The inaugural Fire on the Rim mountain bike race will be etched into the record books as a rousing success that attracted some of the finest riders from around Arizona and showcased the Rim Country as a challenging cycling site.
Held Aug. 6 on trails, paths and roadways around Pine and Strawberry, 88-plus participants turned out to test their riding skills on a rugged course that most every entrant called “technical” because traversing it required advanced biking skills.
In fact, some new to the sport opted not to participate after pre-riding the course the week before the race.
“Unfortunately for me, the trail from Strawberry to Pine was just too tough,” said Mike Colburn.
Others, like Rim Country Middle School science teacher Scott Davidson, found the course a challenge.
“It’s tough, but it’s a good course,” said Davidson, who participated in the 45-mile event on a three-man relay team.
Davidson was a member of a volunteer committee that worked for days prior to the event sprucing up the course and making it ready for the riders.
Rich Maines, on the Mountain Bike Association of Arizona’s Facebook Web site, was among several riders who lauded the course and the Rim Country.
“The city of Pine is fantastic and the course rocked. Thanks for putting on a great event,” Maines wrote.
Ernie Borgoyne, a member of the race committee, is calling the turnout “a great response.”
Borgoyne also lauded townspeople saying, “Residents came out and cheered the racers. You could see how much they appreciated the support.
“We are all very proud of our little town.”
Among the local cyclists to show well in the race were former Longhorn football player Matt Sopeland and Jerry Baker, owner of the Payson Athletic Club and a former Payson High School cross country runner.
Sopeland, 35, took first in the Open Men’s one-lap 15-miler, turning in a time of 1:23.88 that was more than a minute faster than his nearest competitor, 20-year-old Kyle Fitzgerald.
Some of those in the Open Men’s found the course much too rugged to speed over, taking more than two hours to finish. One racer labored, taking more than three hours to finish.
Baker, 30, competed in the Open Men’s 30-mile event, which was actually two laps of the course. He finished fourth overall in 3:16.06.
The course was no stranger to Baker, who pre-road it several times prior to race day.
While most of the entrants were men, 55-year-old Laura Meyer competed in the Masters 15-mile Women’s race and was first in a commendable time of 2:21.44.
Kelly McFall, 32, won the Open Women’s 30-miler in 3:36.44.
Josh Maule dominated the grueling Open Men’s 45-mile, three-lap event, finishing first in 3:58.14.
His fastest lap was his first, which he covered in 1:13.27.
On the third and final lap, he slowed down considerably, peddling it in 1:23.36.
At the conclusion of the race, many of the cyclists turned out for a mountain biking clinic taught by Darrin Permenter, the coach of the AZ Devo Junior Development team.
At 5 p.m., the festivities continued with a rousing jazz concert put on by the Big Band Machine, a group of Payson High students who have put on performances at Disneyland and have been invited to perform at an upcoming Pearl Harbor remembrance celebration in Hawaii.
Fire on the Rim co-chair Katie Calderon praised the band, saying the group, “entertained us all with a wonderful, delightful and talented concert. To have so much talent and happy band members in one group was so inspiring.
“The Fire on the Rim Race group appreciates this great group for sharing their talent with us at the end of race day.”
Most of the profits from the race benefit the Pine-Strawberry Fuel Reduction Committee and their efforts to protect the two tiny, mountain hamlets from devastating wildfires.
Borgoyne has said the committee’s goal is to make the Fire on the Rim race an annual event, not only to earn money for fire prevention, but also to showcase Pine and Strawberry.
He is in the process of compiling an economic impact study of the race and says results show that in the field of entrants, 11 were first-time visitors to the two towns.