Participation in Colorado high school mountain bike league booms

Tristan Hanley watched those extreme mountain biking videos on YouTube and thought, “I want to do that.”

Tristan Hanley of Liberty Common races up a hill on the cyclocross course at New Belgium Brewing Tuesday, October 18, 2016.

Tristan Hanley of Liberty Common races up a hill on the cyclocross course at New Belgium Brewing Tuesday, October 18, 2016.

“Red Bull has the craziest channel. All those downhill videos, that’s what got me into mountain biking,” said Hanley, a sophomore at Liberty Common High School who bought a bike using money he earned washing cars and mowing lawns. He joined the Colorado High School Cycling League last year.

Fort Collins nonprofit Ciclismo Youth Foundation — whose mission is to get kids on bikes — organizes practices and provides coaching for the 60 local riders representing the seven high schools in Fort Collins, Windsor and Loveland participating in the Colorado High School Cycling League.

Sunday, the high school league hosts its state championship races in Eagle, where 30 local riders will compete, including Hanley’s friend, Keaton Slayden, a sophomore from Fort Collins High School.

“I like the pain aspect of it,” said Slayden, an endurance athlete through and through. He’s a longtime swimmer who lists the grueling 3.4-mile Towers Road – with 1,700 feet of elevation gain – among his favorite local rides.

Together, the pair of sophomores matched wits and stamina with some of Fort Collins’ better cyclists at Ciclismo Youth Foundation’s cyclocross race on New Belgium Brewery’s winding and steep-hilled bike course.

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“These kids can ride,” said Andy Clark, Ciclismo’s director of sports, who has coached youth cyclists for more than 20 years, including Tour de France hopeful Tejay van Garderen when he was a junior rider living in Fort Collins. “One of our practices, we rode (Horsetooth Mountain Open Space’s) Sawmill and Towers, then over to Westridge and Wathen. These are tough trails, and this wasn’t our elite group of riders.”

When the Colorado High School Cycling League started in 2010, Fort Collins-area schools had six participants.

It’s since ballooned to ten times that size, and Ciclismo now has 18 coaches, including three women. About a quarter of the 60 local riders are girls, Clark said, and that number has grown every year. Nine female riders will race at state, including Rocky Mountain’s Grace Westfall, who has several top-10 finishes in races this season at Frisco, Leadville, Granby Ranch and Nathrop.

Clark is a firm believer in the grassroots cycling league, which was modeled on the successful program in California. The independent nature of the sport teaches the kids self-sufficiency, he said — fixing a flat tire in a race, for example — and also individual goal setting.

What’s unique about the sport, he said, is that all level of abilities can compete. There’s a group for you, whether you’re brand-new to mountain biking, or already a Lyrca-clad racer staring down a pro career.

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Brannan Fix, a 2015 Rocky Mountain graduate, was the first junior to win the Colorado High School Cycling League championship in 2013. A freshman at Colorado Mesa University, Fix is one of America’s best up-and-coming U-23 riders, currently racing in Belgium. He credits the high school league for not only aiding his development, but also creating life-long friends.

“The Fort Collins area teams have shown huge growth over the last five years, especially the Rocky Mountain team, which speaks volumes about the experience and how you can make lifelong friends and spend your weekends racing bikes in crazy cool mountain towns,” Fix said. “Overall, I owe a lot to the HS league for helping me grow and develop.”

Xplore reporter Stephen Meyers covers the outdoors and recreation for the Coloradoan. Follow him on Twitter @stemeyer or @XploreNoCo. 

Colorado High School Cycling League

Founded in 2010, the Colorado High School Cycling League is comprised of 42 schools around Colorado, including local schools Rocky Mountain, Fossil Ridge, Poudre, Fort Collins and Ridgeview Classical. About 60 riders from Fort Collins-area schools compete in the fall mountain bike season. Fort Collins nonprofit Ciclismo Youth Foundation provides coaching for Fort Collins and Loveland riders. The season features five races: at Frisco, Leadville, Granby and Nathrop, plus the state championships this Sunday at Eagle.

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