By Bill Plock
December 1st, 2022–The day after the Colorado High School Cycling League Championship race in late September, I was riding on Green Mountain when I came upon the East High School Mountain bike team practicing and I thought to myself, “the season is over, what are they doing out here, that is one dedicated bunch!”
Our article on the championship race is HERE
I decided to dig further into all this enthusiasm I felt and contacted the team coach Doug Ferguson to learn more about the team and asked him a few questions. Our hope is to bring you more profiles of more teams during the next few months.
East is one of several teams in the league made up of kids that attend different high schools. East and South are the only Denver Public School teams in the league. 96 teams make up the league with schools as far north as Spearfish, South Dakota, and south into Northern New Mexico. (A complete list of teams can be found HERE)
How many different schools are represented on the East Team?
Denver Online HS, Denver School of Arts HS, DSST: Byers HS, DSST: Cole HS, DSST: Conservatory Green HS, DSST: Montview HS, East High School, George Washington High School, Hill Campus of Arts and Sciences, Morey Middle School, North High School, Northfield High School.
Describe the growth of the team over the years.
The team was founded in 2010 by Steve Bussey, an employee in the District’s Office of Technology. Over the next ten years, the team grew and sometimes shrank before reaching a high point of over 50 riders. However, the team shrank significantly during the pandemic and subsequent cancellation of the racing season. Coming out of the pandemic, we expected the team to be approximately 30 riders, but were pleasantly surprised to field 42 riders and racers by the end of the season. Many are girls and/or high school seniors who joined the team for the first time.
In general, how experienced are kids on the team at racing, does the team attract never-before riders as much as experienced riders?
Most of our riders have some experience riding trails and some already have experience racing mountain, road, or cyclocross. However, the majority of our riders have never raced before joining the team. More interestingly, being a city-based team, some of our new team members have never owned or ridden a mountain bike before, We love attracting those new to the sport. So, while the learning curve can be steep, it is incredibly rewarding. Some of our favorite stories involve our new riders and the improvement they see over the course of a season.
Favorite practice rides and how often do they practice?
We practice Monday and Wednesday evenings on the Front Range trails. To avoid the heat in the early part of the season, Three Sisters and Lair ‘O The Bear are favorites. As the days get shorter and cooler, we frequent Green Mtn, North Table, Chimney Gulch, and Erie Bike Park. On non-race weekends, we try to organize rides a little further afield at places like Buffalo Creek or Trestle Bike Park. The biggest hurdle for the team is getting to the trails. Every practice will have a drive 30 minutes or more just to get to the trails. We rely on riders and parents to organize transportation for those unable to drive themselves. It’s not easy.
Describe a typical practice.
Early in the season when the days are longer and the riders are still getting to know each other, we start each practice with introductions and a “question of the night”. It might be silly (favorite ice cream), informational (favorite trail and why), or relevant to an upcoming race (what do I want to work on tonight to be prepared for this weekend). During the rides, we tend to focus more on enjoying the amazing trails in the area and spending time with our teammates. For those preparing for upcoming races, they may want to put in some harder efforts, work on cornering, or session a technical section. The one thing we don’t want to do is make the practices so serious that we forget to do the most important thing: HAVE FUN! After the ride, we will regroup at the trailhead, share some snacks, debrief and discuss upcoming plans.
Are there any notable alums who went on to cycling careers as racers, coaches, industry professionals, etc?
We have had some great racers from our team who have gone on to be excellent collegiate and Pro-1-2 racers. That said, our goal isn’t necessarily to “build winners”; it’s to create a group of people who will be lifelong riders and who can appreciate all of the great outdoor opportunities that Colorado has to offer.
Tell us more about the team’s coaches
We have one head coach, nine assistant coaches, and a team of parent volunteers that support us. We range from collegiate mountain bike racers to lifelong amateur racers, to casual riders, to parents who are just trying mountain biking for the first time. While a couple of us work for the School District, most come from other walks of life. And, as a small team with a limited budget, all of the coaches (and parents) are donating their time and experience to the team.
How would you describe the vibe of the EAST team?
At the risk of overselling it, we are a family. I’ll share what I sent to our team the morning following the first race in Leadville: “I want you all to take a minute to appreciate the amazing team that you have created this year. If you needed a reminder that we are much more than “just a bunch of people wearing the same jersey”, all you had to do was watch the race at the end of the day in Leadville. When most other teams were already packing up or leaving, our whole team was out on the course going absolutely nuts for the last East racers on the course. And, if you think it didn’t matter, just ask any of your teammates how they felt riding through the wave of noise created by their teammates. As a coach, I don’t think I have ever been prouder, more stoked, or more hoarse on Monday morning!”
What is your favorite team story you can share?
Post-ride debriefs have been something new that we’ve added this year. It’s a nice way to talk about what we did well, and what we want to work on, and to give props to our teammates (my personal favorite). Near the end of the season, we posed two questions before the ride and asked everyone to be prepared to speak to those questions when we finished our ride. The questions: 1) what does this team mean to you and 2) what does it mean to be a great teammate? Their responses made me realize that this team is something special. It made me really proud of our riders. Some of their responses in no particular order:
- Team rides are my favorite part of the day
- I wish I had found the team sooner
- I am not ready for the season to be over
- Being a good teammate has nothing to do with my race results
- Supporting my teammates has nothing to do with their race results
- I am already getting excited about next season
- Being a good teammate means that we support each other
- I like to be pushed/challenged by my teammates
- We have more team spirit than any other team
- This is my second family
- Let’s keep riding in the off-season
- I’m going to miss this next year
Add anything you want people to know about the East team.
Our team works very hard to be inclusive of all students in our city. We acknowledge that cycling can provide financial challenges for some families. As such, we try to lower the financial hurdle via a few different mechanisms:
- Grants from organizations like Team Evergreen, Alpine Bank, and the Colorado High School Cycling League
- Help from businesses like Avenue Vision, Flow Formulas, Rocky Talkie, 7iDP, TAG Metals, and Chipotle
- Working with a local bike shop (Elevation Cycles) for maintenance, equipment, and bikes.
- Crowdsourcing used equipment via donations from the cycling community. This year we tapped into the local masters racing community and received large donations of used gear (jerseys, shorts, jackets, etc.) from team members on the Blackswift Cycleton Team.
- By creating a “loaner” fleet of bikes that can be used by riders for the duration of the season. Most of the bikes are used bikes that are donated to the team, with one or two used bikes purchased with team funds. In some rare cases, we are lucky enough to have a new bike donated (as happened this year with Cannondale and Elevation Cycles).