HUNTINGTON — The Huntington Express mountain biking team has just three years under their tires but is already making a statement in competition.
From newbies to trail-tested riders, the 34-person team of mountain bikers took to the course this year and produced significant results in just their second season of in-person racing.
The team, formed in 2019, joined a statewide mountain biking league and competed with other teams from across West Virginia that year. In 2020, in-person competition was canceled due to the coronavirus, but in its return to the course in 2021, the team has doubled in size.
“It’s really a pretty general term, mountain biking is, because you’ve got anything from Snowshoe downhill to gravel rail trails,” team coach Ed Curtis. “Some people are scared and think it’s too hard, but it doesn’t have to be.”
Before hitting the trails for competition, like any organized sport, there is practice involved. Most of those practice runs are done at Barboursville Park, which Curtis said was centrally located for their team members and coaches and also provided challenges for different levels of riders.
“It has a river trail, which is one of the easiest trails around here, so it’s great for those new to biking and a good one to learn on,” Curtis said. “Mountain biking is all about progression and building confidence, so they may ride that trail for two months but once we see they are comfortable and have skills, we move them to a different one.”
Each season is five races long, and participation isn’t required to be a member of the team, but is encouraged. The Huntington Express averaged just over 20 riders in each race this season and a record 25 racers at the final event of the 2021 season.
The competitions are held in five location across the state, Canaan Valley Resort State Park, Cacapon State Park, Twin Falls Resort State Park, North Bend State Park and Big Bear Lake. The West Virginia Interscholastic Cycling League is comprised of 382 riders in middle school or high school.
“The racing gets the most attention and is the most well defined, but we had [two kids] win awards for trail building. The kids who maybe aren’t interested in ball sports, they come to us, have some fun, ride some bikes and even if they don’t want to race they have other avenues through NICA,” Curtis said.
The National Interscholastic Cycling Association is a nonprofit organization that promotes high school mountain biking programs in the United States by providing governance, leadership and program support to regional high school mountain biking organizations.
Parents of team members are encouraged to become team coaches. There are three levels of coaching, each coming with a different set of privileges and responsibilities, but all the while promoting family activity.
It’s something parent coach Phoebe Randolph found to be one of her favorite parts of her children’s participation on the team this season.
“It’s something that [my husband] Justin did in high school, so he had an introduction to it then when the boys started to get older they would all go ride together, and so they’ve grown up doing it and have gotten to the point where I can’t keep up with them,” Randolph said.
Of the riders who competed through NICA this season, Huntington Express rider Sailor Aldridge finished first overall in the freshmen boys division, Hayden Smith placed fifth and Rylan Orwig fourth in the sophomore boys division, Capri Roma fourth in the JV girls, Trevor Straub first in JV boys and the team finished second in a league of 15 teams.
With competition season behind them, Curtis said the team will now focus on trying to get even more kids involved while promoting a sport he’s loved since his college days.
The recruiting period and coaches training takes place from January to March. Teams can participate in up to six preseason events from April to June, and practice begins in July before teams head to competition in September and October.
Other teams in the West Virginia Interscholastic Cycling League include the Athens County Composite (Ohio), Barbour County, Coal Fields Composite, Eastern Panhandle, Greenbrier Valley, Harrison County, Highlands, Kanawha River Composite, Morgantown Composite, Fayetteville, Northern WV, Pocahontas County, Putnam County and River Cities Composite.