Football, volleyball, basketball or track and field; those are the sports most think of when it comes to prep athletics. In Sedona there is one other that many may not have heard of.
In its fifth year, the Sedona School Mountain Biking Club has grown to eight members, the largest it has ever been. Given the sport’s popularity in the area, its existence should not come as a much of a surprise.
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“Being able to ride in this five-star mountain bike area,” Sedona Red Rock High School senior Cole Mace said. “It’s a really awesome place to be doing it, and you don’t get to do it that often in a big city and places like that.”
Four members are at Red Rock and another four are middle school-aged, the youngest in sixth grade.
Prep cycling came to Arizona six years ago when the National Interscholastic Cycling Association founded the Arizona Interscholastic Cycling League. The Sedona team started one year after that, under local rider Eric Mace.
As a youth development program it promotes three pillars, Eric Mace said: Strong bodies, strong minds and strong character.
The riders learn about eating healthy, having the right amount of training and rest as well as what it is to contribute to the community. They help maintain the local trails and learn the importance of being courteous to others using them as well.
Not to mention the riders purely have fun.
They train three days a week, mostly on the trails north of the Village of Oak Creek, and occasionally in West Sedona.
While the riders compete in races, Sedona’s many trails, and their degree of difficulty, do not offer much training specific to downhill racing.
Instead they get a greater endurance workout, while learning a lot of technical skills, than riders from the more flat Phoenix area.
“The races are a lot different than the rides in Sedona, these guys have a good time doing technical stuff, working on getting up steps and getting through really technical stuff,” Eric Mace said. “We don’t even have the training here that is exactly like the races.”
Beginners start with the basics like proper brake use, shifting gears and overall safety. As they progress the training intensifies, with longer rides on harder trails.
Individual rider goals vary, some focusing more on skills, while others focus more on racing.
“Trying to keep up with the big guys, Cole [Mace], Matthew [LeBlanc], Josh [Reilly],” said Benjamin Wishnewsky, a sixth-grader at Big Park Community School.”
The racing season kicked off on Sunday, Sept. 10, at Fort Tuthill County Park in Flagstaff and the team races every other weekend until the beginning of November. Races typically consist of a six-mile loop, and the older the rider the more laps they complete.
“I’m excited and nervous. I’m excited because it’s a race and nervous because I don’t want to stop anybody going up a hill. I’m just nervous for places,” Wishnewsky said.
The Sept. 10 race was for high-schoolers only. Sedona Red Rock High School senior Cole Mace finished his three-lap race in 1 hour, 22 minutes and 21 seconds. Junior Joshua Reilly completed the same race in 1:26.09.
Sophomore Cooper Barber did two laps in 59:16.09 and freshman Dakota Farrar did two in 58:55.02.
It is a growing sport, with 800 high school riders and 500 grade-schoolers in Arizona last year, and the numbers are expected to grow this year.