For the fourth race in five weeks, we are back at Windrock Bike Park in Oliver Springs, TN for the final race of the Downhill Southeast by Neko Mulally. Starting off in Mars Hill, NC at Bailey Mountain for round one, heading 120 miles west to Windrock, Oliver Springs, TN for the Pro GRT (not official on the Downhill Southeast docket but run by the same crew with USA Cycling), turn southwest for another 120 miles toward the town of Sequatchie, TN and Trials Training Center for round two, and finally retracing our route and doubling back to Windrock for round three closing out the series.
Saturday started out a bit on the chilly side, completely overcast with the sun hiding behind the clouds. Mr. sunshine was supposed to peek through the clouds late Saturday afternoon and completely expose itself all day Sunday. It was looking like mother nature would cooperate for the final race of the Downhill Southeast series with no chance of turning the moist dirt into soup. Steve Abell of Adrenaline Racer/To Wheels pictured during the early Saturday practice session.
The elder of the clan they call Richter, Andy Richter made the decision to put his Canfield through the paces for the Single Crown Showdown sponsored by Cane Creek and Industry Nine. Out of the 17 riders that ran the Showdown, he'd go ninth, which was actually sixth as those from CC and I9 that ran didn't count in the class final standings.
Jake Smith through one of the high-speed sections on course. Not sure how riders felt about the ladder bridge being tapped off. It would have been one heck of an airtime session if it was part of the course. Mickey Denoncourt (Course Marshal) stated it was just too high speed and the crew didn't want to have to police Pros versus Amateur/Intro and a go around. Too risky this weekend.
GROM Racing's "Little Man of Steele" isn't so little anymore, he's graduated to just the "Man of Steele." Phillip Steele out early on Saturday figuring some stuff out and find tuning his lines on course.
Frita Ronning was hoping to close out the Downhill Southeast series with a clean sweep and 3-0. With Caroline Washam out of the running after an injury the week prior at TTC, there were four ladies with a shot to un-seed Frita and tarnish that sweep: Jessica Glibert, Angelina Palermo, Megan Hutton, and Sarah Wood. In 24 hours we'd find out if she'd carry it through or be upset.
New for the final race of the series was the Single Crown Showdown sponsored by Cane Creek Cycling Components and Industry Nine. The concept being (the obvious) run a single crown, race against two teams of two, each from CC and I9, the teams themselves were exempt from the overall standings to allow racers to podium, combine the team members race times and the slowest combined (losing) times would then result in the said company donating prizes to the podiumed Single Crown Showdown racers. Andrew Slowely (pictured), 1 of 2 from the team Cane Creek camp in the Single Crown Showdown. Sam Anderson would represent the other half of team CC. The I9 team would be comprised of Burke Saunders and Phillip Martin.
With Saturday afternoon conditions and weather turning out as forecasted, Neko decided to extend Saturday practice one extra hour, from 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm. Jake Smith getting in one of the last runs of the day before it was time to refuel and get some rest in preparation for race day.
No feet, no saddle, all while in mid-air... not sure how Josh Money was able to contain this bobble, but he did ride it out. One of the highlights of the afternoon practice session.
The fastest part of the course was just before the end. Short shoot out of the woods, round a berm, get a few strokes in, one last pump for speed, and into the step up. Most struggled for air time, some scrubbed, and a select few boosted making it a triple which was very impressive to see. Gus Michaels with the single crown Intense Tracer choosing for the scrub.
The trail crew decided to mix it up a bit and offer a different riding experience from what everyone saw just a few weeks ago at the Pro GRT. Starting off with a small section of the blue flow trail "Talladega" the trail switched over to "Trail One" (pictured). Your first obstacle was this small series of three rocks, rather daunting at the initial glance. Dismount, check 'er out, roll it first time out, then nothing but butter.
Andrew Puckett over the last of the three previously mentioned rock features on the entry to "Trail One" during early morning race day practice. At the end of the day he'd roll down with a 2:59.8 in Pro Men which landed him in the 15th spot out of 26.
Neko coming off his first win at this own series after five tries one week ago at Trials Training Center in Sequatchie, TN. Could he make it a second straight in six tries? Could very well be and I guarantee that he wanted to make sure he was king on his home turf at Windrock.
Notice the course marshal's calculated placement of the tape on the 3 inch tree just right of center of the frame. They forced everyone to make the two largest rocks on course a wall ride. Conditions on Saturday were muddy, a result of off and on rain the week leading up to the event. This meant lots of whining and crying during practice. No worries, things dried up plenty for Sunday and race day. Picture, two weeks, two races, two finishes in the 8th spot in Pro Men for young Owen Witcher.
Same spot as the previous image, just a different perspective. If you could control your entry, the faster line was the tight fit between the tree in the middle and the rock just to its right. Much of the field would stay left into the berm, but entry into that berm was a challenge as riders were hard on the brakes and at the same time being thrown left and right by the natural placed rocks.
Ethan Heck (Amateur Men) over the only ladder bridge on course. He finished 17th in the largest field on the weekend, a total of 36 Am Men riders.
Greenville South Carolina's "Old School" Team SEI Racing has made a recent resurgence. Leading that resurgence has been the addition of two young riders, Michael Kane and Seth Hanson (pictured). Seth captured his first podium at the Downhill Southeast in Pro Men posting a 2:43.0 good enough for the 4th spot. Patience and hard work are starting to pay off for this young shredder!
