Colorado high school mountain bike season concludes with state championships in Eagle
Special to the Daily
The high school mountain bike season, which consists of four races plus the state championship, culminated on the Haymaker Trail system in Eagle with more than 600 riders from around the state rolling through town on Sunday, Oct. 22. For the town of Eagle, the event is a feather in the cap and a boon to the local economy, but for the local athletes, it’s an opportunity to race on home dirt.
The valley’s local mountain biking squad is split into three teams for competition purposes — Battle Mountain High School, Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy and Eagle Valley High School — but the group trains together under the management of Ski & Snowboard Club Vail. The program had 39 athletes qualified and registered for Sunday’s championship event; however, four athletes fell victim to the flu and were forced to miss the race, which didn’t help their pursuits in the team rankings.
The series, which is facilitated by the Colorado High School Cycling League, recognizes an array of individual and team awards. Varsity boys and girls are the marquee events for individual riders. The league also recognizes JV, sophomore and freshman boys and girls.
“The cool part is, they race in separate categories,” said SSCV Mountain Bike Program Director Dan Weiland. “If you’re a freshman, you race against freshmen. If you’re a sophomore, you race against sophomores. And then there’s JV and varsity. I think it’s tiered really well to not be completely overwhelming for kids. The idea is for these athletes to develop as they go through their four years.”
Among the varsity ranks, Eagle’s Sam Brown was the top local varsity racer of the day in seventh place. For Brown, who finished on the podium in all four regular-season events, wining the first, it wasn’t quite the finale he had in mind, but looking back on the last few months of racing, it’s easily the best season of his young career.
Set the pace
Brown, a VSSA senior, wanted to make a statement early in the race. He flew out of the start and led after the first of three laps, but the pace may have been unmanageable as he gradually slipped back in the pack.
“The front guys, they were pushing a pretty hard pace after the second lap,” Brown said. “After I went through the feed zone, they went by me and I couldn’t catch them. I wanted to try to stay with them but it didn’t work out.”
For his efforts, Brown was recognized for the fastest single lap of the day.
“I had a great season. This race wasn’t what I wanted, but the rest of the season was amazing,” Brown said.
In the varsity girls’ event, Gaja Wilson, racing for Battle Mountain, was the top local finisher in ninth. Wilson, a junior competing at the varsity level, said the result is encouraging as she looks toward her senior year.
“I’m happy with the result,” Wilson said. “Being a junior racing varsity is really hard. This is my first year doing three laps. My goal was to get top 10, so I’m right in there. … Next year, I really have high expectations. I’d like to be on the podium each race.”
Among the other top local finishers was Calvin Trudeau, who claimed 12th in the boys’ varsity division for Battle Mountain; while Eli Smith finished sixth for JV boys. Isabella Sargent, also racing for Battle Mountain, rode to fifth place for JV girls. VSSA’s Bayli McSpadden, fresh off of a two-week ski racing camp in Austria, finished third for freshmen girls; and Aidan Duffy cranked out Eagle Valley’s best result of the day: fifth for freshmen boys.
The league also recognizes team accomplishments and organizes schools into divisions depending on the size of its programs. Battle Mountain races in Division 1, among some of the largest schools in the state. VSSA races D2 and Eagle Valley, which was formed as a team for the first time this year, also races D2.
With its results on Sunday, VSSA slipped to fifth of 48 teams in the D2 rankings. It won the division last year. Eagle Valley finished seventh, while Durango, Green Mountain and Summit went first, second and third, respectively.
In Division 1, Battle Mountain finished sixth out of 22 teams. Fairview, Boulder and Golden claimed the top three spots in that order.
After the race, Weiland said he was pleased with the season but knows 90 percent of his athletes want more. Compared to perennial powerhouses, Vail simply doesn’t offer the same type of year-round programming for dedicated mountain bike racers. The mountain bike program, in many ways, was formed as a supplement to the Nordic program at SSCV. Weiland thinks it may be time to offer it as a full-time, dedicated sport.
“How do we get better? How do we move forward from this year onto next year?” Weiland queried. “You look at a team like Boulder, they had 70-something riders today. I think what they do really well is they provide their athletes with more training opportunities. I’m wondering, is it time for a full-time bike program?”