A Rider’s Perspective: Racing Wheels in a State Dominated by Ice and Sticks

The Minnesota (MN) League is wrapping up its first season with NICA.  Many of the MN riders come from a hockey or ice-skating background.  However, in less than one season the League has made a healthy amount of noise about the two-wheeled sport of mountain biking. We talked with Sohpia Holmes, a sophomore rider for the Minnetonka High School team, and her mom, Kari Holmes, about their experience in the League.  Sophia gave us the insider’s view of how it feels to be apart of the mountain biking movement in state of ten thousand lakes where canoes are king.

Rider Sophia Holmes competes in the Freshman/Sophomore category, and as of Minnesota’s second-to-last race, she was in 2nd place for Overall points.  She races on the Minnetonka High School team and this is her first time racing mountain bikes.

What is your sporting background?

[Answered by Kari Holmes] Sophia started playing soccer at age four.  In eighth grade she began playing rugby.  She earned two varsity letters while also participating on the swim team and in track and field.

How did you learn about the MN League?

The MN League just started this Fall, so high school mountain biking is new to the state.

Most of the recruitment for this first season was done through community-ed mailers and school announcements.  There has been a lot of enthusiasm spreading from the team, and we expect the team to double in size next year.  Many of our friends had not heard of the League, but when we explained where we race and how great it is, they wanted to try it out.  We have try-out sessions that we can bring our friends to.  And our local bike shop, Erik’s, has been a great supporter, providing bikes and gear.

How does high school mountain bike racing compare to other sports and sports events?

I love mountain biking because it is an individual and team sport.  I have to push myself hard against other riders, and I love being on the podium, but I love it even more when I can help my team.  We really push each other and the guys and girls are supportive of each other.  The whole team shows up early on race day.  We eat together and prep our bikes.  When racing, the guys cheer on the girls and vice versa.  It is great to be able to train with guys because they push you harder then when training with just girls.  The guys work harder as well because they don’t want to be out raced or out-ridden by a girl.  The other great thing about racing versus playing a team sport like soccer or hockey is that it is not so political and competitive.  There was always a lot of fighting and gossip on the soccer teams because of who made what team, etc.  Also, I can play the other sports I love, whereas with soccer it was expected that you play one sport year round.  There are many other options for racing bikes as well.  My teammates do cyclocross and velodrome racing, which I’d like to try.

What is the biggest challenge for you in high school mountain bike racing?

The biggest challenge is getting used to the riding itself.  Riding features, hills, and single track is awesome, but you have to work hard to learn to ride a technical course.  I had to learn to ride in cleats, learn to plank and control the bike and learn to read the terrain.  I crashed a lot in the first weeks because I am a more aggressive rider.  The more you ride, the better you can become and knowing your bike and your skill.   I’ll probably always remember the site of my first epic crash.  My mom thought it couldn’t get much worse than playing rugby, but now she’s not so sure.

What has the team experience done for you, and how does it compare to other team experiences?

I would like to see our team grow and the sport grow in general in the state.  It is such a great sport for all types of athletes.  We have a great team that is like a family.  We hang out together and do things outside of mountain biking.  We help each other with school.  We know as a new sport we need to guard the reputation of the team so our captains are always on us about getting our homework done and representing our team well at school.  I have ADD so being in a sport like mountain biking is great.  It helps me to focus better when I am in school.  I would love to bike in college and I hope that racing will grow to the collegiate level.  But the greatest thing about biking is that you can do it your whole life.

What would you like to tell someone that is thinking about joining the team?

If someone were to ask me why join the mountain biking team, I would tell them you will get in great shape doing something fun.  You will make a lot of new friends, you will learn to challenge yourself, and you will love being on our team.

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