Moun­tains are the wheel deal Bike rac­ing over rough ter­rain gives schools a sense of pedal power

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - YOUTH -

MIN­NEAPO­LIS, Min­nesota — Tea­gan Ma­son didn’t con­sider her­self much of an ath­lete. She wasn’t out­go­ing ei­ther. But the Shakopee sopho­more un­der­went a trans­for­ma­tion a year ago.

Ma­son was per­suaded by a cou­ple of friends and a teacher to be­come a mem­ber of the school’s moun­tain bike rac­ing team.

“I was very ner­vous,” Ma­son says. “It was a bit scary for me.”

She quickly over­came her fears and now is one of more than 1,000 com­peti­tors from nearly 100 schools who par­tic­i­pate in the Min­nesota High School Cy­cling League. The league will get its sixth sea­son un­der­way in Au­gust.

“This has com­pletely ex­ceeded any of our wildest dreams,” says Josh Kleve, the league’s di­rec­tor and co-founder. “It has re­ally been em­braced.”

Kleve had 100 coaches for 151 stu­dent-ath­letes in the in­au­gu­ral sea­son in 2012. There are now 400 coaches in the pro­gram sanc­tioned by the Na­tional In­ter­scholas­tic Cy­cling As­so­ci­a­tion.

There are six races — Austin, Du­luth, Mankato, River Falls, Rochester and St Cloud — that com­prise the sea­son sched­ule. The state championship is in late Oc­to­ber.

“The cour­ses get pro­gres­sively harder as the sea­son goes on,” says Shakopee as­sis­tant coach Kyle Sob­ota.

He and head coach John Oman formed the Sabers’ squad three years ago.

Each race­course is roughly 6 kilo­me­ters in length, while the num­ber of laps varies on your level (var­sity, ju­nior var­sity, sopho­more or fresh­men). There are also two Di­vi­sions (I and II), de­ter­mined by team size. Races are held on Sun­days, with pre-rides on Satur­days.

“We try to make the races spe­cial,” Kleve says. “The pro­duc­tion value ex­ceeds many pro-level races. For many of our stu­dent-ath­letes, this is the first time they will hear their name read over a loud speaker. It has a fes­ti­val at­mos­phere.”

It also has a marathon-like feel at the start. At the sound of an air horn, the en­tire pack of bik­ers equipped with hel­mets is on its way around the ob­sta­cle course.

Like all new rid­ers, Ma­son had plenty to learn. Her big­gest chal­lenge com­ing out of the start­ing gate was climb­ing hills.

“It’s tough to get in the right gear, and get enough mo­men­tum to get up the hills,” Ma­son says. “Go­ing over and through ob­sta­cles was also hard.”

She still re­mem­bers fall­ing off a plat­form onto the packed dirt be­low dur­ing her ini­tial run on the ad­vanced loop at Mur­phy-Han­re­han Park Re­serve in Sav­age. It mostly bruised her ego.

“I suf­fered a cou­ple of bruises and scratches,” Ma­son says. “I over­re­acted to the sit­u­a­tion more than any­thing else.”

Noth­ing pre­vented Ma­son from com­plet­ing ev­ery course dur­ing her ini­tial sea­son while com­pet­ing at the girls’ fresh­men level.

“She was a be­gin­ner, and had a lot to learn about be­ing out on the trails,” Sob­ota says. “She im­proves greatly, and it gave her a lot of con­fi­dence. Fin­ish­ing ev­ery race last year was a tes­ta­ment to her char­ac­ter.”

Cham­plin Park ju­nior cap­tain Brady Hig­gins is look­ing for­ward to mak­ing the tran­si­tion from the boys’ sopho­more level to var­sity.

“It should be a good tran­si­tion,” Hig­gins says. “You have to learn how to pace your­self. There is more of a strate­gic as­pect.”

Hig­gins is com­ing off a fifth-place fin­ish in the sopho­more class of Divi­sion II at the state championship a year ago. Cham­plin Park is en­ter­ing its se­cond sea­son as a pro­gram by it­self (not com­bined with Osseo-Maple Grove like pre­vi­ously).

“It’s an ev­ery­one-in­cluded at­mos­phere,” Hig­gins says. “It’s a good league be­cause you can have fun with it whether you are a be­gin­ner or more ex­pe­ri­enced.”

Prior Lake sopho­more Calvin Sand­berg is one of the most ex­pe­ri­enced cy­clists in the league. He has been moun­tain bik­ing over 10 years, and com­peted on the var­sity level for the first time last sea­son.

“Mov­ing up to var­sity made me learn how to ride fast,” Sand­berg says. “I had to ride fast to stay up with the other com­peti­tors. The bet­ter com­pe­ti­tion pushed me to get bet­ter. ”

He en­joyed his best sea­son, fin­ish­ing as the run­ner-up with a time 1 hour, 23 min­utes and 29.9 sec­onds in the state championship. He won the Austin event and was se­cond in two other races as well.

“I did a lot bet­ter than I thought I would do,” Sand­berg says. “I sur­prised my­self.”

He also uses moun­tain bik­ing to train for his other ac­tiv­ity, lacrosse.

“It’s great for cross train­ing,” Sand­berg says. “It’s su­per for your leg mus­cles, and not hard on your body.”

There is one ex­cep­tion — im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing a race.

“Af­ter a race I’m su­per ex­hausted,” Sand­berg says. “All my mus­cles are tired, but I’m also happy be­cause it was a lot of fun.”

Which is one of the pri­mary goals of the league, along with get­ting more peo­ple in­volved in cy­cling. Over 50 per­cent of the stu­dent-ath­letes have got­ten at least one par­ent rid­ing a bike.

“It’s re­ally a fun sport,” Sand­berg says. “You can go any­where and do any­thing on a bike. There are end­less op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

I had to ride fast to stay up with the other com­peti­tors. The bet­ter com­pe­ti­tion pushed me to get bet­ter.” Calvin Sand­berg, a Prior Lake sopho­more who takes part in the bike-rac­ing league

TNS

The Shakopee High School Moun­tain Bike Team gather be­fore a ride at the Bloom­ing­ton Ferry Unit trail.

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