Do the (Huckleberry) Hustle! |

Do the (Huckleberry) Hustle!

by dan thomas

While the Kooka Kup nameplate definitely stands out in the mountain bike world, there’s nothing kooky about winning a major race series.

However, there just might be something a little nuts about volunteering to climb 1,300 feet on a bike per each 6.5-mile lap of the Huckleberry Hustle mountain bike race Sunday at Sierra at Tahoe. So far, lots of tough climbing, descending and singletrack hasn’t kept riders away from the second annual Kooka Kup race series, the points championship for mountain biking in northern California and northern Nevada. And there’s no reason to think any of that will stop when the Kup wraps up its second year with the Huckleberry Hustle, which starts at 10 a.m. Sunday.

“Last year, it was very tough,” said race promoter Gary Peek, who decided to have his Kooka Kup series finals at Sierra after the resort’s work in its Kup stage last year. “It was very challenging because it had an awful lot of climbing in it, and not much recovery time.”

Sierra’s race directors, Sean Sweeney and Drew Bray, have added nearly three miles of singletrack to the course, but it still promises a challenge of conditioning.

“The course is about 1,300 feet of climbing,” Sweeney said. “It’s a typical ski resort race course in that it’s straight up and straight down.”

While demanding, the course does not present a lot of technical terrain, but rather, a few wide areas for racers to pass each other. The solo race has ability divisions for men and women that include pro/elite, veteran, sport, beginner and clydesdale – for racers weighing 200 pounds or more. Peek anticipates tight competition in the men’s pro division, the men’s expert class and the junior division. Just 12 points separate the top three juniors 14-18 years old. In the women’s pro category, though, South Shore resident Amber Ramos has all but wrapped up her title.

“I’ve practiced the course twice, and I like the course,” said Ramos, who recently wrapped her 1999 season on the National Off-Road Bicycling Association championship circuit. “It’s hard and it gives you your money’s worth.”

Ramos likes her chances to clinch a Kooka Kup. But is the race fun?

“Of course,” she said. “It’s at Sierra. It’s local. I don’t have to go five hours to get to my race.”

Last year, 122 racers traveled to Sierra for the event. About 30 cyclists have preregistered, but racers can show up early, and sign up between 7:30 and 9 a.m. and a free race for juniors 10 and younger will follow the event, along with a post-race sponsor. Entries cost $28 for adults, and $18 for juniors 10-18.

The Kooka Kup has sponsored eight race events since the event kicked off May 8 with the Bite of the Wolf cross country race in Reno. With just two exceptions, entries have doubled for each of this year’s races over last season’s. The organizers anticipate a good turnout at Sierra.

“There are a lot of local people from Lake Tahoe who are doing this series and follow this series during the season,” Peek said.

Sierra signed on the Fantasy Inn as a sponsor this year, and hopes to have the business’ support should the race come back. While the series will rotate its finals among the race sites, Peek said the Huckleberry Hustle will remain part of the Kup. He is negotiating with Kooka for continued sponsorship of the series.

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