Take 5: An interview with Colorado MTB champ Ezra Smith
She’s No. 1
This high school season, no one came closer than three minutes to beating Ezra Smith until the state championships in Eagle on Oct. 24. Here’s a look at her times on the standard girl’s varsity course: three laps of 6.3 miles each (18.9 miles total).
Aug. 29 — Frisco Peninsula, 57:43 (2nd place 1:01:54)
Sept. 12 — CMC Timberline Campus in Leadville, 1:33:38 (2nd place 1:40:21)
Sept. 26 — Haymaker in Eagle, 1:17:52 (2nd place 1:25:01)
Oct. 10 — McMurry Ranch in Nathrop, 1:27:03 (2nd place 1:30:01)
Oct. 24 — Haymaker State Championships in Eagle, 1:26:46.53 (2nd place 1:26:46.90)
For the first time this season, Ezra Smith of the Summit Tigers mountain bike team had to fight for first place. Was she nervous? Yes. Did she let it weigh her down? Not at all.
After nearly an hour-and-a-half of pedaling with Salida’s Harper Powell on her tire, Smith crossed the finish line first by less than a tire length at the Colorado High School Cycling League State Championships in Eagle on Oct. 24. She’s the only undefeated varsity cyclist this season — male or female — and her finish helped push her team to second out of 37 teams in Division II.
Oh, and she’s just a sophomore. As a freshman, she went undefeated in the league’s JV category. She needed a bit of a challenge this season, and so the 15-year-old jumped to varsity without a second thought. The Breckenridge local has been riding on singetrack since she was 7 years old — her dad is a “pretty talented rider,” she says — but she didn’t start seriously competing until about 2012.
“It took me a while to fall in love with it,” she remembers when I ask if she enjoyed biking right away. “I thought it was a little scary to go downhill. I really wasn’t a fan of that.”
How quickly things change. By now, she has the cardio and skill to dominate on a mountain bike, and it’s not just against the 750-rider high school league. She makes the rounds at local races, competing in the Firecracker 50, the Summit Mountain Challenge Series and the Vail Rec District series.
All the dusty, dirty summertime work prepares her for the Nordic track come winter, where she already holds two state championships and the XC Junior Nationals U16 title. Needless to say, her athletic schedule is jam-packed for a teen (or an adult). How does she fill her precious free time?
“Yeah, I guess I do homework,” she tells me. “I also try to hang out for friends. But I guess it works out pretty well. I’m always fit, and that’s good.”
In the short gap between MTB and Nordic season, the Summit Daily sports desk talked with her to hear more about the state championships, the upcoming ski season and the singletrack races that just didn’t go so well (Not like there are many).
Summit Daily News: I couldn’t make it to Eagle last weekend, but I hear the state championships were your closest race of the season. You took second by 0.4 seconds. Did you expect that coming into it?
Ezra Smith: I did. In the beginning, I had a pretty good idea about my competition, Harper Powell (of Salida High School). As the season progressed, she got closer and closer in time, but I had never even raced her once before the championships. I was super-nervous heading into it. I just had no idea what racing her would be like.
SDN: Once you got out on the course, what was it like then? Was Harper on your wheel the entire time?
ES: I actually calmed down a little bit. I was still super-nervous, definitely, but I just tried to ride my own race, push as hard as I could. I’ve been winning by a minute or two all season. I even went to the U.S. Nationals (July 15-19 in Mammoth Mountain, California) and had a little over a two-minute gap on second place. When I was at Eagle, I just made sure I gave my 100 percent. If she was faster than my 100 percent, than she deserved to win.
SDN: You and everyone else were familiar with the Haymaker course going into the season. What do you like about that track?
ES: It’s really fun and rolly, with big berms. The downhills are fun and curvy, too. It’s very different from the type of riding we do out here. The dirt is a little more sandy (than in Summit County), and it’s way hotter. I definitely made many trips out to Eagle this season to practice the course. I also got out and did corners and berms to practice, just on some trails around here. I would head out to Slalom above Breckenridge. That’s a good one.
SDN: You still have two seasons of racing left, and you’re already undefeated at the varsity level. Looking back on the whole season, what went right? How did you manage to stay in first?
ES: I just had a super-successful season, and it started before high school started. I had a ton of great races, but I also had a lot of tough ones. The Firecracker 50 (on July 4 in Breckenridge) wasn’t the best for me, and two of my races in Vail just didn’t go well. I had a National Championship race that didn’t go as planned either, back in the beginning of July. Some days, I just didn’t quite have my legs on me. I also had a few mechanical problems. At the Firecracker 50, I crashed at one point and then had a rear flat that I just couldn’t fix. I finished, but my time wasn’t very good.
SDN: You’re also a Nordic skier with big finishes at national races. How does biking help you prepare for the ski season?
ES: I’m completely transitioning into Nordic now. Mountain biking late helps a lot. It keeps my lungs in shape and adds leg strength. It’s not one over the other, though. I think of it as cross-training for both sports: Nordic cross-trains for biking, and biking cross-trains for Nordic. They’re both fun I think.
SDN: Will you need to pick a favorite at some point and stick to it?
ES: So far it’s pretty equal, and I like both sports the same. I think, eventually, I’ll have to specialize, but that’s still in the future. Within two years, I’ll probably have to take one over the other.
SDN: What are you looking forward to most this Nordic season?
ES: I’m super-excited to race and be back with the team. I’m looking forward to the Senior Nationals (U.S. Cross-Country Championships) in Michigan. Those are Jan. 2 through Jan. 9. It will be my first time racing in them, so I’m super-excited and nervous, but you can also qualify for Worlds there. That will be my first time ever trying to qualify. My biggest goal is definitely to podium at Junior Nationals, which are in March, but going to Worlds would be great. It’s my first time though, so I haven’t really set a goal yet.
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