WANOGA SNO-PARK — Bend mountain biker Carl Decker thought he was the man to beat at The Best of Both, a two-part cycling race that combined a 62-mile road ride and 23-mile trail race.
But when the road racers attacked a climb 10 miles into the race, which was held for the first time Saturday on Century Drive and Wanoga-area trails west of Bend, Decker wondered if he would be able to stay close enough to the leaders to have a chance to pass them on the mountain bike leg.
“That’s their card to play, get away as far as they can, and they played it right,” Decker, 43, said. “They had a couple minutes (gap). And it was like, I don’t know if we’ll ever see those guys again. But they probably dug really deep to get that gap, and I dug pretty deep to keep it to two minutes.”
Dillon Caldwell, a 28-year-old professional road cyclist who recently moved from Bend to Boulder, Colorado, led by a minute at the end of the road leg, and seven more cyclists, including Decker, entered the transition area — where riders swapped road bikes for mountain bikes — within 21⁄2 minutes.
But a two-minute lead in road cycling does not equal a two-minute lead on the trail.
“Two road guys had a two-minute advantage on us coming into the mountain bike leg, and I caught one in 15 minutes on the trail,” said Menso de Jong, a mountain biker who finished the road leg with Decker. “The other (road cyclist), I caught at the bottom of the descent, but then we both exploded. I was destroyed with about half an hour to go in the mountain biking part. We kind of all were. It as a nice, slow-motion race to the finish line.”
Decker pulled away from de Jong, a 29-year-old from Santa Barbara, California, and the remaining road racer, Sean Davis, with about 3 miles remaining in the race and became the first Best of Both champion in 4 hours, 13 minutes, 55 seconds. Davis out-kicked de Jong in the final stretch at Wanoga Sno-park to come in second in 4:15:55, with de Jong trailing by a second.
Race director Dominic Phipps said The Best of Both race was inspired by his years of riding with members of the British army mountain biking and road cycling teams in his native England. Both groups insisted that they were the fitter and tougher cyclists, and Phipps thought it would be fun to make them prove it.
“At the time, the idea was that we’d just go to a trailhead somewhere and make it happen, but I never did it over there,” Phipps explained. “But now I live in Bend, and last year I was riding and thinking, this would be the ultimate place to put it together, because we’ve got good road riding, fantastic trails.”
Phipps said he is not aware of any other races with a similar format, but the idea of a competition pitting road cyclists against mountain bikers works because there is a real divide between the two groups, even if the rivalry is not as heated among Bend riders as it was between the factions of the British army cycling team.
“What started as a way of pitching that rivalry ended up becoming more a case of, how do we create an experience around it without making it contentious?” Phipps explained. “How do we do it so that people dig out their road bike and mountain bike and have an experience they’ve never had?”
The promise of a new experience is what drew Ryan Levering, 39 and of Bend, to the event, which attracted about 200 participants.
“I’m not a mountain biker at all, so I got off my bike and walked every rock section,” said Levering, who finished third in the women’s pro division. “I’m on a demo bike, I’m not even on my own mountain bike. I wanted something totally different to challenge myself.”
Many of the pro men said the race format was an advantage for mountain bikers, simply because it is easier to make up time on the trails than it is to build a lead on the road. But when asked who she thought had the advantage, Levering was even more specific: Serena Bishop Gordon.
“Because she’s an all-around rider,” Levering said of the 39-year-old Bend cyclist, who was indeed the first woman to cross the finish line Saturday in 4:45:49. “Honestly I didn’t have any idea what type of cyclist would have an advantage, just because so many things could happen on the road. But then, so many things could happen on the mountain bike, too.”
And while The Best of Both was a good-natured competition between road cyclists and mountain bikers, Decker said the event was also a fun reminder that, deep down, almost all the riders enjoy doing both.
“I’ve never heard of any race where you transition from one bike to another, and it’s kind of kooky, honestly,” Decker said. “But triathlon is kooky! It’s totally arbitrary, the distances, the sports. This makes more sense than triathlon. It’s kind of funny when you explain it, but it gets people thinking, because everybody does both, and they all have their strengths. And as evidenced by today, it makes for a really dynamic event with big lead changes. It’s really exciting.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0305, email@example.com