Mountain bikers started assembling at Wildwood Park long before the sun started rising over Clarks Hill Lake on Saturday morning.
And Columbia County Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Randy DuTeau, staff and volunteers were already there to greet them.
Saturday morning was just Day 1 of the inaugural Wildwood Games. Beginning just after 7 a.m., 68 riders faced either an 80-kilometer or 50K route. On Sunday, runners tackled 10K, half-marathon, marathon and 50K trail running races with some of the courses following Bartram Trail.
While they were races in and of themselves, Saturday’s 80K mountain bike course was also a dry run for the 2015 USA Cycling Marathon Mountain Bike National Championships.
“I think in terms of participation it far exceeded what we were expecting,” DuTeau said Saturday. “I think when you put on a first-time event there’s always going to be the good and there’s going to be the glitches. I think doing the test event this year was a really smart thing to do and we’re getting some really valuable feedback.”
The 80K course was originally scheduled to be a 100K event, but with temperatures expected to soar into the 100s – which they did – DuTeau made the decision on Friday to cut off a 20K loop through Mistletoe State Park.
While DuTeau was disappointed to do that, some appreciated it on race day.
“I’m definitely happy that we didn’t do another 20K, I was definitely cooked by the 80K mark,” said Jafer Beizer from Conyers, Ga., who came across the line first at just over 3:26. Beizer was at the race previewing it for the national championships like others.
Evans resident Matt Ivey has been a rider for years and signed up to ride the 50K at the end of June.
“Hopefully I’m ready for it, but it being the inaugural event, I wanted to support the county and support the event,” Ivey said before the race.
Abbey Alexiades, traveling south while on a move from upstate New York to Ecuador, was the first overall 80K female finisher. She enjoyed the course.
“It was beautiful, it was probably some of the best trails I’ve ever raced,” she said. “Being next to the resevoir and the twisty trails and the woods was so much fun, it was amazing.”
Augusta’s Greig McCully enjoyed riding the 50K course as well.
“It was a good course and real fast and there was very little technical on the short course, but it was real fun,” McCully said.
On Monday, DuTeau was happy with the way the weekend turned out.
“The Wildwood Games ended up surpassing our expectations,” said DuTeau. “We ended up with 224 total athletes. Our next step is to sit down with all of the partners to review all aspects of the event in order to plan for 2015. The event seemed to resonate with the athletes and there is genuine excitement about this new annual event.”