By Alex Strickland
Already one of NICA’s largest, Utah league expands schedule, ups rider counts in 2013
In its inaugural season, the Utah High School Mountain Bike League set a new standard for first-year chapters of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association’s (NICA). For its sophomore effort in 2013, the league added a race to the schedule and moved the state championship event to Moab, where riders will get a taste of the world-famous riding destination on November 9.
With more than 400 student athletes lining up at each event, racing has been competitive in every division, with the largest fields of sophomore and freshman boys containing more than 200 riders.
“We’ve been amazed with the number of new teams and riders this season,” said League Director Lori Harward. “High school mountain biking is obviously resonating with these kids and everyone appreciates that all riders get to participate so everyone is riding a bike, not riding the bench.”
At the top varsity divisions, rising stars of Utah’s cycling scene have made their presence felt with a blistering pace and tight racing.
In the girls varsity division, Park City freshman phenomenon Haley Batten was looking to complete a season sweep on Moab’s red rock. The 15-year-old with Olympic aspirations has taken the league by storm, dominating her class in her first year of competition and setting the tone for blazing lap times from the top girls division.
In boys varsity racing, the battle between Justin Griffin and Zach Peterson that culminated last year with a sprint to the finish in the state championship race that was decided by inches continues in 2013. South Davis Composite’s Peterson took the opening round but Olympus/Cottonwood/Hillcrest Composite’s Griffin went on a three-race tear leading into the final round. The pair has been separated in most events by less than 50 feet as their rivalry has grown.
The varsity leaders have also distinguished themselves on course with consistent displays of sportsmanship and trail etiquette in overtaking slower riders from other divisions even as they’re locked in close fights for the lead.
“It’s amazing to see these guys and girls riding at such a high level, but making the effort to encourage riders they’re passing with a ‘great job’ or ‘keep it up’ even as they’re pinned,” Harward said.
Heading to Moab the closest points battle of the series is in the freshman boys division one category between Park City teammates Matthew Behrens and Connor Patten. The pair is tied atop the leaderboard with 1980 points apiece. The young riders will be competing not only for state championship and season titles, but trying to help Park City maintain it’s hold on the team standings in Division 1, where it leads first-year team Corner Canyon.
The new Corner Canyon High School team may trail Park City High in points after four rounds, but the first-year team has made a large impact on the league. Not only is it the largest team in the state, but fielding riders who are atop the sophomore boys D1 and sophomore girls.
Park City High remains the dominant force in the league, particularly in the top girls category where the team holds all three podium spots after four rounds where Batten leads teammates Brenna Egan and Quinn Graves.
In the division two team standings, the varsity boys battle is playing out in the overall points as South Davis Composite leads Olympus/Cottonwood/Hillcrest Composite by 584 points.
Points battles will intensify in Moab since the final round is a bonus race, with hefty points bonuses being awarded through the field. The course is also unique, with varsity riders taking a slightly different, more technical route than the other divisions. Plus, passing opportunities will be at a premium as passing on the singletrack sections of the course is outlawed to protect the area’s unique and fragile cryptobiotic soil.
Prior to Moab, the series visited some of the premier riding spots along the Wasatch, opening the season with a first-time event in the Corner Canyon trails above Draper. The series then returned to Round Valley, narrowly missing an early season snowstorm that dropped a few inches of white stuff on the Park City area trails just days before the event. Race 3 was a new venue for the series at Snowbasin Resort, a challenging high-altitude course that just weeks before had hosted the Xterra USA triathlon and trail running national championships on some of the same trails. The final Wasatch round returned to the 2002 Olympic biathlon venue at Soldier Hollow near Heber.
For more information about the Utah High School Cycling League, results, event info and fundraising opportunities, visit www.utahmtb.org.