Oak Mountain trails draw praise from XTERRA athletes

At Thursday’s pre-race press conference at Oak Mountain State Park, three-time XTERRA World Champion Conrad Stoltz from South Africa said that the riding in Pelham – the site for Sunday’s XTERRA Southeast Championship – is as good as it gets.

“This is definitely my favorite bike course of all the races,” said Stoltz, who has won the last three races here. “This is the ultimate bike course; there’s a lot of adrenaline on this trail.”

Casey Fannin, the reigning 45-49 XTERRA World Champion, is from nearby in Hoover and has been riding here for 17 years. There’s 17 bridges along the 19-mile bike course connection different sections.

“It’s a typical southern-type pine forest with hard packed trials, jumpy rollers, a couple climbs and some tight single track. So you got your fast sections, slow sections, challenging technical sections, it’s got a little bit of everything which makes it nice,” said Fannin, who’s finished among the top three amateurs at the Southeast Championship for the past three years.

Canada’s Melanie McQuaid, also a three-time XTERRA World Champ, was a pro mountain biker before she did XTERRA and likes the course so much she came out a week early so she could take part in last weekend’s BUMPnGrind mountain bike races.

“This is all middle and big ring riding on fast swooping trails, and you need to have good skills to do well here,” said McQuaid.

Located in the southernmost part of the Appalachian Chain, this Shelby County course is praised by competitors as being one of the most fun, fast, scenic and difficult on the XTERRA schedule. It starts with a swim in the warm water of Double Oak Lake – two 750-meter laps separated by a short beach shuffle in-between.

From there the long, single-loop 19-mile mountain bike course starts at about 500 feet elevation, twists, turns, and rolls through the forest for seven miles then begins a gradual 700-foot climb to the summit. The descent is a fast, wild ride highlighted by the notorious “blood rock” section – a series of tricky to maneuver, uneven and jagged rocks. New this year is a recently added three-mile section on the west side of the lake that’s filled with rolling rights and lefts.

“I think this is the best race venue ever,” once said XTERRA Pro Jamie Whitmore. “It mixes East Coast mountain biking with tight turns, roots and rocks with a fast descent and rock garden area that’s totally West Coast. It’s just a blast!”

The run is simply punishing, with four major climbs – each progressively steeper than the one before. In between the climbs are a series of weaving off-road trails that meander through forested sections that provide shade, if not relief, from the heat.

Sat., June 12 – 7 a.m. – XTERRA 5km, 10km, 19km mud runs

Sun., June 13 – 8 a.m. – XTERRA Off-road triathlons

On-site registration and packet pick-up for trail runs, kids triathlon and duathlon races, and off-road tris starts today, June 11 from noon-6 p.m. at Oak Mountain State Park. Late sign-up and packet pickup for the trail runs is from 6-6:30 a.m. on Saturday morning.

One and all are welcome out to the park to check out the festival. There is a $3 park entrance fee for adults. There is a $1 park entrance fee for children ages 6-11 and senior citizens ages 62 and older.