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Sunday, September 20, 1998 -- Big Bear Lake, Hazelton
Big Bear Classic
Story and photos by Don Parks and Dave McKain.

[Coverage/Recap w/Pics] [Overall Results] [Results by Class]
Pictures: [Start/Lap 1] [More Lap 1] [Lap 2/Finish] [More Lap 1 & 2] [Awards]
[Down Hill] [Kids' Race]

The hills and hollows of Big Bear Lake Campground became a battlefield on September 20, 1998 as competitors duked it out in the WVMBA championship race. Additional incentive was provided from double points towards the WVMBA points series. The longest distance course of the year was dampened by rain the previous evening but the dry ground, suffering from a long dry spell, soaked the rain up quickly making for a sure and fast track. The 16 mile course started with a 2 mile road sprint with a slight hill climb at the end before heading out into the brush. The course then headed east and followed the Maryland/WV state line. Next, it turned back west and climbing to the highest part of the course (600 ft above the start) and followed a gravel fire road along the ridge. About half a mile down the road the course headed into the eerie pine forest where 90 degree banked curves wove amongst the perfect rows of white pine and along some pretty level trail before heading down into some moderate to severe technical descents. The course then folded back upon itself and headed back towards the finish line to complete the 16 mile loop. The beginner course was shortened to 13 miles while expert riders had to complete 2 laps (32 miles).

Mark Glass takes to the air at Big Bear Lake
Since the race was for all the WVMBA marbles and all but the Mens Expert and Womens Sport classes were up for grabs. One of the closest races took place in the Womens Expert class where Missy Showman entered the race leading Sue Haywood by 1 point. While Gunnar Shogren had a virtual wrap on the WVMBA mens expert class barring a major malfunction by himself and a miracle comeback from Gerry Phlugh (who had been out since breaking his collarbone at the Fat Tire Festival in August), Ryan O'Connor and Mark Glass (along with Phlugh) were in contention for second in the WVMBA series. Even the super sport Drew Smithberger was vulnerable with Randy Gibbs setting his sights on the Mens Sport title. In the Vet Expert class, Bryan Sterns, Brock Kaylor and Allen Moore all had a shot at the championship entering the race and Drew Morse still had a shot at beating out Jonathan Martin for the Mens Junior Expert title. With all of the possibilities it still came down to a contest of skill, stamina, and strategy with no evidence of anyone being conservative to help prevent a possibly disastrous DNF (2 x 0 = 0).

As has been normal over the last half of the season, Gunnar Shogren and Ryan O'Connor set the pace early reaching the 4 mile point in each others company and putting distance on the rest of the field. Shogren and O'Connor, maybe delusional from their strenuous effort, managed to miss the turn from the fire road into the pine forest as with many behind them. Realizing that they had made a mistake after descending 300 feet in elevation, the boys decided they better turn around. On the way back up they gathered quite a crowd as others who failed to make the turn into the pines quickly realized they too had made an error and headed back up the hill. In the meantime, many racers had made the turn and were quickly putting distance on the lost leaders. Eventually (through extraordinary effort), many who made the wrong turn had caught up with those who hadn't after completing the first lap.

First to cross the finish line were Beginner Class racers Cam Lewis and Brice Chambliss who had battled throughout the race. Cam was able to edge out Brice by 10 seconds to take first place (1:06:35). Shortly afterwards (1:20:12) Drew Smithberger crossed the finish line to win the Mens Sport class followed by Kevin Leyh (1:22:53) and Randy Gibbs (1:25:04). Mandi Williams' 4th place finish (1:55:12) was good enough to beat out her sister Ashley (2:09:42) to clinch the Womens Sport class WVMBA title.

Two hours and thirty six minutes after the start of the race, Gunnar Shogren crossed the finish line to win the race followed by George Willetts (2:39:27) and Ryan O'Connor (2:39:59). Missy Showman (2:56:03), who kept Sue Haywood in her sights throughout the first three quarters of the race, wasn't able to put everything together in the end while Sue took first (2:52:39) in the Womens Expert class to clinch her incredible fourth straight WVMBA championship. Broc Kaylor (2:45:41) bested Paul Stohman (2:52:00) and Matt Ross (2:54:27) while Allen Moore and Bryan Sterns took 4th and 5th places respectively in the Mens Expert Vet class. Jonathan Martin's time of 2:49:22, while good enough to win the Mens Junior Expert class, was also the 10th best overall time for those who had to complete 2 laps. Drew Morse, who was mathematically in reach of the title, still took second in the WVMBA series notwithstanding a DNF at the Big Bear.

Come back soon as we are putting together more coverage from the Big Bear with coverage of the DH race on Saturday, the great Steak dinner at the WVMBA awards banquet (pictures included) and results of the Kids Race as well as a recap of the 1998 WVMBA series and a look at things to come.