Colorado high school mountain bike season debuts in Frisco Aug. 29-30 | SummitDaily.com

Colorado high school mountain bike season debuts in Frisco Aug. 29-30

You could say the Tigers mountain bike team has an unfair advantage heading into the first race of the high school season.

The statewide series makes its 2015 debut Aug. 29-30 at the Frisco Peninsula, a favorite singletrack system for local riders of all stripes and, after formal practices began a week or two ago, the go-to training grounds for the Summit High School squad.

That makes this race the biking equivalent of a home game: Since the first event of the Summit Mountain Challenge Series on June 4 — a series overseen by high school league consultant Jeff Westcott of Maverick Sports — the majority of the 15-person team has taken countless laps on Jody's Loop, Rocky's Ride, Buzz Saw and the rest. They know the switchbacks and short, steep climbs by heart, and, of course, they're familiar with the effects of Summit's dizzying altitude. Even powerhouse teams from Boulder and Salida spend most of their time pedaling around 6,000 feet.

But, is familiarity really unfair? Not quite. Entering the season with home-court advantage is just fine with Fred Newcomer, the Summit team's longtime coach and executive director for Summit Velo.

"We were excited to be hosting the race on our local course," Newcomer said a few days before the races. "We couldn't be more proud. It's perfect for us — that's our secret weapon. We've been practicing on the peninsula since spring because it's always one of the first places to dry out."

Not only does this weekend mark the debut of the 2015 high school season — it's also Frisco's long-delayed premiere as a host. Somehow, the rider-friendly peninsula system never made it on the race schedule, but, this year, High School Colorado Cycling League director Kate Rau wanted to give Frisco it's due.

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"We like being in mountain communities early in the season because the weather is divine this time of year," she said. "The venue is ideal for camping, riding, amenities — just everything people look for when they travel for a race. We want to give people a warm welcome to the sport."

A league matures

Frisco's first league race couldn't come at a better time for the sport or Colorado's high school riders. Mountain biking continues to explode in every form — Breckenridge hosted at least a dozen cross-country and endurance races this season.

The Tigers have waited five years to put on a show in their backyard, and, when more than 700 of the state's best young riders descend on Frisco for the races, they'll finally get the chance in front of the league's largest roster to date.

Since it was founded in 2010, Colorado's high school league has swelled at the same rapid rate as the U.S. mountain biking community. That first year, the season opener attracted roughly 180 riders from across the state — not too shabby for a brand-new concept, one without traditional scholastic backing like football and basketball.

And, then, it exploded. The next year, the first race saw about 300 athletes take a start. The league continued to grow by roughly 200 percent each year, and Rau expects about 730 riders at the Frisco kick-off, including out-of-state teams from Wyoming and New Mexico.

It's become so large that organizers split the league into two divisions, one for schools north of Interstate 70, one for schools to the south. The north division — the Tigers division — hosts races for freshman, sophomore, junior varsity and varsity riders on Aug. 29, followed by the same lineup of south division races on Aug. 30.

"We're building this web of people from across the region who enjoy the outdoors," Rau said. "Kids now look at colleges and want a cycling program, a mountain biking club, anything they recognize from high school, when they started getting into the sport. They want something that meets their interests."

As she sees it, the high school league is a marquee showcase for mountain biking. It's also proof that trail riding can be just as competitive — and athletically demanding — as more traditional sports. But, here's the real appeal: It's more than a single evening under stadium lights.

"I like to think of it as a weekend outing that happens to have a race around it," she said. "People just want to be outside, have fun, connect with other like-minded people. These kids might not see each other all year, but you have kids from Casper who are excited to see their friends from Durango."

Rough-and-tumble home course

While the peninsula is more forgiving than, say, Wheeler Pass, it's still no walk in the park.

"It's just great singletrack," Newcomer said. "It can be technical, it can be rough and rocky but it's also fun, with short, punchy climbs. Some of the other courses we've been to just don't have the variety and the technical you'll find at the peninsula."

And, those short, punchy climbs could benefit the Tigers. Senior Logan Ramsay has been riding with the Summit team since freshman year. This summer, he took his first stab at serious training — intervals, hill climbs and distances six days a week — to prepare for his first season at the highly-competitive varsity level. He admits the summer race series didn't end very well, but he feels strong and competitive and hungry to win heading into the five-race league series.

"There's always someone better than you, someone you can aspire to beat," Ramsay said. "You just want to watch how better people ride, try to stick their wheel."

Fellow senior Connor Hintgen is looking for a bit of redemption. After a stellar sophomore year — he placed in the league top-10 — he had a so-so junior season. He'll race junior varsity on Frisco, hoping to place top-10 overall again to build off a stellar summer series.

"I'm a very competitive person," he said. "A year or two after I started, I was on the podium, and then, I started winning. I got that taste of victory and really liked it. I'm ready to get back in the top-10, maybe the top-six."

As for Newcomer, he believes a strong roster of seniors and heavyweights like Ezra Smith, a National Championships finalist at just 16 years old, will propel the Tigers to a top-three finish. His team placed fourth out of 44 Division II teams last year, and there's no better time than the hometown series debut to stake a claim for the team title.

"I know this team is capable of winning a state championship," Newcomer said. "I'm looking for a top-three finish out of the Tigers this year, and I absolutely think that's possible."

Frisco Peninsula high school race

What: The first race of the 2015 Colorado High School Cycling League season, a five-race series attended by more than 700 riders from across Colorado and neighboring states

When: Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 29-30

Where: Frisco Adventure Park start line, 621 Recreation Way in Frisco

Cost: Free for spectators

Spectators are welcome to watch races from the Frisco Adventure Park or anywhere along the course. Organizers are also looking for volunteers to act as course marshals and more. Volunteers can register on-site the day of the race, or by visiting the league website at http://www.coloradomtb.org and clicking the “Volunteer” tab.