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Mountain bikers race at Mt. Zion trails Sunday — Pros, amateurs competing in series championship at Lincoln Co. bike trail

Sometime during Tucker Hoeniges’ early teenage years, he took a shine to mountain biking. He got a new bike for his 14th birthday, pedaled down the road to the Mt. Zion Bike Trails and entered, with confidence, the annual Dust ‘n’ Bones race.

He was terrible.

“I got last place, in the slowest group,” said the rising Loyd Star senior. “I thought it would be easy. I didn’t think people really rode their bikes for hours every day.”

Hoeniges started training that summer, and fell into the sport. Now, the 16-year-old works with a cycling coach, dropped out of high school sports to focus on mountain biking and rides six days a week. He’s already logged 3,000 miles on two knobby tires so far in 2018, and took home a second-place finish in his first Category 1 race — where the better bikers compete — in February. He’s off to West Virginia in July for a USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championship race.

But Hoeniges owes the Mt. Zion Bike Trails some payback. He’s looking to get it Sunday morning at the eighth annual Dust ‘n’ Bones competition.

“I’m hoping to have a good day, stay safe and get on the podium in the top three,” he said.

The mountain bike race begins Sunday at 9 a.m. at the trail, which sits on more than 100 acres at 1160 Mt. Zion Road Northwest. More than 100 cyclists are expected to compete in this year’s contest to become the Gulf South Regional Mountain Bike Champion.

Spectator admission is free, snacks will be provided and the trail has numerous viewing areas, easily accessible on foot, where viewers can watch the cyclists dig, slide and fly off jumps and obstacles.

“Come out here — we feed everybody, we’ve got water and drinks. Just bring a lounge chair and watch the race. It’s a fun thing to watch,” said Mt. Zion Bike Trails spokesman Johnny Smith. “If you don’t want to race, just bring your bike and when the race if over you can go ride the trail.”

Smith said the racers will compete in 17 categories based on skill, age and sex, with winners in each group. The riders launch in waves at one-minute intervals, with the less-skilled riders in Category 3 competing on shorter segments of the trail, while the Category 1 and professional racers battle at faster speeds for longer distances.

The races are expected to wrap up by 11 a.m., and a free kids race will be held afterward. Spectators who bring their bikes can hop on the course and take it at their pace.

The Mt. Zion Bike Trails are built to allow it, Smith said. Mountain biking website Singletrack.com ranks it as the No. 1 trail in Mississippi and the No. 21 trail worldwide — out of around 7,500 trails — because of its numerous bridges, obstacles, stream-crossings and jumps.

But every obstacle is avoidable by trail extension for riders not ready to test themselves. Smith said the track’s designers — which include Steve Rials, Johnny Hart and Mark Smith — built the course to accommodate riders of all skills. The men have put in countless hours to keep Mt. Zion Bike Trails open to the public.

“You can ride the whole loop and your tires never leave the ground. It’s up to you,” Smith said.

But in Dust ‘n’ Bones, tires are going to leave the ground.

Smith said riders come from all over the South to race Dust ‘n’ Bones, but every year the race draws a handful of bikers from Tennessee and Texas, and usually someone comes in from as far away as Colorado. Sunday’s race will feature professional teams in matching uniforms on thousand-dollar bikes, but anyone with a helmet and a bike can pay the registration fee and be placed in a category to compete.
Race entry is $50, and a one-day USA Cycling license is $10.

“It’s for amateurs and pros — a lot of guys race solo, in a T-shirt and shorts. You don’t have to have a sure-enough special bike to do it, and you don’t have to be a certain age,” Smith said. “One of the fastest guys out there last year was a guy from Jackson, and he was 63 years old. He still had it in him, man. He could go.”