University ‘pedals’ mountain bike championships
For the first time since 1997, the University of Nevada, Reno played host to the collegiate national mountain bike championships. Last fall, riders from all over the country swarmed to the Reno/Tahoe area to compete in the event, which was held in mid-October.
“There had to be at least 50 different schools,” said Jon Wilson, a senior elementary education major who is a member of the Nevada Cycling Team. “There are multiple schools from each state. California alone probably had eight or nine schools there.”
The event was held at Northstar-at-Tahoe. With more than 600 entrants and 400 riders, it was a major hit.
“Everyone was really stoked,” said Eddie McDonald, the president of the Nevada Cycling Team. “The weather was perfect, the dirt was great, everything. It was just a huge success all around.”
The Nevada Cycling team has about 25 core members, and, when racing competitively, is the only team in their conference not from California. They may not have the most riders, but that does not make them any less of a threat.
“We’re not a very big team,” McDonald said, “but we’ve got a lot of talent.”
Unlike other sports, mountain biking offers a unique opportunity to function both as a team and stand out on an individual level.
“Either your team can qualify or you can as an individual, so all of the people who qualify and chose to show up compete against each other,” McDonald said.
The skill levels of the riders differ quite a bit, making for a tough competition. Skill levels are split into three categories in racing: A, B, and C. It is the A racers who work to qualify for nationals, but even among the top riders there is a lot of variation.
“There are varying levels of skill,” McDonald said. “The guy who won the downhill this year is a World Cup pro, he races around the world when he’s not racing collegiately, and then there’s guys like me who can barely keep up.”
In addition to the skill categories to mountain biking, there are also different disciplines.
“There’s downhill and there’s four cross which is similar to skier cross,” said Wilson. “Those are the two gravity events that we had up there.”
Wilson has been riding for the past 18 years. In high school it was his sport of choice for a variety of reasons, and it stuck with him to college.
“During high school I didn’t fit in with team sports and some of the ball sports,” Wilson said. “There’s still a team effort when you’re in mountain biking, you’re part of something bigger, but at the same time you can excel individually, too.”
And he has excelled individually. Wilson got first place in the four cross competition and got second in the downhill in the 2009 nationals and intends to ride again next October when Reno will, once again, host the event at Northstar.