Ezra Smith, Summit Tigers MTB in tough new division for season opener in Frisco Aug. 27-28 | SummitDaily.com

Ezra Smith, Summit Tigers MTB in tough new division for season opener in Frisco Aug. 27-28

The first time Spencer Tyson pedaled up Kitty Hill in Bailey, it was anything but cute and warm and fuzzy. No, it was more like cruel and hot and agonizing — the definition of false advertising.

And then, the 17-year-old senior at Summit High had to do it again. Kitty Hill was just another lap at The Bailey Hundo, a 100-mile mountain bike race that was really more like 115 miles with 13,000 feet of vertical in northeastern Park County. After riding for 11 hours and 58 minutes in temperatures nearing 95 degrees on rough, rugged terrain — the wide-open slopes of Kitty Hill were scarred by the Hi Meadow Fire in 2000 — he crossed the finish line under his goal of 12 hours. It was his first 100-miler, and, thanks to months of hard work early in the off-season, his first podium at an endurance race.

"It was excruciatingly painful during it, but I honestly enjoyed every second of it," Tyson said a few months after the fact. "Every pedal stroke felt like the months of planning and working on fitness really paid off. It was amazing to finish."

This weekend, he steps into his new role as captain of the Summit Tigers mountain bike team when they host the first race of the 2016 high school season. Dubbed the Frisco Bay Invitational, the race has become a staple on the Colorado High School Cycling League schedule, with a mixture of singletrack and dirt road spread across the Frisco Peninsula. The races are expected to draw upwards of 900 athletes from across the state and region, up from about 730 at last year's season opener.

"This party on two wheels is going to be amazing," league director Kate Rau said. "(It's a) wonderful mix of singletrack, descending (and) opportunities to pass."

It's also home turf for Tyson and junior teammate Ezra Smith, the defending state champion for varsity girls. Racing is split into two regions, the north (home to Summit) and the south, with varsity, JV and freshman races for men and women in both regions. The event is free and open to spectators, and, as usual, Tyson can't wait for the hometown crowd to show up in force.

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"I'm excited to have a pretty good crowd behind us," he said, who's in his third year racing with the high school team. "We usually do at all of the races, but, since our coaches and teammates have been causing a stir in the mountain bike community, it will be even bigger."

Moving on up

The Frisco race also marks the Tigers debut in a new — and tougher — division. Last season, the team took second overall in Division II North, defined by teams with fewer than 16 athletes. Now, with a corps of 21 team riders between the boys and girls, the team is bumped to Division I with the likes of Fairview, Boulder and those old cross-county rivals, Battle Mountain.

Are the Tigers ready for the big leagues? Head coach Fred Newcomer is hopeful.

"I think we look really strong," he said, who's been practicing on the Peninsula course with the team since the start of August. "All the kids are chomping at the bit to get out there on Saturday and start the season. I'd say half the team has been racing this summer in the local series, so they're ready to get the official season started."

The new division comes with one unlikely perk: more points — and more chances to contribute. Division II teams are ranked based on the top five finishing times from every race, while Division I teams are ranked based on the top 10. That means nearly half of the team can make or break a race, and, with a strong group of new riders, that's an invaluable way to get better as a team.

"This will give the team a huge opportunity to improve and really show what we have to offer," Tyson said. "It will really push us, and we'll push ourselves."

That doesn't mean it will be easy. True, a good chunk of the team already has experience racing in the local Summit Mountain Challenge series, but the team as a whole is much different from last year. They lost several strong seniors, especially on the boy's squad, leaving Tyson and four-year veteran Slav Uglyar as the only current seniors. But the captain is hardly worried.

"Those guys are really fast, and I'm super excited to be racing with them and against them," Tyson said of Uglyar and another veteran, junior Henry Boyd. "Slav and Henry are animals."

Setting the tone

For Tyson and his head coach, the first race is the perfect time to see how the Tigers stack up in the new division. When the season ends on Oct. 23 in Eagle, both are confident the team will be ranked in the top-5 — and maybe vying for another podium finish.

"I would love to continue the trend of getting on the podium, but we'll see," Tyson said. "I think after this race, we'll have a better idea of how we'll do as a team and how hard we'll need to push to get on the podium."

It makes the home opener one that can't be missed, for riders and coaches alike.

"We love this one," Newcomer said. "These are our hometown trails — the ones you ride early and late in the season — and we're no stranger to the course. We've been out there since we started riding together in August and I think all the kids are excited to open the season on their home trails." ~

2016 Frisco Bay Invitational

What: The first race of the 2016 Colorado High School Cycling League mountain bike season, held on trails at the Frisco Peninsula for more than 900 athletes from across the state and region

When: Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 27-28

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

Cost: Free for spectators

The event is free and open to the public. All races take place on a set course at the Frisco Peninsula, with the north division (including Summit High School) on Saturday and south division on Sunday. Volunteer help is needed for course marshals, timing and course setup/takedown. To register as a volunteer or find out more, see the “volunteer” tab at http://www.coloradmtb.org.

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2016 Colorado HS Cycling League schedule

Aug 27-28 — Frisco Peninsula, Frisco

Sept. 10-11 — Colorado Mountain College-Timberline Campus, Leadville

Sept. 24-25 — Granby Ranch, Granby

Oct. 8-9 — McMurry Ranch, Nathrop

Oct. 23 —Colorado State Championships, Haymaker trail, Eagle