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Rich in mountain bike trails

The Heartland Race may show how the KC area is rich in mountain bike trail offerings.

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The vision is for Kansas City and Lawrence to become the hot spots for mountain bike racing in the Midwest. That's why three local cycling enthusiasts now have the wheels turning for one of the largest racing series ever to hit the metro area.

The 2000 Heartland Mountain Bike Championship Series is a trio of contests planned for May 7, June 25, and July 16 at the William Landahl Park Preserve near Blue Springs, Mo.

The project is the brainchild of Mark Neace, who is the manager at BikeSource in Overland Park.

"One Monday I walked into work and I'm getting bombarded by all these e-mails about a race that took place the day before, and there were a lot of complaints. People said it was a cruddy course, poor prizes, poor organization, and things like that."

Neace checked into the mountain bike scene in the area, talked to a few friends last fall, and got the ball rolling.

"It kinda came down to, 'Do you think we can put on a race?' ... and (fellow race organizer) Paul Stein walked into the office and got all excited by the idea, said he could do a Web site, and all of the sudden we have a race series."

Stein says the swell of community support is evident -- and expects to exceed the goal of 125 race participants.

"In the two weeks since the web site has been up, we've had more than 500 hits, which is really more than I expected.... The word on the street is it's gonna be a pretty big event. We're excited that it'll be a pretty big turnout."

And Stein says the prize pool lined up should keep the cycling community's interest piqued.

"We pay out a portion of the $5,000 worth of merchandise and cash after each race. We also have a series total, and at the end of the contest, whoever's got the lowest point total wins the whole series and we pay out a big cash prize and a trophy for that."

Heartland Race Series organizers hope this year's competition is more than just a chance for a few hard-core cyclists to get out and hit the trails.

"It's a growing sport, and it's a beautiful thing to do. Take your family out and walk through the woods for a little ways, sit some place, have a picnic, and watch the racers go by," says event co-organizer Russ Pedersen.

As for the Landahl course, Pedersen says whether the rider has just taken off the training wheels or has been training for years, there's something out there for him or her.

"There's a real variety of trails out there, probably about 20 miles worth, so it's perfect for this."

And Pedersen says it's a great place for the youngsters.

"I like to go to races and take my kids, and they're always disappointed if there's not a kids' race. Twelve and under, they can bring their little BMX bikes, and we'll do a closed little loop for them."

Stein hopes this series starts a grassroots interest in the sport, especially among the children. "Our philosophy, when we put this thing together, was to grow the sport, to get the youth involved and get them racing," says Pedersen.

For those competing in the top echelon, the expert/pro division, Stein says this course is more than a handful.

"There's a couple of real long climbs that are several hundred feet. There are some really rocky sections where you'll have 8-inch rocks piled across the course that you have to ride uphill through for a quarter of a mile, plus a lot of log crossings, with 2-foot logs you've got to get over."

Stein says changing public perception and awareness of cycling in general are the keys to making this series an annual success.

"Portland and Seattle, places like that, have bike lanes and signs everywhere. Kansas City isn't really geared that way. Although we have a huge riding community, it's not a commonplace thing to most people.... We're not thought of as a biking mecca," he says.

Once word of mouth spreads about the quality of the trails in this area, Stein expects the sport to flourish to an even greater extent.

"(Kansas City) probably has one of the most trail-rich environments for mountain biking of any in the area, including St. Louis. I think there's a lot of opportunity for racing and riding here. There's just not a lot of knowledge about it outside the area."

If this year's races live up to expectations, organizers hope the seeds will be planted for racing to occur more frequently in the KC area, and throughout the Midwest.

"We're getting our feet wet this year with these three races just to see if we can do it right. Our hopes are to try to expand it next year to a minimum of two or three race series, and possibly a 24-hour race -- maybe even a Thursday night series. We have a lot of ideas in the works, but we first of all have to see if we can do it this first year," says Neace.

For a full description of age groups, series scoring, prizes, spectator and registration information on the upcoming Championship Series, go to www.heartlandrace.com.

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