Beech Mountain Gravity's Bergen Khare cracking the top ten in 9th just behind his old teammate Owen Witcher in the 8th spot. The Berg ran a 2:51.2 in Pro Men. You know I Khare!
It was the unlucky number 13 for Derek Maiden. Luckily he had a smooth run, unluckily (I know that's not a word, but it fits) he finished 13th. His time, 2:56.5 in Pro Men.
Who posted a sub-two minute thirty run? Who took the top spot and defended his home turf? That would be this gent. 2:29.8 to be exact, 3.7 seconds over Isak Leivsson.
Above - What's it like posting a sub 2:30 run and the fastest time of the day at Windrock Bike Park at the final round of the Downhill Southeast? Though video hardly does any justice, take a ride along with Neko from Sunday during his race run.
Above - Catch a glimpse of the action from round 3 of the DHSE at Windrock courtesy of Ross McDonald of MTBmaniatv.
Single Crown Showdown Podium: 3. Gus Michaels (right) 3:02.2, 2. Sean Leader (left) 2:57.9, 1. Loren Dejonge (center) 2:57.8.
Intro Men Podium: 3. Eli Podgurski (right) 3:35.8 , 2. Mitchell Odendahl (left) 3:32.3. 1. Gage Collina (center) 3:32.2.
Am Men Podium: 5. Rafael Ferreira (far right) 3:06.2, 4. Adam Smith (far left) 3:05.4, 3. David Morgan (second from right) 3:03.5, 2. Ben Ritcher (second from left) 3:02.3. 1. Chuck Pitts (center) 2:59.3.
This past weekend wraps up the Downhill Southeast's second year. While Neko Mulally might be the guy carrying the name and calling most of the series shots, he's as only has good as the team and folks he surrounds himself with. Who might those folks be? Well, how about we give those folks operating in the shadows some well deserved credit and recognition. Thanks to each and every one of those people for everything they contribute to the success of this series. Neko thanks you, I personally thank you, and speaking for the racers, I know they thank you too.
Jay Ferguson - If Father Time had a son or a side kick that would be Jay. Jarret can't handle it all, so divide and conquer is what they do. Your time officially starts with Jay, he gives you the count down then it's GO TIME!
Jarret Peek - "Father Time" for the Downhill Southeast. As a racer, you post a time? That would be courtesy of Jarret and Pisgah Productions. You'll find Jarret and his crew as staples of any MTB event in the region, especially the Downhill Southeast.
Will Washam / aka "Trillwill" - Quite simply the best MTB Emcee/Announcer on the east coast, and we are willing to bet in all of the US. Oh, and it should be mentioned, if you are going to throw out your best freestyle challenge, you had better bring it..... dude has mad skills. He also just happens to be Neko's partner in getting this series up and running this season..
Caroline "Mom" Mulally - No doubt Caroline has been and still is one of the biggest influencers in Neko's life. On any given race weekend Neko couldn't always be around, so when he was doing what he does best and a decision was to be made, Mom was there with to call the shots. Not to mention, she manages all event registration and race paperwork.
Callie Horwath - Neko's better half. Callie focused her skills on event promotions, social media, and anything to draw attention to the series, whether that be in the form of web, logo, poster design, etc., plus always lending a hand to Mom Mulally whenever it was needed.
Sean Leader - I know the nickname of MTBJesus is already taken, but man.... he's definitely making a run at the title, at least in my opinion. What does Sean do? That's not really the right question to ask, more what does Sean not do? Let's see.... Windrock Bike Park partner in crime with Neko, getting stuff where it needs to be, trail builder/course designer, racer, and most importantly taking care of the unforeseen issues that came up or addressing the things that fell through the cracks. Might I add, one accomplished photographer as well.
Mickey Denoncourt - the Course Marshal. Mickey is one of those old school DHers that can never get enough of the MTB scene. On any given Downhill Southeast weekend you can expect him to be carrying 50 lbs of course tape in his backpack while he retains and tries to break his own Guinness World Records of most miles walked and number of times down, and sometimes up, the course on two feet. I wonder what lap times he's posting these days?
Jamie Price - Mr I Can Do Anything and It All. As we've said in the past, Jamie is one of the nicest guys in Western North Carolina. Hauling stuff, setting up, tearing down, driving the shuttle, organizing the start on raceday, or just doing whatever. You name it Jamie's done it, always willing to lend a hand and does so with a smile.
Ross McDonald - One half of the MTBMania TV crew (the other being his sister Samantha). All the event footage you see daily (mind that word "daily", a feat in itself) is a result of Ross and his team's efforts. He genuinely loves every single thing about the sport. He recently said something that resonated with me... "The bicycle is one of the most important inventions of mankind, and mountains are the most beautiful thing in nature. Finding out who the fastest bike rider down the mountain is, is where these two meet." Pure passion about the sport right there.
What's this guys name again? Ummm, I can't seem to remember, though I know I've seen him a few times before. In all seriousness... yes, we all work hard at what we do, but we'd take the bet, you'd be hard pressed to find someone who works as hard as this guy goes. Thanks for all you do Mr. "I've seen you before, but I can't remember your name." (Haha). You've done a lot for the sport and the region, we all appreciate it!
That's a wrap, folks. When he's not on the UCI Circuit, Neko and his crew do have some more things planned in the region for the 2017 season with the Downhill Southeast. We look forward to what they've got cooking and the return of this series in 2018. We're out! See you on the trail!