The 2016 Ouachita Challenge, which took place on Sunday, April 4, saw a full complement of regular riders, as well as first-timers, compete in the 60 mile closed-loop race that starts and ends at Oden School.
Brandon Melott, War Acres, OK, a veteran of a half dozen Ouachita Challenge Bicycle Races, pedaled his way through the 60 mile course in an event breaking time of 4:31.50 to beat the previous record set in 2014 by Travis Donn, Kansas City, MO, by over 3 minutes.
Second place this year was won by Micah Gordon with a total time of 4:40.22, 3rd by Todd Gearhart at 4:41.20, 4th by Ray Hall at 4:47.33 and 5th by Mathew Ankney at 4:49.08.
There were 258 total entries for the Challenge this year, with 29 women participants and 229 men, while Saturday’s Tour fielded a total of 278 registrants. The maximum number of registrants was received in less than one day, according to Jennifer Hopkins, a volunteer with the sponsoring organization.
The number of states represented spans the country again this year, according to organizers. These people come and experience the competition and beauty of the Ouachita Mountains, then go home and tell their friends about the professionalism of the race’s organization.
The two days of events are operated totally with volunteers from local clubs and groups. It takes approximately 100 volunteers to fill all the slots involved, according to Robert Cavanaugh, a volunteer organizer who has been involved for many years. Cavanaugh recruits the volunteers and assigns workers to checkpoints and aid stations throughout the race. Many volunteers work both the Tour and the Challenge.
Course marshals are located at every major turn along the race, and directional signs are prominently displayed to try and assure no rider gets off course. A sweep ride is made through each section of the race course to make sure every rider is safely signed out at one of the aid stations or at the finish line.
The Ouachita Challenge is part of a two day series of races hosted by the Ouachita Mountain Challenge Association, a small group of local people who represent several non-profit agencies that benefit from the revenue that the Challenge produces.
Saturday’s Ouachita Tour also fields approximately 250 participants and rides much the same course, with only a few reroutes. It is also closed-loop 60 mile ride beginning and ending at Oden School.
Each year, the Tour and Challenge help kick off the tourism season in the area and are growing in popularity with local businesses, who welcome riders, their families and crew members to the area.
While many of the participants stay in local motels, a number of them pitch tents or park recreational vehicles on various lots around the Oden School. Others sleep in the gymnasium and take advantage of the restroom and shower facilities. Those who use the gymnasium are asked to make donations to cover the water and electricity costs to the district.
Other riders and families camp in local recreation areas or on Ouachita National Forest land.
The Saturday Tour and the Sunday Challenge offer something for almost everyone, according to race organizers. For cyclists, it is an early race in the season that allows them to hone their skills. For crews and families who travel with the riders, it is an opportunity to visit the area and experience the beauty and friendliness of Montgomery County.