Thirty days ago, 18-year-old Nicole Linebaugh wouldn’t have even called herself a mountain biker. But on Sept. 29, she represented Chino Valley High School in the inaugural race of the Arizona High School Cycling League . She also demonstrated the potential of high school mountain bike racing – and what it can do for participants.
The event at McDowell Mountain Regional Park was Linebaugh’s first race, and her longest bike ride ever – about 19 miles. She learned about the high school cycling league during an assembly.
“It’s my senior year, and I wanted to do something besides theater,” Linebaugh says. “I wanted to do something new.”
She showed up to the next Chino Valley High School practice on an old mountain bike. Her coaches saw her tenacity and enthusiasm, and arranged to get a league loaner bike. The result? An instant 10-minute improvement in her practice ride times.
Linebaugh represents one of 24 high schools from across Arizona. She rolled to the starting line just hoping not to fall. And she just wanted to get through her first lap before the 1:15 cut-off time. She made it by about 25 minutes, and headed out for a second lap with growing confidence.
That’s where Linebaugh met Estrella Foothills High School JV racer Christine Clark. Linebaugh says they talked, joked, encouraged and challenged each other as they raced side-by-side until there was less than a mile to go. Then, they decided to go all-out. Linebaugh managed to put a 30-second gap on Clark.
The National Interscholastic Cycling Association -affiliated high school leagues across the country open doors for teens like Linebaugh – those who might not take an interest in traditional sports, and grasp the opportunity to represent their school in something new. It’s an unexpected twist for Linebaugh, who laughs as she describes her friends’ reactions to her new interest in mountain bike racing.
“‘You don’t run, you don’t do anything, and now you’re a mountain biker?'” she says.
All Levels Find a Welcome at McDowell
For other riders, the Arizona High School Cycling League is another outlet to hone their racing skills. The front of the varsity boys pack featured wheel-to-wheel action, with a tight group of competitors attacking and blocking with conviction. Skill levels varied among the varsity, JV, sophomore and freshman categories. The top riders in every category were focused and intense, but many managed a smile and wave for photographers.
With nearly 150 racers, it’s clear that Arizona was more than ready for a high school cycling league. Participants and parents crammed the Pemberton Trail staging area at McDowell Mountain Regional Park north of Fountain Hills. To see the results, visit the Results page of the Arizona High School Cycling website .
The course included portions of the Pemberton, Granite and Lariat trails. It was a wide, fairly smooth course that would help newer racers build confidence, said Mike Perry, executive director of the Arizona High School Cycling League.
In two weeks, the series will return to race on the park’s Competitive Loops; riders will find greater technical challenges, from rocks to turns to braking bumps to the occasional desert tortoise.
Sponsors and Team Trailers Add a Big Event Flavor
Pivot, the high-end Phoenix-based mountain bike manufacturer, signed on as the founding sponsor for the league. Three Pivot employees showed up with a team van, demo bikes and snacks for the all the racers.
“You don’t have to ride a Pivot,” says Lauren Church, who works in marketing support for Pivot. “Anyone can come hang out with us.”
Church writes the Pivot newsletter, and spreads the word about the race series. She hopes to see more riders in general, but even more female racers in future events.
Future Plans for the League
“It really is a challenge to get more girls involved, and it’s front and center on our priorities,” Perry agrees. “We’re coming at it from a few angles.”
The league’s plans include:
ensuring that women and minorities have key positions among the league leadership.
Team scoring at races is co-ed, the highest placed four riders on a team, and must include at least one girl and one boy.
Encouraging teams to have female coaches
Holding girls-only skills clinics and other events.
“We’ll continue to do more as we learn and evolve; like I said, it’s a priority for us,” Perry says.