The Chainlink

Chainlink Race Report: 2016 Palos Meltdown

By Marcelo Marcos and Tiber Scheer (Photo Credit: Matt Slager)

Marcelo's Recap

Enrico Fermi developed the world’s first nuclear reactor back in 1942 and recently I got to do my very first mountain bike race of the year on top of its buried remains near Red Gate Woods.

As a transplant to this city from Mexico, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the mountain bike community in the geographically flat Chicago. The REI Palos Meltdown has been the culmination of my positive experience with the area’s organized mountain bike collective. 

The Meltdown is a premier mountain bike event organized by the local chapter of the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA), and Chicago Area Mountain Bikers (CAMBr), which serves as a fundraiser to help build and maintain mountain bike trails in Chicago. The event is catered to all levels of expertise and welcomed more than 600 racers on its 10th edition this past August 7th.


Since I am considered an advocate for anything that promotes or aids mountain biking in any way, anywhere in the world, this event was a must for me. It also takes place in my sanctuary for everything mountain biking since my arrival to this part of the world, the Palos Hills Forest Preserve, part of the Forest Preserves of Cook County


In order to make the trip out to the suburbs from the city, I teamed up with my fellow city mountain biker Clayton Van Ekeren. 


I happen to be an experienced rider that gravitates towards the more technical and freeride aspect of the sport (with a 40lb bike to prove it pictured below). Clayton, on the other hand, is a road cyclist turned Mountain Biker whose first race ever was the Palos Meltdown. This year's Meltdown proved to be a great time for both of us. 


The event activities started on August 6th with a festival in the race grounds that included music, food and high-end mountain bike demos. Lured by the prospect of riding brand new bikes for free, we headed out to test some of the newest and priciest offerings from Specialized and Giant. The day proved a great way to do a course recon while also realizing how much better the newer bikes are over our old clunkers.


Race day was quite the experience. This was by far the biggest start I’ve ever had in my mountain bike career. The course, although I nicknamed it "every good section backwards”, proved to be fun and challenging.

Image courtesy www.palosmeltdown.com

The fact that the course was counterclockwise to how the trails are usually ridden, slightly worked to erase any sort of home field advantage. Regardless, it was great to find new lines in the reverse direction of the familiar trails.


At the finish line, we were greeted with free beers and pizza that made my cramped legs feel slightly better. In the end, I was delighted to be able to ride the Palos Hills trails uninterrupted for two hours and to get an awesome picture taken by local rock star photographer Matt Slager. Can’t wait for the 11th edition next year.

Tiber's Recap

Palos Meltdown is usually held during the latter part of summer (when trails are apt to dry a little quicker), and draws seasoned racers, Palos trail riding regulars, and dirtbaggers from near and far.

In recent years, the Meltdown has grown into a two day festival. Saturday saw the kickoff with demo bikes from some of the biggest names in mountain bikes. Local shops were on site offering special deals. Ride and race clinics were held as well as a group ride.

Photo credit:  Monika Kowalska

Personally, I’ve been looking forward to this year’s Meltdown since the moment I got a flat in last year’s race.

Flashback to 2015: Week before the 2015 race, I am able to hit the trails and get some pre-rides in on the posted course. Race day, I’m doing great…top 20 or so in the novice category, ¾ in on the race I get a flat. I have the spare, CO2, I think I’m good. Wrong. My spare tube has a short stem and my CO2 inflator will not catch, too short. I end up running the rest until I spot someone with a floor pump. I’m able to make it to the finish…DFL.

Present day (or at least last Sunday). I have a proper spare tube, I’m good. I haven’t been out to ride Palos that much this year but pretty familiar with the trails, so not too worried. I had been riding other trails though. The courses had been posted for a while but for some reason I didn’t note the direction. This year the race was being run clockwise (I normally ride this counter). Hmmm…there went some comfort. Also, this year I decided since I was doing so well last year prior to flatting, I should probably be racing up a category.

30 minutes before start I’m watching the finish of the Novice category. I’m cheering on my son, daughter, teammates and fellow Chainlink ambassador Jasmin Welter as they head up the hill to the finish. This year, the race starts at the bottom of a hill, so I spent the last 15 minutes before the race doing some hill repeats to get my heart rate up and ready for racing.

Go time. Whistle is blown, I head up the hill leading out to the multi-track that leads to the trails. First stretch leads through some coarse gravel. No big deal, but it’s been so dry, a monstrous dust cloud is kicked up by the racers and many are coughing. I look down at my Garmin machine, it’s just showing elapsed time not speed, HR, etc. It’s on ‘indoor’ setting. So much for that, Pfft! Back to race, everyone is pushing to get in good position prior to the singletrack where the course will narrow and passing will be much more difficult. About a quarter into the race, I see a member of Team Spider Monkey rider down and off to the side after a “choose your adventure” spot. To the right of trail is a clean line, to the left are some logs fashioned into a sort of ramp. Sometimes, In order to get an advantage over other riders you have to take the more challenging route. Unfortunately, this spot not only took this guy out but several others as well.

Photo credit: Martin McGuire

Noted crashes aside, the course direction was not an issue. The bigger hurdle was positioning. Now, I’m not a really fast guy by any means but I am pretty good at the technical and the punchy climbs. Where I’d get dropped on straight aways or long climbs, I’d make up that time on the more technical root-y sections of the trail. Most of the race was spent calling on your left passing folks. Again, I was surprising myself, I was doing pretty well. AND…then I crashed, on a root. Going fast into a turn, I needed to steer sharper to ride over a root but I didn’t turn sharp enough. Imagine riding along a curb and turning slightly toward it to jump up it. Ain’t gonna happen and it didn’t for me. I took a spill, banged me up a bit. Brushed off, quick check of the bike, saw a ton of riders passing me by and then back on the bike.

After my spill, my race was largely uneventful; trying to gain back the spots I lost, unsuccessfully on being slightly gassed but still just enjoying being out there racing. Approaching the uphill finish straight, I was pretty stoked on getting through relatively unscathed. No flats, no mechanicals, Stoked. Huge thanks to all the Meltdown folks and especially all of the course marshals out there making sure everyone stayed on course and safe.

Visit www.cambr.org to learn more about Chicago-area trails, and events such as the Palos Meltdown.

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Comment by Jasmin on August 26, 2016 at 12:45pm

Loved those! It was an amazing event and so happy you felt & fully reflected that in your reports :)

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