JEFFERSON CITY — A breeze in the shade cools the spectators.
An oblivious butterfly barely escapes a collision with a cyclist as he speeds into his second lap. The sound of cow bells cheers on the riders as more bikes fly past a clump of trees, follow a path lined with flagged rope and vanish back into the forest on their next run through the 5 1/2-mile course Sunday at the Tall Oak Challenge mountain bike races.
About 100 cyclists of all ages and experience levels competed in the annual event at Binder Park just west of Jefferson City, one of 13 events held in Missouri and Kansas in the Mid-West Fat Tire Championship Series.
“Not all the same people show up at every race, but a few do them all,” Jessica Smith said while handing out numbers to the registering cyclists.
She and her husband Nick Smith, owners of Red Wheel Bike Shop in Jefferson City, have organized the Tall Oak Challenge for six years.
The trail is a single track, and includes bridges, jumps and an elevation gain of 500 feet.
Sammi Powell, 10 of Wildwood, rode in her first race, competing in the beginners’ age 8 to 12 event, which completed one lap on the course. She finished in 35 minutes, 45 seconds, third in her group.
“Sammi got her first bike on her second birthday,” Debbie Powell, Sammi’s mother said.
Twelve-year-old identical twins Jax and Alex Powell also competed. Alex won the age 19 and younger beginners group in 1:15:23, and Jax came in third.
“We’ve been riding since we were 4,” Jax said after his ride. He had a scraped elbow and was walking with a slight limp after taking a fall after the jumps portion of the course. “At first none of us did any really hard stuff, but now we’re just getting better, so we started racing.”
The siblings only began competing a month ago, but their father, Jeff Powell, was cycling before they were born.
Sammi Powell tried to put their progress into perspective.
“We used to ride around in the basement,” she said.
One of the Powell’s favorite places to mountain bike are the trails of Castlewood State Park near St. Louis. Jeff Powell also participated in the races, and his children cheered as he led the men’s age 40-and-older group into the woods.
During summer break, Debbie is the family’s racing photographer.
“We’re both teachers,” Debbie said. “So this is what we do all summer.”