By Greg Child • Special to The Times-Independent
A huge crowd, including a field of 1,139 high school-age racers, turned up this Saturday Sept. 8 at a new mountain bike course outside the town of Richfield, for the latest event of the Utah High School Cycling League.
The 22 riders from Moab’s Red Devil Mountain Bike team put in a strong show, notably earning a 2nd place at the podium for Elijah Topper in the Junior Varsity category, and several top-20 placements for other racers. The team included high school athletes as well as some seventh- and eighth-graders.
Richfield’s new course, on a mix of private and BLM lands, is approved for race events by NICA (National Intercollegiate Cycling Association), and it shows that this small central-Utah town has been eyeing what mountain biking has brought to Moab. The course is a fast loop of 5.7 miles, with 380 feet of elevation gain over hills and through arroyos, ending on an existing motocross track for a thrilling finish. Younger riders pedalled a single lap, while older students pedalled three.
The morning began with the youngest riders launching first, in a cloud of dust, to cheers of hundreds of parents and coaches from teams across southern Utah. In the Junior Devos category (for grades 7 and 8), Advanced Middle School Girls London Niesen placed 12th, and Claret Sutteer placed 17th, and in Advanced Middle School Boys, Miles Maloney placed 15th. Ariann Child got 12th in Girl’s Freshman. Annie Kopell got 15th in Girl’s Varsity, riding tough through a persistent back injury. River Martucci placed 9th in Division Two Sophomore, while Jackson Sorenson placed 11th in boys Division Two Sophomore.
Eli Taylor came in 16th in Boy’s Division Two Sophomore, an impressive feat considering the catch-up he had to do after a handlebar-bending crash early in the race. Isaac O’Harra, who came 19th in Boy’s Division Two Freshman, also clawed his way back toward the top twenty after a crash also put him off the back of the wave. Showing that the twice-a-week after-school training sessions at Moab Brands trails are paying off, Junior Varsity rider Griffin Shannon jumped up by 20 places from the previous race at Kamas, placing 29th at Richfield.
“Week by week, you’ll see them get fitter, more skilled,” explained coach Mike Baird, who works with fellow coaches Melissa Nerone and Tim Matthews.
The scene at the staging/camping/parking area – a vast drought-affected dustbowl – resembled a fitter version of Burning Man, with thousands of bikes under easy-ups being wrenched by pit crews, kids on stationary bikes warming up, and a campsite of vans, buses and tents surrounding the perimeter. Team Moab’s 50-person site looked appropriately like a river camp, with a rafting-kitchen set up by Eve Maher-Young and Steve Young, with lashings of food masterminded by Amber Niesen.
Moab’s own Bar M trail will host the next race on Saturday, Sept. 22. Red Devils Head Coach Colin Topper will be working the team twice a week till that race, honing skills and ramping up fitness for these teen riders, counting on local knowledge of the trails to boost Moab’s current seventh team ranking in the field of twenty teams.