Thomas Turner grew up on a farm in Georgia, and though he played some soccer and wrestled for a year in high school, he wasn’t really interested in team sports. He most enjoyed riding his bike through the woods and fields on his family’s land. Who knows what he would have ended up doing with his life for the next 20 years if his parents hadn’t convinced him to try a mountain bike race? He resisted because racing held no appeal and he wasn’t sure he wanted biking to become something other than what it was, which was just something he enjoyed doing. But he went. “I showed up in Umbro shorts and hiking boots, no toe clips on my bike,” Turner offers with a laugh. “The jersey was huge, like a dress, but I loved the race and I was hooked.”
Turner has been racing ever since. “That race showed me that competition is fun.” He currently races mountain-bike and cyclocross in the masters division for racers between ages 30 and 34. Mountain biking has tremendous appeal for him because he loves the challenge of the trail and the sense of escape he experiences during training and racing. Cyclocross is generally shorter distance and consists of multiple laps around a 1½- to 2-mile course. The race takes an hour or less, and it is a super spectator-friendly mix of bicycle racing and steeplechase. Racers compete on grass, steep hills wooded trails, and pavement, and obstacles that require dismounting, running and remounting, such as water crossings, tight turns, sandpits, stairs, and barriers.
Turner excels in both sports, placing 2nd in the 2013 Masters Cyclocross World Championships, in Louisville, KY and 1st this year. If you take a look at the Official USA Cycling website , you’ll see his accomplishments don’t end there. Scan the results back to 2000 and you’ll not only notice a preponderance of 1st place finishes, but also many top ten, and an impressive variety of events and distances. Turner said he competes in about 20 major cycling events every year and frequently travels throughout North America and Europe; in 2002, he was the top-ranked junior racer in the nation, and in 2004 was the top-ranked under-23 racer. He’s also an eight-time Georgia state cross country champion, an eight-time Snake Creek Time Trial Champion, a six-time Georgia State Cyclocross Champion, a four-time Georgia Games champion, and the list goes on.
But this list only includes events that adhere to the organization’s sanctions or criteria. You won’t see his 2010 or 2011 results from La Ruta de los Conquistadores Stage Race in Costa Rica (arguably the hardest mountain bike stage race in the world) or how he did in the 2013 Genco Mongolia Mountain Bike Challenge held in September with riders from 23 countries. But completing both of these events are both mightily impressive. La Ruta is described as “the only bike race that traverses the American land mass from coast to coast — from Pacific to Atlantic —[and] is no easy day at the beach. Between its sea-level start and finish, the 161-mile route crosses 5 mountain ranges that force you to climb a cumulative 29,000 feet.” And in the Genco Mongolia Challenge, participants ride a total distance of over 850 kilometers with 14,000 meters of climbing in 7 days. Turner participated in this event with one of his Jamis teammates. “It was beautiful countryside much like the plains here in the U.S., although populated with small villages, camels, and wild horses,” he explains. The race went well, aside from a stomach bug he struggled with on the 6th day. He started that day thinking all he had to do was start in order to be eligible on the next day. Then he found out he had to finish the day. “I had to stick with it.” He finished 9th overall.
When Turner showed up at the Lula Lake 5 Points 50 a few weeks later, he was still feeling a little beat up from his time in Mongolia. But he was excited about the new event put on by SORBA, intended as a celebration of the new mountain biking trails that were opened at 5-Points on Lookout Mountain. A chance to get away on the trails and compete is always welcome, and he’d heard good things about the new trails.
Turner lives in the Atlanta area and rides about 30 miles a day to his workplace at OutSpokin' Bicycles in Woodstock, where he's a skilled bike mechanic. He adds trail sections such as Big Creek Park in Roswell and Blankets Creek in Canton to make his commute more enjoyable, and considers the commute his basic training. He’s happy with the changes to the sport since he started, not only in terms of equipment, but also accessibility. He’s ridden at Raccoon Mountain in Chattanooga and is looking forward to checking out SORBA’s new creations: Live Wire, High Voltage, and Super D.
Turner is inspired by the self-challenging nature of mountain biking as well as where it has taken him thus far in life. He's been fortunate to visit many places and many different trails, and he loves that the scenery is always changing. Even on trails he's familiar with, there's something new to discover every time, and that's one of the things that compels him to keep riding and exploring.
The inaugural Lula Lake 5-Points 50 was scheduled to celebrate the opening of Lookout Mountain’s 5-Points mountain biking area, which consists of 20 miles of singletrack plus another 10-mile out and back, and it is close the Atlanta. The race’s website originally declared, “This isn’t a race; it’s a test of your will and determination. Fire service roads, machine cut singletrack, hiking trails, and backwoods singletrack stretched out over 50 grueling miles on top of Lookout Mountain will challenge you like nothing you’ve ever experienced.” It’s easy to see why Turner signed up and why he’ll be back this year. When asked about the race last year, he said, “Newer events tend to be more laid back and more accessible to a lot of people.” Local riders are familiar with the course and new-to-the-area riders end up loving the course.
The 5-Points 50 race page also says: “No epic mountain bike event is truly complete without a feast to match. Food will be ready shortly after the first riders finish and will continue throughout the day.” Turner remembers the smell of this food all too well. He acknowledges that the race was challenging and that, overall, he enjoyed the trails, but “Then I smelled that bacon and thought I was close to the finish. By the time I realized I still had several miles to go, I was mentally done.” One thing Turner knows going into the event this year is that the bacon he smelled is real, but it's not close enough to the finish to think he’s done, and he'll have to keep on pushing if he's to have his bacon and eat it too.