By Bill Plock
The sound of the drums echoing off the mountains created a stadium like atmosphere this weekend at Granby Ranch for the North Regional Championship of the Colorado High School Cycling League. About 800 high schoolers battled through rain and hail to qualify for the the Championship to be held October 23- 24 in Durango. A couple of mountain passes away, the South region had their championship in Eagle this past weekend so a total of about 1,600 student athletes competed.
If you haven’t been to a high school mountain bike race, put it on your list; and if you want to be inspired and reminded of the fun of biking, bike racing and of being a youth then it’s definitely an event you should check out. The contagious camaraderie permeates the teams and the festival type atmosphere promotes friendly competition and fun for spectators. The course rewards those with utmost skill and endurance, yet welcomes all riders of any ability. Teams display a wide range of talent, and the inclusion of all brings a vibe to this sport that is missing in most stick and ball team sports found in high school. That’s not a knock on those sports, it’s just the way it is when the goal is to win as a team and room is limited. Not that teams here don’t want to win, but like cross country running or swimming, the individual can excel as well as the team.
But in this league, nobody is cut, and all are encouraged to finish. All they need is a bike and a will to try.
Race director John “Hutch” Hutchinson said his favorite thing about this league is seeing so many student athletes compete who otherwise wouldn’t. “I love seeing how this sport helps kids build confidence and succeed in something they never thought they could do. We had an athlete who competed all four years and it wasn’t until his senior year that he was able to finish a race. But when he did, the joy he showed was so inspirational—that’s why I love what I do.”
The course at Granby Ranch navigates through the ski area with a substantial climb right at the start and a twisty single track towards the finish. Parents and others line the course with their cowbells and cheer and if you close your eyes you might think you are at a football game. The village, complete with fire pits, snacks and warm up trainers, makes the day extra fun and parents armed with cameras often ride their bikes to places on the course to catch a shot of their kid competing.
It’s truly a family event and often you see parents riding with their kids during their warm up and many parents help coach, volunteer and sweep the course after the race. Cheri Felix (one of 303’s founders), who coached at Boulder High School for a decade, was there to watch some of the kids she coached for so long. When asked what she loves the most, she said, “I love how hard the kids try and then how much harder they try when they realize they can do it.”
Maybe the obstacles, climbs, turns and sheer stamina required to race, teaches these competitors more than they realize. Mountain bike racing definitely provides a unique challenge and can be a path for some of these athletes to compete in college and beyond. So many athletes have gone on to great things like one time Durango student, Sepp Kuss who won a national collegiate championship in 2014, a stage at the Tour de France this year, and a top 10 finish at the Vuelta a España just a few weeks ago.
Who knows what can happen when someone gets a chance to try.