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Pickett's Charge Storms On 

A veteran mountain bike race stays young

Twenty-one years ago, Bill Clinton was midway into his first term, the first blog was launched, the global temperature was a few degrees cooler, and mountain biking was still a relatively new sport. The equipment was crude, little better than big boy dirt bikes. A few prototypes had shocks, and disc brakes were only for the very most elite. And, at that nascent time, a group of local riders from Sunnyside Sports organized a new race, which started at Meissner Sno-Park and chutes and laddered around Mt. Bachelor.

So much has changed since then, but on Sunday, Pickett's Charge will run its 21st race, making it a veteran and trailblazer for mountain bike races in the Pacific Northwest—and, say organizers, the gung-ho and good natured spirit that launched the race remains the same, even if mountain biking culture has matured greatly.

The race is the last in the Oregon XC MTB Series, an eight-race event that has bounced around the state, from muddy races on the coast to dusty trails in southern Oregon, with a loyal group of 100 riders from juniors to elders, mostly men, but a moderate—and growing—group of women.

At the forefront of that group of women—and racing on Sunday—is Bend-based rider Serena Bishop Gordon, who didn't start racing until a decade ago, but took to the sport with a vengeance. Bishop Gordon had been working in what she terms "corporate jobs," with Enron and Adidas, before she took what she politely and jokingly terms "a sabbatical," taking a job as a winter caretaker, where she met her now-husband and made a quarter-life lifestyle change, including moving to Bend and taking up bike racing.

Two summers ago, she placed second in the USA Cycling National Marathon Mountain Bike Championships, and won both the 2013 Ultra Endurance Tour and High Cascades 100. She has been the champion for the Oregon Cross Crusade Cyclocross Series in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014.

Last year, however, she was sidelined for half the season after abdominal surgery and, as she says, "I didn't respect the healing process or the toll [it] would have on my body." But, this year, Bishop Gordon is healthy again, and once again, has been storming the courses, with first place finishes at Sister's Stampede, Chainbreaker, and Gorge Roubaix.

"Pickett's Charge is a hometown race, put on by some of my favorite people and the Sunnyside Sports crew," she says. "Being able to ride to the start line from my house is a huge bonus and the course, which changes a bit each year, is a great use of some of Bend's best trails and showcases the work of COTA; when I moved to Bend in 2006, the trails where Pickett's Charge takes place didn't even exist." 

The race attracts world-class talent, and not only from Bend. Over the years, organizers point out, participants have included two-time Olympian Mary McConneloug in her first mountain bike race ever and the multi-discipline pro racer Steve Larsen and current professional mountain biker Adam Craig.

The name of the race, they say, celebrates one of Oregon's mountain bike pioneers, Tom Pickett. There's no relation to the original Pickett's Charge, General Robert E. Lee's infamous battle strategy in 1863 during the final day of the Battle of Gettysburg when Confederate forces were severely beaten, and often noted as the psychological defeat of the Confederate army. The term can sometimes be used colloquially to describe a bombastic, albeit unwise, assault right up the middle—and, in that sense pays homage to the burly attacks that mountain bikers pride themselves on. With 2,500 feet of climbing over 22 miles, and an (un)healthy helping of tight, twisting single track, the race course is certainly challenging.

Pickett's Charge

10 am, Sunday, June 28

Starts at Wanoga Park

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