Riding near the top-30 going into the first section of singletrack, Salsa Cycles team rider, Tim Ek (159) was well positioned to avoid bottlenecks that could slow his progress.
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By Matt Gersib, photos by Patty Wixon
For 11 years now, an ever-increasing number of off-road cyclists have made the trek to Spearfish, South Dakota, to experience the fantastic singletrack and small town, family friendly hospitality that defines the Dakota Five-O. For all who have been there, it’s clear that Perry Jewett and the Ridge Riders of the Black Hills have developed a winning formula that keeps riders and their families coming back year after year.
One of the unique aspects of the Dakota Five-O is the course, which starts at the Spearfish City Park and snakes out of town on local paved roads before climbing onto a rural mountain gravel road. It’s off of this road that the first singletrack flows left after approximately two more miles of moderate switchback climbing. Racers come back out of this singletrack and descend this same road at the end of the race as well.
It was a brisk 47 degrees at the 7:15 a.m. roll-out for the first wave of racers. The event start was split into two waves, spaced at 15 minute intervals due to increased event participation, which swelled to 700 riders in 2011. The ATV-led neutral roll-out of town sent riders into draft lines almost immediately and I worked to stay near the front, but not in the wind. I didn’t want to get caught behind too many racers as we entered the singletrack, as it’s typical for bottlenecks to occur as riders make mistakes. This was one lesson I learned during my inaugural Dakota Five-O experience, as I took it easier on the start, got caught behind a couple of bottlenecks and was stuck playing catch-up for much of the rest of the event.
The Lander, Wyoming, tandem team of Chuck Schuster and Karla Wagner pulled off an impressive 5:34:58 ride in their first ride of the Dakota Five-O course.
Upon finishing the Dakota Five-O in 2010, I immediately felt I wanted to come back in 2011 with two things I thought would be beneficial (and did not have in 2010) – full suspension and a granny gear. So this year I raced a Giant Anthem X-29 with 100mm of travel front and rear. It was equipped with a Deore XT triple crankset and 11-36T cassette, so I had my granny gear as well.
My Anthem X-29’s big wheels and full suspension helped me fly down the downhill sections of the course. The suspension and gearing worked to my advantage on the climbs too, as I was often able to stay seated through rocky climbing sections and continue climbing on ultra-steep parts of the course that had other racers around me hiking with their bikes. It was a major advantage to not need to remount my machine at the tops of climbs, but instead to simply be able to click up to the middle chainring and be gone.
I went into the singletrack in the top-30 and was able to avoid the singletrack bottlenecks I feared. For me, the early pace in the singletrack was almost perfect, so it seems my start worked out well. In the early going, I linked up with Dakota Five-O veteran and fellow Nebraskan, Ryan Feagan, who was laying down a solid tempo on the climbs. Ryan politely let me lead on the next descent, and I was able to bridge up to the next group ahead of us, which contained eventual women’s race winner, Kim Eppen. It was Kim who paced me up at least the next climb, and possibly even the next two climbs. At the top of a descent before the second checkpoint, Kim politely moved over and asked me to lead out the descent, which I was happy to do. As a full-blown pro, I’m pretty sure Kim doesn’t do this for many folks, so I thanked her and did my best to not screw up on the descent that followed.
Kim Eppen made the long drive from Iowa City, Iowa with her husband Brian to race the Dakota Five-O. The couple went two-for-two in the event, Kim winning the women’s overall, and Brian winning men’s and event overall. At right, the numerous aid stations gave racers plenty of on-the-course support.
It was here that perhaps my favorite part of the race started in earnest, because it’s where I linked up with my good friend and former Salsa Cycles teammate, Tim Ek. I’d seen Eki a couple of times already during the race, but he’d climbed away from me earlier. It was here that we really started feeding off each other and pushing each other on to a collectively better performance. Eki was climbing a little faster than I, while the downhill sections tilted slightly towards my skill set, making our charge in the last half of the race a fun and inspiring back-and-forth dash. It was some of the most fun I’ve ever had racing my mountain bike, in fact!
The greatness of it all is perhaps best exemplified by the experience Eki and I had riding through the bacon aid station at approximately mile 38. We received high-fives from three aid station workers, while a fourth worker gave me a full-speed hand-up of two pieces of sweet, smoky bacon. Where else can you get that kind of service? In 22 years of racing, this is the first time it’s happened to me.
The final 12 miles of the race are mostly downhill as racers descend back into Spearfish for the finish. As racers finish, families set up in Spearfish Park for an afternoon of Strider and kids’ races and an awards ceremony that leads into a massive raffle for thousands of dollars in prizes. I don’t think anyone went home empty-handed or disappointed. The Dakota Five-O is just that good.
The giddy smile on the author’s face tells the story of the day. It was a great singletrack day!