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Ouachita Challenge set for March 26-27

DEWAYNE HOLLOWAY|dewayne@mcnews.online
ODEN – Montgomery County will once again welcome mountain bikers, gravel grinders and cyclist enthusiasts of all ages to The Ouachita Challenge Bike Race March 26 and 27. This year’s event features a “gravel grinder” Saturday, March 26, and the traditional race Sunday, March 27.
The “gravel grinder” is a 100 kilometer race that follows a similar path to the Ouachita Challenge held Sunday. It will utilize some of the same roads as the tour race held Sunday while incorporating some roads that run parallel to the Ouachita Trail. It will also use the same aid stations as the Sunday race.
The Ouachita Challenge held on Sunday will traverse over 60 miles through the western section of Montgomery County. Competitors will travel across portions of paved road, gravel road and trails as they make their way along the course. The Challenge includes portions of the Ouachita Trail and the Womble Trail and includes some of the more challenging conditions in the state.
Oden School Resource Officer Andrew Thompson reminds local motorists to drive carefully through the Oden/Pencil Bluff/Sims area Saturday and Sunday.
The course crosses the highway at multiple points. Volunteers are stationed at each site to assist the competitors as they cross the road. Law enforcement officers will also be assisting at the crossings.
The race center will be located at the Oden School Campus. Both events start and finish at the school. The tour and the race will begin at 8 a.m.
Top mountain bikers routinely finish the course in approximately four and a half hours or so. The event is broken into categories by gender and age group and also features a single speed bike category for the hardcore cyclists.
It is not uncommon to see competitors from over 20 states compete in both events. A growing attraction to the race is partly due to the fact that the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA) has designated three trails nearby as Epic Mountain Bike Trails. Both trails featured in the event have achieved Epic Trail status, as has nearby Lake Ouachita Vista Trail (LOViT).
The grouping of three epic trails in such a small area is unusual in the United States. This epic designation adds not only to the rider’s interest in this event, but also to increased tourism year round.
The Ouachita Mountain Challenge Association is an all volunteer group that represent the organizations who will benefit from the revenue the event produces. All proceeds from the event are distributed to the local non-profit organizations that help put on the race. These include the Oden School, Friends of the Ouachita Trail, the Traildogs, Polk County Development Center, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), Joplin Volunteer Fire Department, Cove Volunteer Fire Department, Sims Volunteer Fire Department, and the Ouachita Amateur Radio Association. The event has a very positive impact on these agencies and their operations.
The event wouldn’t be possible if not for the many volunteers participating to make the Ouachita Challenge Tour and Race a success every year.
The economic impact on the county and surrounding area is huge. Cyclists, their families and supporters often travel to the area a week in advance to familiarize themselves with the course. Many return to the area later in the year to spend more time on the area trails.

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