyder (Scott)
4 Tyler Morland (Trek)
5 Justin Mann (Specialized)
1 Allison Mann (Specialized)
2 Lindsey Bishop (Felt)
3 Lizzy English (Giant)
4 Lindsey Prososki (Gary Fisher)