By Andrea Dvorak
Nearly 300 6th-12th grade student-athletes descended on the Miller School of Albemarle last weekend to compete in the first race of the Virginia Interscholastic Cycling League’s fall season.
Now entering its third season, the Virginia League boasts more than 300 riders, over 120 certified coaches, and more than 25 teams around the state. The Virginia League is a project league under the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA), a national nonprofit based out of California. NICA’s mission is to make mountain biking a mainstream interscholastic sport, right up there with basketball, soccer, and football.
What makes mountain biking so special is that every participant ‘plays’ every second of every ‘practice’ and every ‘game.’ There are no try-outs, benchwarmers, or cuts. The only prerequisite is the desire to have fun.
The Miller School of Albemarle (MSA) has been hosting interscholastic mountain bike races for over 5 years. Sitting on 1600 acres, MSA has developed and continues to build some of Virginia’s finest mountain bike trails. Under the tutelage of Andy Guptill, former professional bike racer and now full-time teacher and coach at MSA, all the trails are entirely student-built.
The racecourse for Race 1 covered 3.5 miles of the nearly 12 miles of trail that MSA has to offer. Racers of all abilities tackled the challenging course. For some racers, the race at MSA was their first time racing mountain bikes. But any nerves that might have been felt at the start line were quickly turned to smiles as racers crossed the finish line.
Race-day conditions were perfect. Taking the win in the Varsity Boys category was St. Christopher’s racer, Edward Anderson. Sam Roach of Roanoke was second, and Miller School rider, Laurent Gervais, was third. For the Varsity Girls, a trio of riders from the Northern Virginia Composite team swept the top steps with Elizabeth Shaw taking the win.
Local racer Jack DiChiara of the Charlottesville Racing Club MTB team took the win in the Middle School Boys A race. Teammate Austin Payne finished third. Julia Martins of the Miller School won her first mountain bike race, winning the Sophomore Girls category. Also of Miller School, Gus Meyers took the win the JV Boys category, with teammate David Yang finishing in third place.
The races are separated by age and grade. The Middle School category is opened to any Virginia student in grades 6-8th. What is exciting about the future of mountain biking is that the Middle School racers made up nearly 40 percent of all participants. More and more, kids are choosing mountain biking over other sports. It’s a sport that you can do as a family, and more importantly, it’s a sport you can do for life.