Race Report : Race #2- The Crank Down in Tiger Town Alabama’s second NICA race, "The Crank-Down in Tiger Town", tells the story of momentum. With the


Race Report : Race #2- The Crank Down in Tiger Town

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Alabama’s second NICA race, "The Crank-Down in Tiger Town", tells the story of momentum. With the first-race jitters behind them, racers, staff, and volunteers reconvened at Auburn’s Chewacla State Park with a fist-bumping mojo.

“I was a nervous mess in the beginning,” said Luke Dorough, a middle-school student from Lee County Comp, recalling his nerves before the first race—Feud at the Furnace—at Tannehill State Park. But once the first climb spread the field out, he thought to himself, “Hey, I got this!”

Despite the soggy forecast, the skies above the Auburn plains stayed dry and overcast, which meant comfortable temps and perfectly tacky trail conditions on the tight-and-twisty singletrack. The Pit Zone resembled a football tailgating area, a little city of pop-up tents abuzz with racers, parents, and coaches.

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“One of the things I’m most proud of with this league is, when I turn my back to the race and look at the Pit Zone, I see kids having fun with their families,” said league director Eddie Freyer. “This week’s race made that even more apparent with the intimacy of the venue.”

This venue also showed off Auburn’s distinct flavor of trails—with less climbing, but more technical features than the fast-and-pumpy trails of the first race. Chewacla’s roots, logs, and hairpin turns played to different riding strengths, according racers who squeamishly recalled “The Big Hill” of Tannehill.

“That’s the beauty of this sport,” Freyer said. “Each course suits a different style of rider.”

It resulted in a shakedown among the league’s top teams. At Race No. 1 in Tannehill, the Hoover Bucs took the win, edging out the No. 2 Jacksonville High School by a mere three points. Auburn came in a close third, trailing Jacksonville by seven points. In Race No. 2, the Huntsville Rockets, a composite team, took the win, bumping the defending Hoover Bucs into second place. Auburn maintained a solid third-place ranking.

This weekend saw a few mechanicals and crashes (thankfully, none of them serious). There were, however, a few “character-building” moments that saw students handle tough luck with aplomb.

Take Phoenix Freeman, a member of the Hoover Bucs Varsity team. His tubeless tire “burped” on the second half of the course, so he stopped and added air. On the second bump, it didn’t hold. He was in second place, not far from the finish line, with Vestavia’s Chase Davis quickly closing the gap. Phoenix rode his flat front tire to the finish—still grinning—and keeping his second-place finish with a 25-second lead.

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In the girls’ race, defending sophomore winner Nikki Costello, of Huntsville’s Buckhorn High, clipped a tree with her handlebars and crashed. She lay there, her leader’s jersey smudged with dirt, thinking, “I’m so done with life right now.” Then another female racer rode up to find her dazed and hurting. Sara Beth Wendling, a freshman from Ben Russell High, stopped to check on Costello, and even offered to abandon her own race to help.

“I can stay here with you until a course marshal comes,” Wendling said, while another competitor offered to ride back and find help. None of the girls had ever met.

Costello waved them on, grateful, and slowly got back on her bike. She was bruised and road-rashed under her leader’s jersey, but still finished the sophomore race in second place. After finishing, she limped through the Pit Zone, looking for the girl who helped her. They met and snapped a pic for Instagram. A friendship was born.

These are the wins beyond the podium, the moments when mountain biking transcends mountain biking, when it’s not about being part of a race, but being part of the human race. There are moments in every event when individuals and teams behave in ways that uphold NICA’s five core principals: Inclusivity, Equality, Strong Body, Strong Mind, Strong Character. Race officials will be handing out “Spirit of NICA” helmet stickers to racers who demonstrate them.

The girls’ field was rich with evidence that being fast and feminine are not mutually exclusive.

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Hanna Crews, an 11th grader from Auburn, went straight from the pre-race practice to get her hair done for prom. After training 3 days a week on these trails, she has come to know every root and turn, and she deftly leveraged her home-court advantage, climbing from her third-place finish at Tannehill to take the JV win—the day after prom.

Her goal for this year? “To get faster. I’m racing the guys on my team.”

Click here to see the final race results. And visit our Alabama High School Mountain Bike Photos page for race photos and podium shots.

Information on our next race, "The Rumble On The Ridge" can be found on our website at:www.alabamamtb.org/races

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