World Cup racing returns to the US this weekend

By Jay de Jesus

In just a few short days the the UCI World Cup Mountain Bike Series tour swings back onto American soil, and for the first time in many years an American is firmly atop the leader board, this time in the downhill competition. After last week’s stop at Mount St. Anne, Quebec, Canada, the world’s best racers and an international entourage of press, national federation support staff and rabid race-fans converge today upon the sleepy Catskill Mountain hamlet of Windham, NY, for the 5th round of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup world tour.

Domestic racing stoke is at an all time high as the World Cup series returns to the US with Californian Aaron Gwin, racing for US-based Trek Bicycles, leading the downhill charge with a massive points advantage thanks to his multiple victories this season as well as some bad luck in the last round by his main competitors Greg Minaar and Gee Atherton. That Gwin is poised to rewrite history as first American to win the UCI Downhill World Cup series is legendary.

In his corner is another legend – multi-time national and world champion and great American mountain bike hero John Tomac. Gwin enlisted Tomac as his trainer for this season and together they’ve charted huge success, most recently Gwin’s victory at the Mount St. Anne round of the World Cup, ironically the site of Tomac’s last World Cup DH win in 1993 on his way to place 2nd in the series.

Duncan Riffle, Luke Stoble and Junior phenom Neko Mulally have also showed flashes of brilliance this season on the tour.

In Elite Cross Country, series standings are at stake along with Olympic qualifier points. Domestically, we have solid performers in World Cup regulars Todd Wells, Sam Shultz and Adam Craig plus Heather Irmiger, Lea Davison, Georgia Gould and Mary McConneloug. Expect epic performances by US racers Jeromiah Bishop, Catherine Compton and Krista Park as they hope to unleash fireworks of their own.

Furthermore, U23 racer and Windham native Seamus Powell defends home turf and gets to race a World Cup in his home town! All US racers will find extra motivation racing on US dirt so close to Independence Day amongst so many screaming American fans.

The magnitude of this event is quite an emotional atmosphere, the buzz electrifying. Anywhere you stand in the woods or in town you’ll hear multiple languages being spoken, and see various national team riders, trainers and staff resplendent in their matching track suits – tres’ chic.

It is impressive to see the World Cup entourage in the Tech Expo – the big trade-team manufactures had all their rigs present, while many European teams set up amongst domestic privateer teams, making do in rented box vans due as high transport costs means leaving their rigs overseas. There must be a serious trickle-down of current World Cup technology, mechanical knowledge and riding progression from the tour regulars to our riders as everyone co-mingles throughout the weekend, sharing ideas, experience and micro-brews.

For spectating, it is the opportunity to see the best in the world, a sneak peek at the highest technology for next year and beyond, and be part in the global collective breath of the height of off road sport. The action is intense during training rounds as the riders posture up in the psych battle and new lines develop rapidly. Citizen racers and Gravity East competitors get to transfer that stoke into their own races throughout the weekend. Even future World Cup competitors/Junior DH sensations Richie Rude and Logan Mulally earn valuable World Cup Elite-level riding experience amongst the Elite downhillers as elected Elite DH course pre-runners. Hopefully Logan does not leave with the world-class concussion he earned last time, though.

This is an event of major significance for domestic mountain bike racing, and for our budding racers. We need the UCI World Cup US; for the racers, the fans, and the industry and for the domestic cycling community as a whole. There are once again US racers atop of the World Cup standings, competing full-time amongst the best in the world. We need our riders, our Olympians, to be included amongst international sporting heroes as the US deserves recognition — the World Cup needs to come here to further grow the sport and its global impact and marketing potential.

For our youth racers to see the international riders compete first hand presents dream to be dreamed, and actually meeting them creates the hero’s that formulate these dreams. For our sport, the Windham World Cup experience presents an opportunity to see the best racers in the world compete in our own backyard and meet them, putting faces to the names while elevating the level of importance and aura surrounding bike racing.

Proof? Standing amongst the crowd at the 40’ road gap during the Elite Downhill Finals, the DJ stopped announcing and cranked Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” as Yeti’s Aaron Gwin started on course. The DJ related Aaron’s top-5 current standing and the significance of his final run. The cheer was deafening amongst a crowd of both seasoned race fans and patriotic cycling-curious spectators. As Gwin blasted over our heads flying his stars and stripes National Championship jersey, the emotion and energy soared beyond belief as he carried the hopes of everyone sharing his quest for the elusive first World Cup win.

More proof? Seeing 75 racers in the Kids Race and then watching 8yr old Emma Freymann proudly holding court with friends, the Luna Chix women’s pro team, after her podium performance. Inspiration all around, hero’s and dreams developing brightly.

The UCI World Cup at Windham is a breath of fresh air to the mountain bike racing culture in the US. With the domestic racing community trying to grow back towards standards set in Tomac’s heyday, this new energy is an important springboard to the future. On our own soil spectators are treated to phenomenal racing, world cycling culture, and the beautiful passion of our sport at it’s highest level. That the World Cup tour returns is a victory on so many levels, especially for the Windham World Cup Committee whom dared to dream big and create an event that encompasses the entire community and hosts the world. Without their bold vision and hard work to pull this off, the World Cup tour might not have come back stateside for a long, long time.

See you there?