SPORTS: Fast times at Dry Hill as pros have banner day in Northwest Cup races

PORT ANGELES — It just keeps getting better and better.

The Northwest Cup mountain biking racing on Dry Hill drew record crowds, participants and praise for last weekend’s event.

“It went pretty dang well,” event co-director Scott Tucker said about the weekend.

“Everybody was blown away. It was the best one ever.”

There was a record number of entrants with 427, and more than 100 were some of the top pros in the world, including two-time and current World Cup champion Aaron Gwin of California.

Competition was so stiff that Gwin ended up taking fourth place after all the dust had settled late Sunday afternoon.

More on that later.

“We had our best pro class ever,” Tucker said. “A lot of world-class competitors.”

Crowds showed up to watch the stars of the sport.

There were at least 300 spectators on the hill Sunday, which was race day, according to Tucker’s estimate.

“We had nearly as many spectators as entrants,” he said.

That means at least 700 people crowded the hill during Sunday’s featured events.

Shuttle service

Tucker, co-director Casey Northern and their sponsors offered free shuttle service to Dry Hill from Harbinger Winery in west Port Angeles on Saturday and Sunday.

“Our shuttle couldn’t keep up Sunday,” Tucker said.

There was modest use of the shuttle Saturday but it was kept hopping during Sunday’s world-class action.

The weather was perfect for the event, according to Tucker.

It was dusty during the time trials Saturday but rain Saturday night kept the dust down in Sunday’s races.

But Tucker got soaked late Saturday night when he had a run-in with a mountain beaver, but more on that later.

The competition had some of the best times during the six years of Northwest Cup events on Dry Hill.

Tucker cautioned, however, that it’s hard to compare times year to year because the race trails are worked on and changed year to year.

This time was special, though, because the top 10 racers were within 3 to 5 seconds of each other.

“The window was tight this year,” Tucker said.

Well, except for defending champion Steve Smith of Vancouver Island, who finished 2.5 seconds — which is like a light-year gap for mountain biking time — ahead of the runner-up for the 2013 gold trophy.

The two-time Dry Hill winner also won a World Cup last year.

Smith finished the trip from the top of the mountain to the bottom was 2 minutes, 22.44 seconds.

“His time was ridiculous, I don’t know how he did it,” Tucker said.

Capturing second was Josh Bryceland of the United Kingdom in 2:24.69 while Connor Fearon of Australia claimed bronze in 2:25.15 and Gwin was fourth by a width of a hair behind Fearon in 2:25.17.

Smith won $1,000 for first place while the other top pro riders earned smaller amounts.

Everything went like clockwork during the weekend, oh — except for the beaver.

Tucker still was weary Monday after staying up late Saturday and getting up early Sunday.

All because of that silly mountain beaver.

“Our timing system quit working during time trials Saturday,” Tucker said.

The timing system was supported by 5,000 feet of cable that went through the forest.

Unfortunately a beaver found the cable, and not being a mountain biking fan, chewed completely through it.

The beaver didn’t stick around to say how tasty it was.

Tucker and a crew of electricians went hunting for the cable problem Saturday night in the rain and the dark.

They found the chewed-up cable at 10:30 p.m. and had it fixed by 11:30 p.m.

By the time Tucker got back to bed Saturday, he had only five hours before he had to hit the ground Sunday morning.

“I had to be there at 5:30 in the morning to get the gates open,” he said.

When asked about the early opening, he said, “Yeah, they don’t mess around [in this sport].”

Another first for the event was Port Angeles Mayor Cherie Kidd attended the awards ceremony and helped hand out trophies for the top racers.

Tucker also gives credit to Dry Hill owner Green Crow Corp., a company specializing in the timberland and wood products industries, and to the state Department of Natural Resources for allowing the area mountain biking community to create and maintain the trails on the mountain, and for running the Northwest Cup event three times a year.

“Without Green Crow and DNR support, we wouldn’t be able to put this on,” Tucker said.

The third and final Dry Hill race of the year is set for May 17-19.

“It’s not quite as huge as this one, but still we expect a lot of entrants,” Tucker said.

About 40 pros are expected to show up for the May race.

“We’re expecting two of the top three guys to compete,” Tucker said.

Hopefully, that mountain beaver will be on vacation.

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