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Saturday, May 10, 2008 -- Harrisonburg, VA
Massanutten Yee-Ha! Downhill Race 2008 (iPO Event Id#: 10673)

[Details] [Coverage] [Photos] [Overall Results] [Results by Class]

Coverage: [2000] [2001] [2002] [2003] [2004] [2005] [2006] [2007]

Racing through a cold fog on top of Massanutten
Article and photos by Don Parks

The Yee-Ha! downhill race returned to Massanutten Resort again in 2008 and along with it came unwelcome rain. The worst of it came on Friday night and made for less than ideal camping. But on race day most of the rain was gone and replaced with very cool temperatures, wind, and a misty fog on top of the mountain.

The weather wasn't going to keep the riders away as this was the USA Cycling Virginia State Downhill Championship and the first event in the Gravity East North Atlantic Regional Championship Series. In fact, racers of just about every shape, size, age, and skill level were ready to take on the downhill challenge.

The crew at Massanutten worked hard to keep the course in good shape and it actually held up pretty well. But there was no avoiding a few sections of mud and the wet and slippery roots and rocks. Did I say "rocks"? The course has more than it's fair share of rocks and they varied in size and shape just as much as the competitors.

The first riders to bust through the foggy mountain top and down the course were the hardtail class where rear suspension isn't used. From then on it was a constant parade of bicycles heading down the course for the next three and a half hours.

The first obstacle on the course is a big boulder
Watching the riders head through the first technical section of large boulders it was easy to see the difference between the skill levels of the riders. Regardless of the finesse with which they rode the fans that lined the course always cheered with encouragement.

The first rider through that really displayed expert skills was 15 year-old phenom Neko Mulally (Photo). As Mulally flashed by making the tricky obstacles seem trivial the fans were in awe. One spectator commented in a rather politically incorrect compliment, "that guy is just retarded". The "freak" skills of Mulally earned him a third overall finish and first in the Junior Expert 15-18 class with a time of 3:34.77. But he needed all his skills as second place Jr Expert, Ethan Quehl (3:37.66) (Photo), followed him down the mountain less than three seconds slower (or less fast should we say) and finished fifth overall.

The course ends with a whole bunch of small boulders
Mulally's time held up as the best of the day until the Pro-Semi-Pro class took on the mountain. The first pro out of the gate was defending champion Trevyn Newpher (Photo) and he hit the line at 3:35.25, less than a half second off Mulally's time. This year Newpher would settle for fourth overall and third in the pro class.

It wasn't until Jurgen Beneke (Photo) took to the course that Mulally's claim to the fastest time would fall. The 36 year-old Beneke, old enough to be Mullaly's father, lit up the course to post the day's best time of 3:22.66, a full 12 seconds better than Mullaly.

Beneke (see his MySpace page) has recently come out of downhill retirement and has obviously been good at dusting off the cob webs. He won a gold in the 98' winter X-Games and the NORBA National Championship in 99' and is now adding a few more trophies to his collection.

Jason Memmelaar (3:32.94) (Photo) was the only other rider to best Mullaly but he was still more than 10 seconds behind Beneke. Memmelaar did finish ahead of Newpher, the only rider to beat him last year, but still had to settle for second overall for the second year in a row.

Somewhere in the middle it's little gravel where speeds reached 36 mph
Let's not forget that the ladies like to get out and play in the dirt (or mud) right along side the boys. Professional XC rider Sue Haywood (Photo) was in attendance and took to the course in a full-suspension XC bike and looked a little out of place wearing a regular cycling helmet. But her skills still shined through as she took a commanding win in 4:32.59, almost a full half minute ahead of the second place female, Ellen Adams (5:01.59) (Photo).

Talking to Haywood after the race she glanced over the prize table and said, "I just hope I win one of those downhill helmets." And sure enough her prize was a nice new full face helmet... oh, and a check for several hundred dollars as well. The 36 years-old Haywood also mentioned that this would be her last year of professional XC racing and then she will retire. Might she be coming out of retirement to race downhill? If Beneke's example and her Yee-Ha! success were any indication, that just might not be a bad career move.

Don't miss the Massanutten Hoo-Ha! Mountain Bike Race on June 1. It's the WVVUS #3 and USAC-MTB Final!