An exultant rider crosses the finish line at the 2011 Idyllwild Spring Challenge event. File Photo

This homegrown race with a personal touch, as lead organizer Katie Hedrich calls the Idyllwild Spring Challenge mountain bike event, has always faced challenges. Since its inception in 2005, weather and course maintenance issues have been surmounted while the event continues to grow in reputation and popularity.

This year, Forest Service closure of parts of the May Valley trail system, has forced race organizers to make course alterations, turning two short courses into point-to-point races rather than a loop format.

Course Director Doug Kelbert said the practical effect of the course changes is that organizers will shuttle junior racers (14 and under) back from the race terminus at Living Free to the Hurkey Creek campground start.

“But as a racer, it’s not as interesting as a loop course, because you’re repeating what you’ve already ridden,” Kelbert said. Parking will be available at the Living Free terminus for anyone wanting to be at the new finish line for those races.

Hedrich hopes next year the Forest Service May Valley issues will not impact the race and that all permits can be obtained in a timely manner. Over the years, race participants have dubbed the May Valley cross-country course as one of the most beautiful in the country.

The Spring Challenge has steadily gained stature as a major mountain bike event both nationally and internationally. After 2006, it made the cut as one of four new venues approved and added to the American Mountain Bike Challenge’s (AMBC) collection of 40 well-regarded U.S. venues. In 2007, the Challenge was listed on the National Mountain Bike and Cross Country Calendar and also became an International Cycling Union (UCI) event.

The latter kudos allowed Challenge participants to accumulate points to advance to Olympic trials. In 2009, the race added a Junior Olympics event for riders under 18, giving strong finishers opportunities to attend specialized training camps.

The Spring Challenge offers something for every racer from 14 years and under to 50 years and older, from unicyclists to tandem riders, and for riders using single to multiple geared bikes. The 2012 race features 27, 22, 18, 8 and 6.5-mile races. Racers participate in the various races based on their ages and levels of proficiency.

As the race has grown in popularity and size, race organizers credit Idyllwild’s small-town hospitality, the natural beauty of the race setting and the personal way all riders are treated by organizers and townspeople. “What’s important to me is that riders enjoy their experience here,” said Hedrich. Idyllwild Cycling, the race parent organization, continues to see growth in local sponsorships, volunteer support and assists from other Hill organizations in planning, promoting and staging the race.

Meeting on Monday night, race planners Hedrich, Kelbert, Wayne Sleme, Wayne Ford and Richard Schwartz were upbeat about numbers of race participants this year. Hedrich said there were already 100 preregistrations and based on past years, that would mean total riders of over 300.

“What I’m proudest of is that our race is ‘old school’ — not the same big 18-wheelers and vendors you see at large corporate events,” said Hedrich. “We have many volunteers about whom we get so many compliments from race participants each year.”

The Idyllwild Spring Challenge starts on Saturday, May 5 and runs through Sunday, May 6 at Hurkey Creek Campground. For more information on the race see http://www.idyllwildcycling.com/the-race.

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