High school mountain-bike championships return to Eagle
EAGLE — For four years now, a hallmark of Eagle’s fall season has been an influx of mountain-biking families for the Colorado High School Cycling League State Championships.
That’s what happens when you build a trail with the event specifically in mind.
“Eagle is the gold standard host community,” said Kate Rau, Colorado High School Cycling League executive director. “The course is fantastic for our demographics and its very spectator-friendly.”
For the 573 riders slated to compete in state championship races this Sunday, Eagle also represents a central location for a sport that has mushroomed since it was launched in 2009. Last year the Colorado League grew so large that it was split into north and south divisions and that growth continued through this season. This year, 1,076 students participated in the league, up from 856 in 2015. Programs run from Casper, Wyoming to the north and Taos, New Mexico to the south. As many as 900 riders converged at some of the qualifying races for the state championships. In Eagle, only the top riders will have the chance to compete because they had to qualify to make the trip.
The teams to watch include Division I perennial favorites Boulder and Fairview, but the Battle Mountain High School and Summit County teams have also had strong seasons. In Division II, Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy is the team to beat.
The varsity girls leader board features Katja Freeburn, of Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy, in first place with Sarah Smith of Battle Mountain in second. Sam Brown, of Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy, is among the top 10 riders on the boys varsity side.
Four years into its hosting role, Eagle has a good handle on what it takes to put on the event.
“Eagle loves this event. We love the partnerships we have with the Colorado league,” said Amy Cassidy, Eagle marketing consultant. “We want to keep working to make things better every year and we certainly don’t take it for granted they will be back, although we always hope they will.”
The league/town partnership began in 2012 when Rau visited the community at the invitation of Scott Turnipseed and Chris Cook. She let the local representatives know what the high school league needed in terms of racing trails and amenities and Eagle set to work to make that wish list happen. The Haymaker Trail was specifically designed to meet the needs of high school racers. As an added bonus, the trail is a very spectator-friendly venue.
“The Haymaker Trail descent is so fun to watch and you can see some really exciting racing without having to hike anywhere,” said Cassidy.
Rau noted the Haymaker site is also a favorite among racers and families because of its proximity to other services. The race staging area is adjacent to the town’s BMX track and camping and dining options are located nearby.
“You can pretty much ride your bike anywhere. There’s no reason to get into the car during the weekend,” said Rau.
She noted that Eagle reaches out to competitors. “The businesses offer specials for our riders and families and they are very happy to have us there,” said Rau.
As the racers and their families arrive in town, Cassidy noted Eagle residents should take some extra care as they travel around town.
“I would ask people to be aware there will be a lot more bikes on the road. Be careful,” said Cassidy.
Tent camping for the event will be set up at the Brush Creek Park and RV camping is planned at the Eagle County Fairgrounds.
Riders will be training on the Haymaker course on Saturday. Additionally, there will be a league awards ceremony on Saturday evening at the Brush Creek Pavilion.
Sunday’s race action will begin at 9 a.m. when the freshman boys tackle the course. Competition will continue throughout the day with boys/girls races in freshmen, sophomore, junior varsity and varsity divisions.
“It’s anybody’s championship to win,” said Rau. “That’s what makes it so exciting.”
As the director looks forward to the races, she said its not just the championship rides that she relishes.
“It doesn’t matter where they are in the rankings — those kids are pouring out everything every pedal step,” she said. “I can’t express how much I am in love with this sport and the competition and the camaraderie.”
Money has poured in from all corners of the valley to support a new bike park in Minturn.