The Seven Summits Gravity Racing (SSGR) team began its downhill run on the BC Cup series this past weekend at ‘Race the Ranch’ in Kamloops.
Seven members of the newly formed team travelled to Kamloops to race against riders from across B.C. and Alberta, and when the dust settled, the team’s best results went to Rossland’s Logan Merringer who placed fourth in U15 Sport Men and Keegan Fry, who also came fourth in U17 Sport Men.
The first Cup race was a learning experience for a team that only began dryland training in January and riding on trails as a team just over two weeks ago.
“Some of these kids have raced before, but for a number of them it’s a newer experience,” said SSGR coach Ryan Kuhn. “So really they are just going out there and understanding what it’s all about, and really focusing on having fun with it – that’s the big emphasis right now. Seeing where they are in terms of the other competition and how they are doing, and from there it will help them set goals.”
The Greater Trail area has long been known for its epic mountain biking terrain, but it wasn’t until very recent that Rossland resident Ian Finke organized SSGR – the area’s first exclusively mountain bike racing team.
As avid riders, Finke and his son Aaron competed in BC Cup and Enduro races last year, and soon realized – after seeing a handful of young Rossland racers competing – there were others that shared their passion.
“I just started thinking, if you have all these fast kids here, be nice if they had an avenue to get some coaching and stuff,” said Finke. “We have Ryan (Kuhn) locally, who is a good, well-respected coach. So we just started to connect the dots really, and around December it just kind of took off, everything kind of fell into place and so far it’s been pretty fun.”
Seven Summits Gravity Racing began dryland training with Gabby Jangula from Out of Bounds Fitness in January, and started on-hill riding with Kuhn and co-coach Natasha Lockey of Kootenay Mountain Biking and Shuttling in early April.
The downhill races are held on steep, rough terrain, (often ski hills) with a combination of challenging jumps, drops, rock gardens, and obstacles that vary with each course and where winning times can be separated by mere tenths of seconds.
“In downhill racing the margins are very, very narrow,” says Kuhn. “It is a very intense sport, we’re disciplined in that regard. So we do spend a lot of time talking about mental preparation, and being ready.”
And while every run down the mountain is a thrilling ride, safety is paramount when it comes to gear, training, and the actual race. Mental preparation, control, and technical proficiency take precedence over speed, and something coaches Kuhn and Lockey focus on during training.
“Certainly Safety is of high importance to us, so progressing their speed and their abilities is very important,” said Kuhn. “I do actually what I call down-coaching; it’s more getting them to ride to their ability, rather than just going extremely fast, crashing, and potentially hurting themselves.”
In addition to safety, conditioning and commitment to a number of races is a requirement. While Finke would like to see the club grow, he cautions that the demands of racing require that SSGR racers be intermediate to experienced riders between the ages of 13-18, with their own mountain bike and safety gear.
“Fitness is really important,” said Finke. “It’s surprising how much fitness you need to go downhill. And these are pretty advanced riders . . . these kids are hitting 30 to 40, 50 kilometres per hour downhill. It’s quite a thing to watch and the jumps aren’t small.”
The team is comprised of 10 riders from Rossland, Warfield, Trail, and Fruitvale who will compete in the BC Cup and Enduro races throughout the summer, and have garnered valued support from local bike shops, Gericks and Revolutions, as well as sponsors like Teck, Kootenay Savings, Ferraro’s, Nelson and District Credit Union, Kootenay Mountain Biking and Clancy’s.
The group meets in Rossland twice a week, with coaching in one session and a shuttle ride in the other, with an additional coaching session every second week. Starting the end of June, SSGR will compete in BC Cup races in Whistler, SilverStar, Sun Peaks, Panarama, and Golden while also competing in local races like the Rubberhead in Rossland and Fat Tire event in Nelson.
Results: SSGR racers saw Top-10 finishes for Simon Rora, sixth, in Open Men 13-16, and Max Nutini, eighth in UCI Junior Sport Men, while in U17 Sports Men Aaron Finke and Jonathon Rollins finished 18 and 19th respectively, and J.T. Bjarnason came 22nd in his first race. BC Cup Riders earn points for each race and move up the standings until they advance to the next level.