The placers get all the credit, but without their consistent and unsung heroes, the Animas High School mountain bike team wouldn’t be top dog.
Animas beat second-place Durango High School by just 17 points for the Colorado High School League Division II championship title after the fourth and final race of the season – the North Fruita Desert Classic last weekend in Grand Junction.
And the AHS team couldn’t have done it without racers such as Robin Austin, whose top-10 but nonpodium finishes in all four fall-season races provided critical points for the Animas victory, AHS coach Sarah Tescher said in a news release to The Durango Herald.
“AHS consistently traveled with a full team, and there were many on the team that rode not for their own individual race but for the team,” Tescher said. “Robin Austin is a good example of a rider on the squad that never had aspirations of a podium finish, yet her solid racing is one of the reason the team won overall.”
In the individual standings, AHS and DHS split boys and girls championships: India Waller of Animas won the overall individual league title, and Sepp Kuss of Durango won first overall for the boys.
But in the North Fruita Desert Classic, it was all Demons – Kaylee Blevins won first for the varsity girls and Kuss for the boys. The Demons took first in the race; AHS was second.
Blevins won her race in 1 hour, 4 minutes, 39 seconds for the Demons, two minutes ahead of anyone else on the 16.4-mile course, which coach Tescher described as fairly flat with nowhere to rest.
“Pushing hard on the pedals for over an hour with no breaks is very difficult both mentally and physically,” Tescher said.
“When she (Blevins) came through the feed zone on Lap 1, I knew she was on fire, and she was gunning for the finish.”
It wasn’t enough to unseat Waller at the top of the league standings, though, and Waller finished third in the Desert Classic.
“She knew from her dad’s math that she needed to get Top 3 to hold on to her league championship,” Tescher said. “She had a tough race, and her engines stopped firing halfway through the first lap. But her determination led her to the finish just five seconds in front of the fourth-place finisher.”
The consistent Austin finished her “super race” in sixth for AHS.
In the varsity boys field, Kuss finished first in 1:19:53, and by the time he rode in the last race of the day, Tescher said the desert course lines had “been turned into 4 inches of moon dust from so many riders.”
“Sepp went out strong and stayed there, finishing three minutes ahead of the rest of the field.”
Levi Kurlander finished fifth for DHS, and Stephan Davoust was the top AHS finisher in 13th.
“Levi was having the race of his life until he flatted, but he still finished strong,” Tescher said.
“Stephan had a tough race like India and could not find his top end,” she said. “But his finish was one of the factors in AHS winning the league.”
In the girls junior varsity field, Sierra Trout took eighth for DHS.
“I love that Sierra is always so calm, cool and collected at all her races and is always smiling.”
Freshman Ellen Campbell took second in her field in her high school racing debut.
In the boys junior variety race, the Demons’ Christopher Blevins blew away his competition, finishing eight minutes faster than second place in his first high school race.
“He was flying on his bike so fast that the announcer missed his finish,” Tescher said.
Animas’ JV riders Jack Hewitt finished sixth, Eli Kopp-Devol 19th and Nathanael Rodd 26th.
Quinn Haughey of AHS finished 17th in the sophomore field – six spots higher than his previous finish – and DHS freshmen Charlie Greenberg and Bryce Gordon finished second and third, respectively, in their race.
“Bryce has all the ingredients to keep being a strong racer, as he is always positive, always gives 100 percent and does not falter when things don’t go his way,” Tescher said.
Greenberg’s finish put him atop the overall freshmen boys field for the league title, joining Kurlander and Kaylee Blevins, both runners-up, on the individual overall podium with winners Waller and Kuss.
But one more person affiliated with the mountain bike programs received top honors at the race: Tescher was voted Coach of the Year by the Colorado League committee.
“I am both honored and embarrassed to receive Coach of the Year, as in my eyes, the success of the team is due not to me but their parents, all the (Durango) DEVO coaches and the Durango community itself,” said Tescher, who has coached several of the cyclists on both the Animas and Durango mountain bike rosters through the Durango DEVO junior development program.
“I am the one that is lucky to work with such amazing kids.”