This fall, mountain biking will make its start as a club sport at Stillwater Area High School.
Coaches Joel Nichols and Annie Perkins and Executive Director Calvin Jones are excited to kick off the inaugural season and what they hope will be the beginning of a mountain biking tradition at SAHS. Stillwater becomes the 29th team to participate in the Minnesota High School Cycling League, which is organized under the National Interscholastic Cycling Association, or NICA. This season will be the third in Minnesota and the 10th season nationwide.
Nichols, Perkins and Jones bring many years of riding experience to the program. Jones started working as a bike shop mechanic as a high school student in the 1970s, eventually making his way to the Olympic Training Center after college to work with the U.S. National Team — serving as a mechanic in the 1984 Olympics. Perkins became heavily involved with mountain biking about 10 years ago. Nichols began biking when he was young and has never stopped.
“My passion for biking has not wavered since I was 4-years old,” Nichols said.
Jones, who works in the bike industry, has thought about establishing a mountain bike team since the Minnesota High School Cycling League was created, but wasn’t sure how many students would join. After attending an honor society reception at Stillwater Junior High School in the spring and hearing about a student’s dream of being a professional bike racer, he decided to go for it. Jones hopes the team can provide opportunities for students interested in the biking lifestyle and advance their skill level.
“We can be a rung on the ladder,” Jones said.
Because the team is co-ed, Nichols and Jones worked to find a girls’ coach in order to provide proper training for female athletes. Perkins’ name came up in their search and she had already contemplated organizing a team herself.
“I was looking into ways to start one. I thought about it in the back of my head,” Perkins said.
Now that the coaches are assembled and ready to start training, they are looking for students in grades 7-12 to join the team. Participants of all skill levels, including absolute beginners, are encouraged to try out mountain biking.
“We work with people where they are,” Jones said. “The objective is to make better bikers.”
Practice will consist of biking from SAHS to Lake Elmo Park Reserve using back roads. Once at Lake Elmo Park Reserve, bikers will be split up based on strengths and weaknesses to work on different things. Handling the bike will be a major component of training because without proper handling technique, even the most powerful biker will lose his or her power.
“Training is very skill-oriented. You’ve got to work on your weak skills and maintain your strengths,” Nichols said. “Some of them might be climbing a hill, some of them might be going around a corner, some them might be riding or going over obstacles.”
An orientation meeting for interested students and their parents will be held at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 20 and the competitive season will kick off with a race on Sept. 8 at Salem Hills in Inver Grove Heights. There are five races in the season, which consist of off-road and closed loop courses with a mix of single and double tracks. Single tracks are narrow and double tracks are wider and allow for safe passing. The actual terrain and topography of courses vary and laps are between four and eight miles, with beginners completing one to two laps and experts going for five or six laps. Racers will split up in the race by grade, but if a younger athlete is performing at a higher grade level, he or she can move up levels.
Nichols and Jones have been involved with the highly successful Nordic ski team at Stillwater and have modeled the mountain bike team the same way.
“The Nordic ski team is good because it’s very organic, very grassroots,” Jones said.
According to Nichols and Jones, the Nordic ski team consists of around 120 skiers and 30-40 coaches — and most are volunteers. While they don’t expect anywhere near those numbers of students signing up for the mountain bike team this year, it is one of their goals to train any and all riders who come out.
“It’s our first year, so we’re not going to pretend we’re taking the world by storm. To us this is a lifetime sport,” Jones said.
Perkins also expressed her desire to expose girls and boys to mountain biking and personal confidence, not just race day success.
“It’d be great if we did well, but awareness and participation is key,” Perkins said.
Complete details on how to register for team and what type of equipment is required are located on the team’s website, stillwatermtb.com. You may also contact the coaches via email at [email protected], or Nichols by phone at 651-470-0733. You can also find the team on Facebook and Twitter by searching for StillwaterMtb.