Area kids will soon get the chance to improve and showcase their mountain biking skills as the Flathead Valley is in the process of putting together a racing team.
The team will join seven others from around the state to compete in races from Kalispell to Bozeman this fall as part of the Montana Interscholastic Cycling League.
With eight regional teams already in place, the league will begin racing in August, but the goal is to eventually have even more, localized teams.
“Our ultimate goal is something like a traditional high school or middle school sports model, you have a school and it has a team. What is happening now is that we have a composite team with kids from around an area,” organizer Travis Coleman said. “Right now, we are trying to pull in all of the interested kids in the valley, no matter where they are from.”
Founded in California in 2009, NICA now has teams in 26 states and hosts races across the country but emphasizes teaching and camaraderie more than competition.
“One of the great things about a NICA League, which separates us from other youth cycling development programs, is we produce our own youth-specific events. This means we pick out race venues and work directly with landowners and managers to produce the highest quality youth development race courses and events,” Montana Interscholastic Cycling League founder and director Sam Schultz said on the group’s website. “Our student-athletes get a stage of their own, away from adult competitions, and we strive for safety and fun above all other factors.”
Montana will have eight teams in its inaugural season, including Flathead Valley, Missoula, Helena, Billings, Butte, Bozeman, Big Sky and the Bitterroot. Four races have been scheduled for the late summer and fall, staring at the Crosscut Mountain Sport Center in Bozeman Aug. 24. Kalispell will host a race at Herron Park Sept. 7. The final two races will be in Lolo Sept. 21 and in Copper City Oct. 5.
Coleman says the Flathead Valley team is expecting to have 20-25 riders this season, but that number could be higher if interest grows. NICA regulations stipulate that for training, every eight riders need to be accompanied by two coaches, so the team is currently looking for volunteers.
While the team will begin training for the upcoming races, Coleman says the program is more about learning than racing.
“I am really all about getting kids on bikes and making them good bike riders. I want kids to learn the proper skills. If they want to race after that, we can make that happen, but I want to make sure they learn properly and can have fun on their bikes,” he said. “I think it is a great opportunity for the kids. The cycling community is really a great group of people and this is a great way to help it grow in our area.”
For more information about the Montana Interscholastic Cycling League and the Flathead Valley team, visit www.montanamtb.org.