Los Alamos High School and Middle School Mountain Bike team members from left, Josh Moulton, Diego Leonard, Erik Leonard, Adalee Witt, Esther Grow, Josh Grow, Calvin Grow, James Tyldesley and Colter Witt pose after the Northern Arizona National Interscholastic Cycling Association season opener Saturday near Flagstaff, Ariz. Courtesy/Paula Knepper
Mountain Elementary School 6th grader Diego Leonard earns the 2nd place podium finish Saturday at the Northern Arizona NICA season opener. Courtesy/Paula Knepper
Los Alamos High School senior Josh Grow responds as the male JV2 category charge off from the start line creating a storm of dust. Courtesy/Paula Knepper
By Coach Paula Knepper
Los Alamos Mountain Bike Team
Nine Los Alamos high and middle school mountain bike team members supported by five team coaches traveled Saturday to Flagstaff, Ariz., for the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) season opener at Fort Tuthill Park. Fort Tuthill Park is three miles south of Flagstaff, Ariz., in terrain reminiscent of Los Alamos prior to the Cerro Grande Fire.
The Los Alamos team competed against athletes representing 40 teams from Arizona and New Mexico. Athletes from several Albuquerque school districts also competed in the a conference. Preseason local races provided athletes representing New Mexico an opportunity to race against one another while forging new friendships. Building a strong and inclusive youth cycling program for New Mexico athletes is a primary goal for New Mexico team coaches this season.
More than 400 competitors were split into five waves and racers took the start line early Saturday morning. The staging area was a buzz with energy and team spirit; however, strict NICA rules prohibit the use of any caffeinated products or beverages so that hum of energy was all sparked by natural endorphins.
Los Alamos high school athletes competing in the junior varsity 2 (JV2) category included seniors Adalee Witt, Erik Leonard, Josh Moulton and Josh Grow and juniors Esther Grow and James Tyldesley.
The middle school athletes are divided into three categories based on grade level and included Diego Leonard (6th grade field), Calvin Grow (7th grade field) and Colter Witt (8th grade field).
Athletes competed on a rolling six-mile trail nestled in a forest of Ponderosa pines with plenty of smooth doubletrack and a couple arduous singletrack climbs. Athletes completed up to four laps of the course depending on age, gender, and ability. Fortunately, Los Alamos athletes have had opportunities to test themselves and practice their race strategies at a few local race venues prior to the NICA season opener.
However, this was an eye-opening experience for Los Alamos athletes. Competitors set a vigorous tempo from the start line pushing athletes to their maximum physical output and blowing up the field during the first grueling climb. Energy management and self-awareness is a skill that takes years of training and racing to build.
Ample opportunity was available for athletes to dispose of any remaining fuel in their tank as they approached the finish line. Once athletes turn the bend snagging the first glimpse of the staging area, they stepped up the tempo in order to charge over the finish line in a full out sprint.
Diego Leonard dug deep at the finish to clinch a spot on the podium against an ambitious group of 6th grade competitors. Adalee Witt and Ester Grow finished the day with 10th and 12th place finishes, respectively, in the women JV2 category. James Tyldesley also finished the day with a 10th place finish followed by Erik Leonard, Josh Grow, and Josh Moulton in the male JV2 category.
Mary Grow, head coach of the Los Alamos Mountain Bike team said, “I am really proud of our athletes’ effort, especially at such a big event. They have put in a lot of work this season and I think we turned some heads today representing Los Alamos and New Mexico. Mountain biking calls to so many of us because it goes beyond just physical activity, it helps build our character. It requires strength and resilience to get over literal obstacles. Mountain biking is a no-bench sport so everyone, regardless of ability level, gets the same amount of participation. Our Los Alamos team focus is on hard work, friendship and having fun while enjoying nature. Our team riders continue to amaze me as they keep challenging themselves, whether it’s on a race course against hundreds of other riders, or stopping during practice to try that technical climb one more time.”
For those interested, the team is selling t-shirts as a fundraiser. Consider supporting the team by purchasing a t-shirt perfect for riding around town or showing off community spirit at this link.
Los Alamos high and middle school mountain bike team members next compete Sept. 25 at Arizona Nordic Village in Flagstaff.
For more information about NICA, race results, and upcoming races, click here.
Los Alamos Middle School 7th grader Calvin Grow takes a deep breath as he crosses the finish line. Courtesy/Paula Knepper
Los Alamos High School junior James Tyldesley mentally prepares while waiting with the male JV2 athletes at the start line. Courtesy/Paula Knepper
Los Alamos High School senior Adalee Witt sets an aggressive pace as the JV2 field of women take off from the start line. Courtesy/Paula Knepper