Lutsen—In a few weeks, a swarm of neon yellow-green jerseys will fill the start chute at the Lutsen 99er mountain bike race. Don’t be alarmed. It’s the riders of the Duluth Composite Team (DCT). This team of high school mountain bike racers will be launching its 2016 season at the event on June 25.
Brian Hayden, DCT head coach, has been at the helm since the team began in 2013. The team had 23 riders and finished third overall in the state of Minnesota their first year. The team grew to 30 riders in 2014 and had 43 last year. Along with rapid growth, the team has had rapid success. After a bronze placing in the team’s first year, the team was the Division I Minnesota State Champions in both 2014 and 2015. Not bad for a team just entering its fourth season this year.
“Racing at Lutsen is a great way to kick off the season,” said Hayden. “We first came up to the 99er in 2013 before we even had a team. Samuel [Hayden’s son] and I raced that summer before the team got started in August. The 99er race has been a strong supporter of the Minnesota High School Cycling League.”
Hayden highlighted one big piece of community support that the DCT riders received last year. The local Subaru dealer generously put cash horsepower into the team. “Peter Spencer, director of the 99er, wanted to give support to young riders. He put us in touch with Miller Hill Subaru so they could be a local component associated with the race. Miller Hill Subaru helped with costs for DCT riders last year. Once again, they came forward this year and are helping pay registration costs for our high school riders.”
Hayden said there were around 20 kids at last year’s races in Lutsen. About two thirds of the kids did the 39er and the rest did the 19er.
“The 99er is key for an early season target,” said Hayden. “We’re excited to get out there. It gives them a goal.”
The growth of DCT is on par with the growth of the sport as a whole in the state. Josh Kleve, director of the Minnesota High School Cycling League, said that the league has grown at a 40 percent pace. The league started in Minnesota in 2012 with 16 teams and 151 riders.
“Last year, we had 753 riders. Our growth is faster than the level of the 20 leagues nationwide. Last year we were the fifth largest league in the nation. If growth continues at this rate, we should see numbers in the 900’s this year,” said Kleve. “That would make Minnesota the second or third largest league.”
When asked about a “threepeat” as Division 1 State Champions, Hayden said, “I’m optimistic. We have a strong chance.”
The points system is complex, but the simplest version is this: Every rider counts. Also, boys and girls results are mixed to hand out the highest amount of points possible. In certain scenarios, more girl results may be included than boys to determine the best score for the team.
“The league is getting more competitive as we grow,” said Hayden. “Hopkins and Edina are closing the gap. They may even be scoring more with their girls’ team. That seems to be their advantage. I wish we could add more girls to our team and have more depth there. We should have four boys in the varsity field this year. Potentially we could have 10 total riders going for varsity points.”
The national governing body for high school mountain bike racing is the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) with roots in northern California in the early 2000s. The league started with just a handful of teams across the country in 2009. NICA isn’t just about racing. The Five Core Values are Inclusivity, Equality, Strong Body, Strong Mind and Strong Character. The points system of the league rewards every single rider with points. Every rider counts. Everyone rides. There are no tryouts. Riders are students first and are taught to respect others, work hard and play fair. The values of the league stress that mountain biking is a life sport.
Hayden was quick to point out that DCT is focused on developing more than just racers, saying, “Our kids will be volunteering at the Kraus Anderson Bike Festival in Duluth. They’ll also be working at the Continental Bike Swap in Duluth in April that benefits the United Way. And like last year, they’ll be out helping COGGS (Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores) on a few trail projects. Personal development of the kids is huge. It’s a big priority for us.”
The race schedule for Minnesota will be slightly different this year. Last year, there were five total races. This year, there will be five regular season races, one of which can be an “off” week for each team. A two-day state championship event will cap the season in Mankato. This new season format will allow for the growing number of riders in the Minnesota league.
During the first four seasons, all the races took place between 100 and 250 miles away from Duluth. 2016 will mark the first year one of the regular season races will be in Duluth. The team is working hard with Spirit Mountain and the City of Duluth to develop a suitable racecourse at the ski area for the high school racers.
“We’re excited to race on home turf. Our race at Spirit Mountain is in the development stage. It will only get better. It will come with time and we’re headed in the right direction,” said Hayden.
Regarding the Duluth race, Kleve pointed out that this is a statewide sport with teams being developed in Bemidji and Grand Marais.
“We’re excited to be coming to Duluth,” he said. “We’re excited about the levels of community support that go with our venues around the state. We hope to see this race on the calendar for years to come.”—Eric Chandler