Bigger and better every year, the Colorado Cycling League is set to end its first decade of high school mountain bike racing this weekend in Durango.
For the second year in a row, Durango is host to the state championship event known officially as the “Durango Mesa Pursuit.” Last year, 822 riders competed at state. That number is up to 843 this year, with athletes representing more than 80 schools from Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming.
“The success of the Colorado League is truly remarkable,” said league director Kate Rau. “It hinges on the dedication of coaches, commitment of the student-athletes and the loyal support of sponsors, host communities and donors. I’m extremely grateful to work with a staff who takes great pride in our work. ... It is very rewarding to see alum return as coaches, race weekend volunteers and watch them continue to pursue a healthy lifestyle and accomplish so much on and off the bike. I’m thrilled to see youth and families share magical memories in the outdoors with a lifelong sport.”
An Elevation Outdoors Magazine poll named the 2017 state championships in Eagle and the 2018 championships in Durango the best regional mountain bike events.
Thanks to the great efforts made by the Durango community and the quality of the event, Rau said the Colorado Cycling League, which is part of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association, plans to bring the state championships back to Durango again in 2020. It’s an event Durango worked diligently on for three years to bring here, and Iron Horse Bicycle Classic race director Gaige Sippy, a key contributor to bringing the state championships to Durango, aims to keep it here as long as possible. It’s a way for the entire state to experience the Durango cycling culture.
With the recent death of IHBC co-founder Ed Zink, who was a titan in the cycling community and largely responsible for bringing some of the biggest events of the sport to town, Sippy said he is even more motivated to put on memorable events for years to come.
“I want to encourage everyone to come check out the racing this weekend,” Sippy said. “Even if you don’t have a kid involved, it’s great to come out and see the Durango Mesa venue, see what it could be and come support local cycling. There are so many kids involved, and you can feel the good energy.
“For me, personally, the fact (Zink) has passed, it drives it home even more for me this year to work hard on these great events. I want to encourage the community to come out and support something (Zink) was proud to see happen here last year, and I know he would have been happy to come and see the racing and offer his support again this year.”
Teams from Southwest Colorado are well represented at the state championships. Animas High and Durango High are perennial title contenders, as Durango has won two consecutive Division 2 championships. National champions are among athletes who compete in the high school league along with four athletes this year who competed at the mountain bike world championships.
What makes the high school league such a success is the way the top-end riders blend in with those still new to the sport and the way teams support each other top to bottom. Animas and Durango travel together and support each other as one team though they score points for different teams. Animas and Durango combine to have 34 riders competing at state this year.
“Both schools are really one team in my book,” said Animas High’s Riley Amos, a four-time junior national champion who was on the USA Team Relay squad that won silver at the world championships this year. “We travel together, race together, and it’s a really good group of kids. We all race our hearts out for Durango.”
Also in the field is a composite team of riders from the Cortez, Dolores and Mancos area to make up the High Desert team which will have 11 athletes this year.
“It’s so great to have a race close to home,” said High Desert DEVO coach Sabina Kraushaar. “Our team has grown quite a bit, and we have a big freshmen team this year with four boys and one freshman girl at state this year. For us, it’s exciting because we had only one freshman last year, and now we have our first girl (Sophie Eschallier) going to state this year, so it’s super exciting for us.”
Rau said the Durango community the last two years has been tremendous with support from Durango Mesa landowner Marc Katz, who allows the race to take place on a beautiful setting on private property, with hundreds of racers and parents camping out on the land during the weekend. She also credited Sippy and the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic crew for its efforts along with Fort Lewis College and its cycling program as well as Moira Montrose Compton, Durango DEVO and the business partners who support the event.
“Countless people contributed to the successful event,” Rau said. “That scale of our events is quite large, and the local knowledge and support is integral.”
The weekend is also a big opportunity for Fort Lewis College, as the mountain bike athletes and families receive a tour of the campus. The awards banquet is also hosted at FLC. Last year, the FLC cycling team was in Montana at collegiate mountain bike nationals, but this year, nationals fell a week early, and the Skyhawks will have their full contingent of riders and coaches on hand to support the high school event.
“So many of our athletes were high school mountain bike athletes,” said FLC cycling director Dave Hagen. “They know what it’s all about. Quite a few of our new freshmen on the team are Colorado kids who were racing this last year. I think more high school kids see this is a great place for young mountain bikers to come and get a very good education and ride their bike.”
With 31 states now supporting NICA leagues, Colorado has long been at the forefront. While a decade on dirt will come to a close Sunday, it’s clear Durango will play a big part in the next decade of the Colorado Cycling League.
“The student-athletes are very inspiring,” Rau said. “They seem to thrive in the team setting established by the incredible coaches. As I say, the teams provide a enticing pool of fun and the riders choose to enthusiastically drink it, whether they strive for World Cup competition or be a part of a friendly, healthy tribe.”