New Murray, Taylorsville, West Jordan mountain bikers finish strongNov 11, 2021 10:56AM ● By Shaun Delliskave
CJ Sutcliffe, Carson Andrew, Evan Hult, and Alex Helm (l-r) strike a pre-race pose. (Photo courtesy Angie Sutcliffe)
By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]
One of the newest sporting clubs in Utah, the Murray-Taylorsville-West Jordan Composite mountain biking team is making tracks in the National Interscholastic Cycling Association racing circuit. The recently formed team features teens in the highly competitive east region of the Utah league.
The Utah League is the biggest in the nation and likely the most competitive, with more than 6,000 registered athletes. It has produced several professional athletes, including Park City's Haley Batten who participated in the Summer Olympics this year. The league supports "cross country" mountain bike racing; a highly aerobic endurance discipline.
“Our team is on the small side (36 student athletes). The bigger teams have over 200 kids, a waiting list, and a $100k budget. We rely on many parent-coaches who are certified by NICA to help during training rides,” parent-coach Kent Sutcliffe said.
Kids train in small groups with other kids of similar skill/fitness level. Students from seventh through ninth grade race other students in the same grade and skill level. Students in 10th-12th grade race in skill level only groups. Race lengths depend on skill/fitness levels and usually last between one to two hours.
“Racing on our team requires a significant commitment, primarily due to the travel time involved,” Sutcliffe said. “We offer two official, structured practice rides per week, from June-September. Most of our kids do additional training rides to further their fitness. To be competitive in the Utah League, high school student-athletes need to ride two to four additional days per week to build up the required aerobic fitness. On the extreme end, competitive varsity racers ride five to seven days per week totaling over eight hours. That said, our team's focus is more on fun than results.”
The team is evenly split between Murray and Taylorsville, with just a couple of riders from West Jordan. They have six female student-athletes. The sport is not part of the Utah High School Activities Association.
According to Sutcliffe, “The team requires extensive input by parents and coaches. We are in a unique situation because we are not situated close to mountain biking trails, so all of our training involves driving somewhere, usually Park City, to train. Because of this, many parents also ride and participate as coaches.”
For liability and safety reasons, parent-coaches have to be certified as “ride leaders” for each training group. The league has many guidelines to limit their liability and ensure a safe environment for the kids. Coach training occurs in winter/spring and is extensive (>40 hours, including wilderness first aid, coaching theories, and risk management) for Level 3 certification, which is required as head coach.
“Most of the coaches are also parents of student-athletes. Some, me included, have raced regionally and/or nationally in the past, but most coaches are looking for fun exercise outside. The other family that runs the team with us, Justin and Renee Bath, ride several days per week as a family and just love mountain biking,” Sutcliffe said.
The State Championship Race, on Oct. 23, brought high school-aged teams together from all over the state. Participation was limited to only those student-athletes who qualified. Nine of M-T-WJ riders qualified for State Championships.
“It is a fun course near the new airport in St. George that has been designed for this use. The competition was fierce, with just the best of the four regions allowed to participate. It is the longest racecourse in the nation,” Sutcliffe said.
One rider, Leena Bath, placed in the varsity category, an elite level of racing in the league. Still the team takes all enthusiastic cyclists at any level, as long as they are aware of the time and cost commitments of the sport.
“Outside of the time and fitness requirements, you do need a safe and functional mountain bike and helmet. Bikes suitable for competition start around $1,000 and get much more expensive from there,” Sutcliffe said.
Final results for the State Competition (not available at press time) can be found online at utahmtb.org.