The Summit County branch of The Cycle Effect pairs teen girls with mountain bikes | SummitDaily.com

The Summit County branch of The Cycle Effect pairs teen girls with mountain bikes

At the Frisco Roundup in early June, members of The Cycle Effect mountain bike team were nervously preparing to tackle their first race of the season.

Not that they let the nerves show.

With moments left before the race began, the 11 girls from Summit High School were laughing and joking in the parking lot with coach Jaime Brede, a professional mountain biker and longtime Breckenridge local who took over the Summit County team last year. Nearby was their van and trailer, emblazoned with The Cycle Effect logo and packed full of gear from sponsors: Giant bicycles, Uvex helmets and glasses, a piece or two of riding gear from Colorado-based Primal Wear.

As the race got closer, Brede still couldn't tell if her team was nervous to ride the singletrack at Frisco Peninsula. They'd be sharing the course with local guys and gals who have competed in just about every Summit Mountain Challenge bike race for years, maybe even decades. Of the 11 Cycle Effect girls, only two had ever competed in a mountain bike race, and yet another two had never even clipped into a pedal before joining the team in March.

"I don't know what was going through their heads," Brede tells me two weeks later, not long after her team had tackled its second race of the season at French Gulch. "They play it pretty cool. I know they were nervous, but they're strong. A few of them called and said they didn't want to do it, but I told them we have to face our fears, do something that scares us every day."

And in all honesty, I couldn't tell what was going through the team's collective head either. I'd been waiting for them near the finish line, snapping photos and running across the track and generally getting in the way, when the first few cyclists started barreling through the berms and dirt jumps of the final pump track.

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The Cycle Effect crew was easy enough to spot on the course — every girl gets a team jersey and neon-hued orange socks — but if they were overcoming fears, I never saw it on their faces. The first two or three who came through kept their eyes forward and arms relaxed, easily rolling through corners on their way to the finish line. It was finally in sight, and after powering through 6.6 miles of trail, I could tell there was absolutely no way they wanted to let up. They were having too much fun.

"It's really important to keep this fun for the girls," Brede says. "They like to be pushed and get a good workout, but you need to have the element of fun. Otherwise you have girls who will disengage."

Then another two or three girls came through the pump track wearing the same look of determination, mixed with sweat, scrapes and a touch of relief. Brede was still on the course with the last half of the team, but everyone was committed to finishing, nerves or no.

"They were tough, they were brave, and every last one of them did the race," Brede says. "They wanted to be tough and brave together."

Trail lessons

The Cycle Effect was founded in Eagle County nearly six years ago by Brett and Tam Donelson, a husband-wife team that had long worked with high-level athletes through their coaching program. The two wanted to bring cycling to local students, particularly young, in-need girls at Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley high schools. Within a few years the nonprofit ballooned, attracting a dedicated group of girls to the Vail Recreation District mountain bike races.

But the Donelsons didn't want to stop there. The Cycle Effect was ripe for expansion, and in 2013 they invited Brede to join the Eagle County team for a ride in the Vail area.

"I was a little hesitant at first," Brede says of her intro to the team. "It seemed like something that would take a lot of time and I was just interested in being an athlete, but after riding with the girls in Eagle I was hooked immediately."

During that first ride, Brede learned plenty about the girls: why they were there, why they were drawn to the team, why they chose cycling over track or soccer. The Donelsons created the team to build confidence and self-esteem by way of mountain bikes, but Brede was struck by a completely unexpected revelation. When she told the girls she lived in Breckenridge, a few were in awe: they'd never been there before.

"I just felt fortunate because my personal athletic journeys have taken me all over the country and all over the world, and I wanted to lend a hand to these young girls, help them find something they love," Brede says. "It's about opening doors a little bit at a time."

Last summer was The Cycle Effect's first year in Summit, and already Brede has seen burgeoning interest. Two girls returned this year, becoming the team's first bona fide veterans, and beginning as early as February she heard from interested teens and parents who saw the crew at last year's races.

Practice began in March, long before local trails were even visible. Brede holds her team to two practices per week, split between indoor training — think general fitness like push-ups and sit-ups, along with time in the spin studio — and biking drills. Those take place just about anywhere The Cycle Effect van can go, from the Frisco Peninsula to parking lots.

"We treat these girls like a professional cycling team," says Brede, who has tapped friends and other local athletes to help as volunteer coaches. "The nature of mountain biking is that it is a hard sport — it's not for the faint of heart. Like I tell the girls all the time, there is no Sunday driving in mountain biking. You have to go hard and be aggressive, and you have to prepare for that."

Although Brede says there is a delicate balance between pushing too hard and not enough, she's found that balance with volunteer coaches like Jacque Ball. The two are friends through mountain biking — Ball has been on a bike for 20 years — and both are avid proponents of the sport. They also balance each other out.

"It helps to have a coach giving a different perspective because some girls learn by listening, some girls learn by watching," Ball says. "I really love to hear the girls say, 'Coach Jacque, I remember you saying 'cowboy legs' and I thought about that the whole time I was racing.' It's very cool to hear that."

Along with The Cycle Effect, Ball also helps with Yeti Beti events, including a recent all-female race on June 14 in Castle Rock. The Cycle Effect took 25 girls to the Front Range, split between Summit and Eagle County team members. It was another slightly nerve-wracking experience, complete with a race village and more than 400 competitors, but the girls were ready.

"The biggest thing for me is to see the level of improvement, the level of confidence," Ball says. "They are blossoming on the bike and on a personal level. You see their personalities more, and that transition from start to finish is amazing. We've only been out there for three months and it's already incredible."

Onto the next race

About halfway through the Frisco race — it's the sort where starts are staggered over an hour — the final few Cycle Effect team members rolled through the finish, followed closely by Brede. Like her team, she was all smiles. A few girls even placed in the top three for their age groups, and as they lined up on the podium their coach was in the crowd snapping photos with her phone.

"It's such a cool program because the mountain bike really does lend itself to life lessons," Brede says. "In one practice alone we cover everything from self-sufficiency to focus to discipline to overcoming obstacles. All of these things are really taught on the mountain bike, on the trail, but they translate to real life."

Keystone double time trial

What: An uphill/downhill mountain bike time trial, one of seven Summit Mountain Challenge Series races The Cycle Effect team tackles this season

When: Wednesday, July 15

Where: Hunky Dory Lot at Keystone

Cost: $25 pre-registration or $30 day-of for adults, $15 for juniors (18 and younger)

Day-of registration at the starting line begins at 4 p.m. Juniors racing kicks off at 5:35 p.m., followed by adults at 5:45 p.m. The post-race is at Kickapoo Tavern. For more info, including course descriptions, see http://www.mavsports.com.