Dan Ryan keeps his eyes watching while his wheels are turning.
When 1,000 of his fellow cyclists participate in the Specialized Cactus Cup Mountain Bike Stage Race March 8–10, the Ahwatukee man leads the Central Arizona Mountain Bike Patrol to ensure they are safe and obeying the rules.
Sponsored by Specialized Bicycles of California, the three-day Cactus Cup in McDowell Mountain Regional Park is a race a day in each of three categories – elite, amateurs and juniors.
As a founder of the Central Arizona Mountain Bike Patrol, Ryan will interpret rules, give directions, neutrally assist in basic bicycle maintenance such as changing tires and administer first-aid to injured riders. Some of its 35 members are medical doctors and EMTs.
“Year round, we also provide regular reports regarding changing trail conditions, user trends and areas that have increased violations. The park rangers will be able to make use of this information to identify areas that may need special attention or additional supervision,” said Ryan, a former competitive cyclist for 10 years.
The cross-country race is Saturday, offering both 40-mile and 40-kilometer distances. Sunday completes the cycle with Enduro downhill races in three timed sections.
For future race participants, a kids’ race on Saturday includes a balance bike race for ages 1-5 and a one-mile pedal race for ages 5-12. All registered participants for the childrens’ events receive event souvenirs and post-race Otter Pops, and the top three in each age group are awarded on the main stage podium.
Main-event riders may participate as an elite, or professional, indicating they are racing for the Cactus Cup and a part of the $5,000 prize purse.
Unlike other races, competitors do not need to be qualified professionals to register for these, but they must be at least 13 years old and compete all three days of the Cactus Cup to be eligible for the overall title.
Participants 9 to 18 years will compete for the event’s Mini Cup.
“They are very experienced riders already, and most are veteran mountain bike racers,” said Sage Melley, race director and co-principal with husband Mike of Scottsdale-based Hub Event Productions.
Melley, who has been producing races since 2011, will not participate in the Cactus Cup, although she and her husband are dedicated mountain bikers who compete in leading events elsewhere during the year.
The particularly challenging single-speed categories for men and women require that participants ride a one-geared bike.
The winners in each category are decided by the fastest combined times. The prize purse of $5,000 will be distributed among the top five elite male and female finishers of the Cactus Cup and the top elite male and female finishers of the short track, Melley said.
“The Specialized Cactus Cup provides something for the whole family: challenging race courses for the beginner to seasoned athlete, kids racing for all ages, food trucks, live entertainment and a Huss Brewing Beer Garden,” Melley said.
On Friday and Saturday of the event, members of the patrol also manage the Huss Brewing Beer Garden, with proceeds supporting the not-for-profit.
Another nonprofit benefited is the Gravity Riders of Arizona (GroAZ), which made improvements to the Bike Terrain Park at McDowell Mountain Park in 2017 and 2018.
Through the Mountain Bike Association, which produces the statewide Mountain Terrain Bike (MTB) race series, the Cactus Cup has helped fund the maintenance of trails used by bikers, hikers and horses.
Founded in 1991, the Specialized Cactus Cup continued until 1999 and resumed two years ago through the Melleys’ Hub Events. In addition to being the title sponsor, Specialized provides demo bikes for public use, distributes free helmets for the first 50 9- to 18-year-olds who register and underwrites national professionals to compete.
Among the national figures expected to participate are two-time Cactus Cup Champion Christopher Blevins and Fernando Riveros as well as female champions Erin Huck, Rose Grant and Savilia Blunk.
Arizona stars are Scott Paulsel, Phoenix, the Arizona Market Developer at Specialized Bicycles, and Dan Basinski, a former Payson resident, now living in Oregon, who created the Cactus Cup.
The special guest will be Ned Overend, the 63-year-old Californian six-time National Mountain Biking Champion and first cross-country world champion in 1990.
“The Specialized Cactus Cup is the only multi-day mountain bike race in Arizona giving riders of all abilities to test their endurance,” Melley said. “It’s a locally hosted event creating new traditions and building families of mountain bikers through a landmark event that put Arizona on the mountain bike map.”