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Mountain bikers filling Ocala trails for national event

Florida's best mountain bike racers are riding at Hardrock MTB Park in Ocala this week, polishing their single-track and climbing skills on the sandy, rocky, clay and mud trails that wind past the infamous suspended bridge.

The trails are filling up in preparation for the $25,000 Volkswagen American Mountain Bike Challenge National Finals that will draw hundreds of riders Friday through Sunday. Some groups have been sleeping in tents and riding hard after drinking strong coffee around the campfire each morning.

Off-road riders will compete on Friday morning in the dual slalom competition in the following National Off Road Bicycling Association classes: beginner, sport, women and pro/elite.

On Saturday and Sunday, all other classes will race cross country, including kids, beginner, sport, women, vet, masters, Clydesdale, first-timers and a special single-speed beach cruiser class.

At 1 p.m. Sunday, the biggest purse will be offered for pro/elite, expert, vet expert, junior expert, women expert and sport competition. Watch for top Florida experts such as Eric Lemaire of Gainesville, Shelly Allen of Pinellas Parkand national masters champion Peter Joule, formerly of St. Petersburg, who will travel south from his new home near Ellijay, Ga.

The weekend also will include camping, practice sessions, parties, entertainment, and daily awards presentations. For information, call Dave Berger at (352) 873-9279, or visit the Gone Riding! Web site at

To get to Hardrock MTB Park, go north on I-75 to exit No. 71. East on 326, right on C-25A, and look for riders 1 mile down the road on the left.

Topping the Florida State Championship Points Series after five events are Team Iron Horse/University riders Jeff and Daisy Knippen, and Scottie Graham of Tampa; Shelly and Doug Allen (Trek/Jones) of Pinellas Park; Ashli Brown (Bike Rack II) of Tampa; Kathy White (Bike Rack II) of Riverview; Joel Gorman (Blades & Bikes) of Tampa.

GREAT FLORIDIAN TRIATHLON: CFT/Sommer Sports organizers Fred Sommer and Steve Meckfessel of Clermont never dreamed this year's Floridian Ironman would attract more than 850 competitors from all over the world, but it did.

Clermont's own version of Hawaii's Ironman took place one week after the Kona race Oct. 25 with full Ironman distances (swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and run 26.2 miles). Many St. Pete Mad Dogs staffed a water stop for the run at Lake Minneola, staying 17 hours to support the last of the finishers.

Floridian winners were Allen Hurd, 28, of Loganville, Ga., in 9 hours, 43 minutes, 32 seconds, and Kathy Stetz, 33, of Lansing, Mich., in 10:43:51. Top masters woman was Susan Wallis, 44, of Ponte Vedra Beach in 12:58:54. Local standout was Rue Morgan, 54, of St. Petersburg, who placed 10th in his age group in 13:35:19 a week after competing in Hawaii.

Two bay area triathletes won their age groups: Karen Alexeev, 45, of Gulfport, first in 45-49 in 13:32:59; and Bonnie Theall, 52, of Dunedin, first in 50-54 in 15:24:58.

Other local finishers: Dale Kjos of Belleair Bluffs; Martha Vidal, Terje Gronlie, George Smith, Bob LeHoullier, Mark Haxton and Bobbi LeHoullier, of Tampa; Ashley Macko of Brandon; J.P. Atherholt of Oldsmar; David Homan of Temple Terrace; Chris Quilty, Melissa Dipple, Sherry Perkins, Dan "Double Ironman" DeRussy and Morgan of St. Petersburg; Toney Hall, Dan Stromberg, and Larry Franklin of Largo; James Bolander and Miles Drenth of Seminole; Bart Ross of Valrico; Jerry Magliulo of New Port Richey, and David Sitton of Plant City.

USOC MEETINGS IN ORLANDO: Last weekend the U.S. Olympic Committee held its second board meeting of the year, and USA Triathlon finally received official designation as an Olympic national governing body from the USOC. Triathlon will open the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, and the event will be a medal sport.

GOOD LIFE GAMES CYCLING: Volunteers, spectators, and supporters are encouraged to come out at 8:45 a.m. Nov. 16 and cheer as the cycling time trial records keep dropping at the Gateway Centre in Good Life Games 1-mile, 5-kilometer and 10-kilometer events. Times on this flat course are getting faster and faster for the competitors, age 50-and-over.

Medals go to top finishers, and these athletes will be qualified to compete at the Florida Senior Games Dec. 3-7 in Sarasota.

For information, call Mary Frances Bacon at 521-1260.