About five years ago, Eagle Valley High School senior Griffin Turnipseed decided to compete in an upstart sport — the Colorado High School Cycling League’s state championship mountain-bike race.
Together with his dad, Scott Turnipseed, Griffin trekked up to Beaver Creek for the race. He was one of about 25 competitors that day.
Fast forward now to October 2013 and suffice to say things have changed. Things have changed a lot.
The Colorado High School Cycling League is returning to the valley this weekend for another state championship. But instead of a mere 25 competitors, a field of around 500 competitors is expected. The event will be contested on Eagle’s brand new Haymaker Trail — a multi-use amenity that was specifically designed to provide the kind of moderate terrain the high school racing league requires.
“It’s challenging to find a venue that meets all our needs,” said Kate Rau, director of the CHSCL. “Eagle has just been phenomenal. It’s really unprecedented in our series to have the kind of support that Eagle has provided.”
Low hanging fruit
Since the advent of the Eagle Marketing and Events Committee, established after a successful 2010 election that provided funding via a lodging occupation tax, a couple of key community attributes have been identified as tourism drivers. One is outdoor recreation opportunities in general and mountain biking in particular. The other is youth sports. This weekend’s high school cycling event is a meld of those two, but it took some effort to make that happen.
As Rau noted, the high school series has some basic logistical needs — namely moderate racing trails that ideally provide looping options. Additionally, the league needs space for spectators and parking along with hotel rooms and camping options. Eagle met many of those parameters — hotel rooms and spectator space for example — but others presented a challenge. Most particularly, even with its extensive mountain-bike trail network, the community really didn’t have a race route that addressed the needs of high school racers.
Ultimately, a cadre of mountain-bike enthusiasts proposed a new trail at the Haymeadow property located east of the Eagle Pool and Ice Rink. Town leaders negotiated with the Haymeadow property owners — Ric Newman and Alan Cohen — for a trail easement across the property’s hilly northern border prior to completion of the proposed developments land use hearings. The town allocated $60,000 to hire professional trail builders to design and build portions of the trail. The Hardscrabble Trails Coalition, a local nonprofit responsible for building many of Eagle’s existing trails, was also heavily involved in the project.
As a result, five additional miles of trail were added and the multi-use amenity has already become a popular locale for mountain biking, trail running and hiking. With an agreement from another private landowner, John Purchase, to allow parking near the site and an agreement from the town to allow camping at Brush Creek Park the weekend of the event, the logistics started falling into place. Eventually, Rau was convinced to not only bring a race to Eagle, but to stage the league championships here.
Promising a winner
The words “state championship” summon up images of athletic excitement. This Sunday’s races should deliver on that promise.
“It is going to be really, really exciting,” said Amy Cassidy, Eagle Marketing and Events coordinator. “Everything is up for grabs.”
As Rau notes, Sunday’s championship race will determine the overall team and individual titles for the league’s four-race series. Historically, Boulder High has come out of the gate early, capturing race wins and walking away with the series championship. But the home team, Vail Valley Composite, is currently in first place in the Division 1 team standings with Boulder a close second.
On down the line, the stage is set for more dramatics. There are only 265 points between third-place Fairview, fourth-place Animas and fifth-place Summit.
In the Division 2 competition, Grand Valley Composite and Durango High are well matched and currently sitting in first and second respectively. Only 109 points separate the third-place Crested Butte, fourth-place Green Mountain, and fifth-place Fort Collins teams.
“The races are close, the points are tight, and the season finale is guaranteed to be an exhilarating contest,” Rau said.
“It’s definitely nice to be sitting in first place, but it will be tight,” said Vail Valley Composite team coach Dan Weiland.
The local composite team has competitors from five local high schools and routinely sees between 18 and 25 riders per competition. Those numbers are what push the team to Division I where members compete against much larger schools such as Boulder High. Weiland noted that BHS routinely brings as many as 54 competitors to a race.
Competition is divided into girls and boys divisions and freshman, sophomore, junior varsity and varsity levels. Points are awarded for finishers in each division, and higher division riders earn more points than younger riders. For the state championships, double points are awarded.
Weiland said the Vail Valley Composite team has propelled itself into first place with top finishes by racers including Quentin Cook, Anna Martin, Paul Culperson and Christian Wilson. Look for those racers to bring it on Sunday.
As for spectator advice, Weiland said the 1 p.m. races should prove exciting. “Those guys are as fast as any of the pros in the community here. It will be legitimate racing,” Weiland said. “And the cool part of the venue is you can watch them as they descend.”
Beyond the race
While she is plainly hyped about the competition planned this weekend, Rau insists her biggest thrill doesn’t come from watching kids compete. It comes when she watches kids collaborate.
She recalled during last year’s state championship, one of the racers traveled solo to the event. But even though he was there on his own without teammates or family to cheer him on, and even though he was one of the last racers to cross the finish line, one of the top racers in the state made a special point of congratulating the solo rider.
“That epitomizes what the league is all about — kids supporting each other,” Rau said.
“There are so many moments of personal triumph,” Rau continued. She relates a story of one competitor who had to fix three flat tires during one race, but never gave up and finished his troubled ride. “He ended up being the overall series winner last year,” Rau said.
“I hear from parents all the time about how this league was a life-changing experience for their son or daughter,” she said.
And that’s why Rau does all the work it takes to organize the league.
“High school can be a pretty tumultuous time for both kids and parents,” Rau said. “I am just a huge proponent of positive youth development.”
To learn more about the Colorado High School Cycling League, visit www.coloradomtb.org.