Among the 843 athletes set to race this weekend in Durango, some are truly among the best in the country.
Four athletes from the U.S. team selected for the International Cycling Union (UCI) World Mountain Bike Championships held Aug. 28 through Sept. 1 are ready to contest the state championships at the Colorado Cycling League’s season finale Sunday in the varsity boys and girls races.
Seven of the 10 juniors who were selected by USA Cycling for the world championships were from Colorado. Among them, varsity boys Riley Amos of Durango and Robbie Day of Evergreen still compete at the high school level, while Boulder’s duo of Madigan Munro and Ada Urist will compete among the varsity girls.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Gaige Sippy, the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic race director who plays an integral part in course preparation and hosting duties for the high school championships. “When I was at the mountain bike national championships at Winter Park this year, Marc Gullickson, the talent ID person for USA Cycling, he commented that the high school league has really exposed more kids to riding, and they are getting a bigger talent pool because of it. The more kids involved is going to glean out more talent. Those who get into it get even better, and I can’t think of a better format to develop young cyclists. It’s really growing the junior ranks in the U.S. tremendously.”
There would be a fifth world championships rider participating this weekend if not for an injury – Durango’s Maddie Jo Robbins, the 2017 varsity girls state champion. Earlier this year, Robbins repeated as the junior women’s 17-18 cross-country mountain bike national champ, and she claimed the short-track national title, too. But she has not been able to compete in the high school league this season because of a concussion sustained at the world championships in Canada. It’s the second year in a row an injury has kept her from competing in the high school league.
Though Robbins won’t be there to compete against Munro and Urist, Durango’s Ruth Holcomb is back to contend with the Boulder-based riders. Holcomb, who is still too young to compete at world championships, has made her return to racing after an illness took her out of the national championships in June. It was at nationals where Robbins edged Munro and Urist to win her two titles.
Last year, it was Urist who claimed the varsity girls state title ahead of Munro, while Holcomb placed fourth. Munro will enter the varsity girls race as the North conference’s overall points leader, while it is Mia Aseltine of Chatfield who is the South conference’s points leader, as she won two races and took second at the conference championship event. Holcomb has only two races under her belt but is coming off a win in the South conference championship two weeks ago in Eagle.
“It’s definitely interesting to see how my body is reacting to coming back,” Holcomb said. “I have a lot of good feelings about it and kind of a new stoke for riding. Returning to high school racing, it’s super fun to be around such supportive people and be back with a laid-back racing environment.
“It’s pretty crazy to be in this group of girls. Munro just got sixth at worlds. It’s super cool to see that there’s so much power and strength in the juniors who are from Colorado.”
More top varsity girls contenders include Sofia Forney, an independent rider who has three second-place finishes this season, as well as Summit’s Tai-Lee Smith, who has one win this year, and a pair of Durango-based riders in Abbey Shepard of Animas and Aleah Austin of Durango. Austin won a sophomore girls state championship last season.
“It would be amazing to get a win. Obviously, there’s some really fast girls up there, especially this year,” Holcomb said. “I’m definitely not coming in at the best shape I’ve ever been in, but it’s a home course and would be super exciting to get out there with the best girls and see what I can do with the fitness I have now.”
The defending boys varsity state champ won’t be at full strength, either. Durango’s Cobe Freeburn has raced only twice this season in his return from a broken arm suffered during practice for the national championships this year. But Freeburn has shown he can bounce back from injuries, as last year’s title came only six months after he had suffered a broken leg.
“It has been great to get back on the bike and, more importantly, back to racing,” Freeburn said. “It’s always hard to come back after injury, but it’s nice to be back. I’m super stoked to be able to race states. I got two races in, so that should have helped brush out all the cobwebs.”
Last year, Amos went into the varsity boys race as a favorite. But he missed his front-row call-up because he was distracted while helping a teammate who had broken a chain. Amos was forced to start from the back row and spent most of the day making passes through the 89-rider field to get near Freeburn. He eventually finished fourth. After three wins in three races this year, Amos will look to take the title, with stiff competition from Evergreen’s Day as well as North points leader Peyton Wilkerson of Estes Park.
“I really jumped back on the horse and put in some workouts the last two weeks,” said Amos, who competes for Animas High. “I’d like to win it, but there’s good competition and it won’t be easy. To win it for the Durango home crowd would be pretty sweet.
“(Wilkerson) has been kind of dominant in the varsity races this year. At the conference races, his lap times were faster than me, so it will be good.”
While the varsity races are a highlight to cap the weekend of racing, state champions are crowned all weekend, with freshmen and junior varsity races Saturday as well as sophomore action Sunday morning. Key points are acquired toward the team standings, too.
Durango has been an absolute force in the junior varsity boys races, with Ivan Sippy boasting four wins in four races. He will go toe-to-toe with Boulder’s Vin Hludzinski and Chuck Jones, while Durango’s Ian Groom, Jaden Kirk and Riley Jaber are contenders along with Chatfield’s Nathan Gangelhoff.
Bailey Cioppa and Maggie Holcomb will look to lead the Durango JV girls along with Hannah Garvey and Kelsey Nicholson. Holcomb has won both races she competed in this season. They will be tested by conference champs in Summit’s Victoria Uglyar and Crested Butte’s Sarah Bivens. Other contenders among JV girls for Durango are Lauren Aggeler.
Among sophomore girls, Sarah Bivens of Durango has performed well all season, and she will look to maintain pace with conference champs in Alexis Hall of Conifer and Sofie Hill of Heritage.
Mack Otter will look to stay on a roll for the Durango freshmen boys along with Toby Scarpella. Caleb Haack of Steamboat and Finn Johnson of Aspen enter as the conference champs.
Animas’ Julia Glotfelty was the South champ among freshmen girls, and she will be tested by Boulder’s Ella Brown along with a slew of Vail athletes.
“Being a coach in the feed zone and knowing every lap you will be the first one out there handing a bottle out to a leader makes it fun as a coach,” said Levi Kurlander of Durango DEVO, which coaches the athletes from Animas and Durango. “Having your kids be successful like that makes these weekends fun. I’m so proud of our team this year, with kids filling up the top five in almost every varsity and JV race. At the same time, we have riders coming in the middle of the pack and at the back giving it their all and having just as much fun and doing their part to score the team points, so it’s a huge effort that is special to watch as a coach.”
As a team, Durango will seek a third consecutive state championship in Division 2 but will have stiff competition from Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy, Crested Butte and Animas. Boulder is the clear favorite in Division 1 along with Fairview from the North as well as the South’s Cheyenne Mountain, Chatfield and Evergreen. The Colorado League also has a Division 3. The North champ was Fossil Ridge in front of two Wyoming programs, while Aspen and Grand Junction led the way in the South.
“I think everyone really wants to win the team classification,” Freeburn said. “So far this year, Durango has been strong, and I think we’ll keep that going into this weekend.”
Racing at the Colorado Cycling League state championships held at Durango Mesa will begin at 8:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. Freshmen and junior varsity races will be held Saturday, and Sunday will feature sophomore and varsity races. There will be a total of eight races. The end-of-season awards will be held from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Sunday at the Fort Lewis College student union building.