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The race start (photo courtesy Lemurian Shasta Classic).
When I moved to Redding from Durango, Colo., some two decades ago (gulp), the Lemurian Shasta Classic mountain bike race was one of the events than made me feel a little less homesick.
I covered the event for the Searchlight, and back in those early days, a lot of Durango-based pros were still arriving to race the old course west of Shasta Dam. Colorado-based athletes like Ned Overend, John Tomac, Bob Roll and Greg Herbold were competing in the Lemurian. Later, Olympian Steve Larson won the race a pair of times. Redding’s own MTB legend Kevin Clair has won the race. Lance Lollar, a Redding chiropractor who battled neck-and-neck with Overend and Tomac for years, raced the Lemurian many times.
This year’s 23rd annual version of the race is set for 9 a.m. Saturday at Brandy Creek Marina at Whiskeytown National Recreation Area.
Back in the early 1990s I started doing mountain bike races and quickly discovered something that’s always been true about the Lemurian: It’s an incredibly challenging, epic-feeling, amazing race. Considering its history and the quality of the courses it’s been held on, it might be America’s greatest cross-country mountain bike race.
Most old-school racers will tell you the original course at the dam was the most difficult. It was one huge loop with the agonizing 10-mile climb at the start and the wild Lemurian Chute downhill. It was one race course where most mountain bikers will tell you that the downhill was as strenuous as the climb.
That rocky downhill was fast and if you made an error in judgment you could crash badly (and many did). I wonder if there’s a way to calculate how much damage the Lemurian Chute did to bicycles.
In 2002, the course was moved to French Gulch because of security concerns at Shasta Dam following 9/11. The course at French Gulch remained difficult, with huge climbs and descents, but it was just terrific in terms of the mix of scenery/difficulty/fun. It was such as blast to sail down the “zipper” back to the finish line in French Gulch (a little town I’ve always loved).
After two years in French Gulch and a year of no race, damage from a wildfire pushed the course to its current location at Whiskeytown. Click here to read Paul Shigley’s description of the race course.
With steep climbs, tons of singletrack, action-packed downhills and wonderful views, the current course maintains the prestige of the Lemurian very well. I always thought it would be great to move the race back to French Gulch, but plenty of riders love the current course and it’s probably doing just fine in Whiskeytown.
There’s lots to love about the current Lemurian course.
The race can be won or lost on the first climb to the top of Panther Gap/Gas Can, but with two difficult climbs beyond that, there’s plenty of torture awaiting those who take on the 26-mile-long course (which has upwards of 4,500 feet of climbing). It’s not a good idea to come into this race (at least the long course) without some pretty good miles under your legs.
Which is exactly why I’ll be a spectator this year.
Where should you watch the race? Probably anywhere along the course, but it might be fun to see the leaders as they reach the climb above the Shasta Mine Loop parking area (the second big climb on the course).
It’s always fun to watch the riders as they reach the finish. The hangout period after the mountain bike race was always my favorite part of the endeavor. If I did a little less hanging out and a little more riding, I might jump into the field.
Good luck to all those who are racing this year!
Jim Dyar is a news, arts and entertainment journalist for A News Cafe and the former arts and entertainment editor for the Record Searchlight’s D.A.T.E. section. Jim is also a songwriter and leader of the Jim Dyar Band. He lives in Redding. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.