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Sun Valley gears up for bike mania

Hundreds of mountain bikers are expected to get an introduction to the hundreds of miles of bike trails in the Sun Valley area next week. (KAREN BOSSICK/For the Times-News )

Sun Valley is coming down with an attack of bike mania.

More than 500 of the nation’s top mountain bikers are expected to descend on Sun Valley Wednesday through July 17, for the USA Cycling Mountain Bike Cross-Country National Championships.

The prestigious event — Sun Valley’s answer to the Tour de France — will take place primarily on Bald Mountain.

And the valley is throwing a Ride Sun Valley Bike Festival in conjunction with the event that will offer semi-guided mountain bike rides around Sun Valley, bike films, a bike expo, fun races for kids and two concerts.

“It’s a lot like the Sun Valley Nordic Festival. It’s meant to become an annual event,” said Ellen Gillespie, who is helping to organize the week-long events. “The Fat Tire Criterium on Thursday evening will be quite the show with bicyclists racing wildly around Ketchum’s downtown streets. And even kids can race in that and the Idaho Pump Track State Championships for prizes offered by the Toy Store.

Some of the top contenders in the mountain bike championships include Adam Craig, a 15-time national bike champion, Georgia Gould, who swept all six events on the national mountain bike series in 1007, and Ned Overend, who appeared in the world’s first mountain biking video, titled “The Great Mountain Biking Video.”

Spectators will be able to watch the racers from the River Run side of Bald Mountain where the stadium finishes will be, said Sun Valley Chamber Director Greg Randolph, himself a member of the U.S. Olympic road cycling team at the 1996 Olympics.

Riders will practice on Wednesday and Thursday with Amateur XC races held at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Thursday. Cross-country races get under way in earnest on Friday beginning at 9 a.m. and continuing through 5 p.m. They start up again at 7:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, continuing until 5 p.m.

The top race, according to organizers, is the 2011 Super Downhill Course, a 10-kilometer time-trial start which launches from the historic Roundhouse Restaurant, following one of the fastest, flowing downhill rides ever conceived.

There also will be fast, flat circuit short-track cross country races, which wind around River Run Lodge across the bike path up to the parking lot.

The Ride Sun Valley Bike Festival will offer four free semi-guided mountain bike rides during the week with transportation provided from the Sun Valley Visitor Center to the sites of the rides.

“The whole week is going to be really exciting and it will bring a lot of people who have never ridden Sun Valley’s trails before,” said Jim Keating, who heads up the Blaine County Recreation District. “Like the Nordic Festival, it celebrates the trail system and the biking culture that this valley offers.“

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