ASHLAND — A first-of-its-kind race is coming to Ashland this weekend.
Hundreds of young mountain bike riders from around Ohio will assemble at Freer Field for a 3.5-mile race and ride on Saturday and Sunday.
Dubbed the “Freer ‘Free for All’ Race Prologue,” the race will kick off the second season of the Ohio Mountain Bike League, which formed in 2021 as part of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association.
Results from this weekend’s race will determine the call up order for the next race, scheduled for later this month at John Bryan State Park in Yellow Springs.
Ashland’s mountain bike team, known as Ashland Composite Team WILD, will have 10 riders competing this weekend, said head coach Ashley Hendershot.
The team has been practicing for the upcoming race season since June, but getting Freer Field as a venue started much earlier, said Tony Bunt, owner of Ashland Bike Company.
“When the Ohio Mountain Bike League started, they did a survey on different venues — so we suggested Freer as an option,” Bunt said. OMBL did not end up choosing Freer Field as a venue last year, but the organization kept the 78-acre park as an option for 2022.
“We found out Freer was going to be used this spring,” he said.
Since then, he and Hendershot — along with other volunteers from the nonprofit Ashland Bike Project — have worked to earn a permit from the Ashland County Parks District and setting up one big, 3.5-mile loop in the woods and part of the field. To do that, Bunt designed temporary connectors that will be removed after the race.
Bunt said there is still work to be done on the course, around 20 hours of trail work to be exact. He said volunteers are showing this week how to do the prep work so that everything is ready to go by noon on Saturday.
It’s worth all the hard work, he said.
“The kids get such a good experience out of it, it’s hard not to get stoked for the kids there,” Bunt said.
Riders will begin arriving at Freer Field on Saturday, when racers and coaches will be permitted to ride the course ahead of Sunday’s race.
At 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, Ashland’s Team WILD will have a Friends and Family ride to celebrate the end of the practice season for the younger teammates.
“It will give everyone a feel for what the NICA course looks like,” Hendershot said of the friends and family ride on Saturday.
The weekend’s event is free to attend as spectators, and NICA has openings for volunteers to help with course marshaling, announcing, registration and other positions. For more information on how to volunteer, call Ashland Bike Company at 419-281-7433.
There will also be four food trucks on Sunday.
Hendershot encouraged residents from Ashland and the surrounding area to come out to show support for the young racers, many of which have never participated in a bike race.
“I want NICA to see an amazing support system from the community — to wow them — so we can keep bringing them back,” she said.