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Classic East Coast mountain bike race returns

The Escape, one of Virginia's original point-to-point mountain bike races and an East Coast Classic, will happen again on Sunday, October 3 after a seven-year hiatus. The race, first held in 1988 on the trails of Craig County's Potts Mountain, has long been a favorite of mountain bike aficionados.

Mountain bike racing was in its infancy when two Roanokers, Paul Economy and Scott Freday, inspired by nascent races in nearby West Virginia, hatched the idea in 1988 to import mountain bike racing to Virginia in a big way along the top of the 4000-foot Potts Mountain.

In the early days, 40 or 50 hearty competitors took on the mountain in each of the annual fall races. By 1993, after five years of legendary events, Freday and Economy, the self-described The Lads of Virginia, moved on, leaving The Great Craig County Escape orphaned with no means to continue.

Serendipitously, a new Virginia race series began a long run that same year, debuting also infamous Dragon's Back race nearby. The Virginia State Championship Mountain Bike Series, with the blessing of Economy and Freday, adopted the Great Escape. In 1994, it became the centerpiece of a five-race series attracting over 150 competitors. In 1995, it moved to the first Sunday in October, where it remained until 2003, serving as the finale. The Great Escape, directed by series founder Kyle Inman, continued annually until 2003 and has been on the shelf since.

The race was a staple in the calendars of several pros as they worked their way up the ranks. Jeremiah Bishop, six-time world 24-hour solo champion Chris Eatough and former national short track champion Sue Haywood have all left their (temporary) marks on Potts. The race has attracted riders from West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee, as well as travelers from across the entire commonwealth of Virginia.

Now 22 years hence, The Great Escape continues, dishing out its particular stew of rock gardens, steep interminable climbs, gorgeous singletrack trails, and stunning views. Well over 2,000 feet will be gained from the gun within the first three miles, tallying 5,000 feet by the day's end some 27 miles later. Due to the challenging nature of the course, only intermediate and expert classes are offered.

The entire course lies within the Jefferson National Forest, with the ridgeline bordering Allegheny county and the Barbour's Creek Wilderness, with staging at The Pines Campground on 617. The race is being brought back by Inman and Skip Huffman.

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