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For five of the six laps during the Dredge Lake Mountain Bike Race Saturday, 14-year old Tucker Thomas rode so close to eventual winner Terry Ward that at one point they even bumped tires.
But on the sixth time around the 2.4-mile course through the winding Dredge Lake trail system, Ward stretched his lead to finish the 14.4-mile race in 55 minutes, 42 seconds. Thomas, hampered by a loosened seat, finished second in 55:58.
``I was surprised. A couple of times I stretched the lead but he caught back up,'' said Ward, who won the Nick Frangos Memorial Race and a False Outer Point time trial last year. ``I thought he might go away, but he didn't.''
Perhaps Thomas gained some riding knowledge from a weekly middle school mountain biking club headed by local riders Dave Ringle and Dredge Lake organizer Dennis Harris. Ward said it appeared Thomas was saving energy by drafting off him most of the race.
``I slowed up a bit on the third lap and tried to let him go by but he wouldn't do it,'' Ward said. ``I looked back and I could see he was in cruise mode.''
``I slipped off my pedals in the last technical section,'' Thomas said. He wobbled his loosened seat. During the race it forced him to sit far back on the seat and have to stretch his arms to reach the handlebars. ``I think I stripped it. ''
Jason Ginter, who won the Dredge Lake race last year, rode third in 58:57. Mike Heumann was fourth (59:01), Dennis Travis fifth (1:03.22) and Tim Travis sixth (1:07.36).
Thomas, Heumann and Tim Travis all ride in a middle school mountain biking club that takes weekly trips to such local trails as Perseverance, East Glacier and Salmon Creek. Club founder Ringle, a teacher at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School, said the group hung with him on the dauntingly steep first hill of the Salmon Creek trail during a recent ride. He added that Thomas has been accompanying riders on road-bike trips.
Ringle said the group has about eight riders, and will continue through the summer.
``(Mountain biking) is a great way to improve bike handling,'' said Ringle, a long-time member of the Juneau Freewheelers bicycle club and a local organizer for the Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay every June. ``With the roots and rocks you really have to react quickly with the bicycle.''
The flat, gravely Dredge Lake race is one of four mountain bike races scheduled for this summer. June 9 is the Dimond Park Mountain Bike Race; July 8 is the Historical Treadwell Trail Mountain Bike Race; and July 15 is a race at either Cope Park or out to Echo Ranch.
The next Juneau Freewheelers race is a time trial for road bikes at False Outer Point at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, June 2.