The Three Forks Composite Mountain Bike team recently opened their 2023 season at the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) Crosscut Classic in the Bridger Mountains outside Bozeman.
The team formed by Doug Simpson in 2020 is part of the Montana Interscholastic Cycling League and features seven local student-athletes. The riders on the Three Forks team are Anabelle Ewan, Makenna Ewan, Lydia Ogeka, Ann Schack, Sawyer Schack, Ian Botsford, and Luca Kockler.
According to Simpson, who serves as Team Director, the Montana League was formed in 2019 by mountain bike Olympian Sam Schultz of Missoula.
"I was asked by our league director if I would be interested in starting a team in Three Forks. With the new Copper City Trail System, he thought there would be some interest," Simpson said.
The Montana League is part of the NICA, which was founded in 2009. Simpson said the NICA is the main reason the league in the Treasure State exists.
"NICA develops interscholastic mountain biking programs for student-athletes across the United States. NICA is about having amazing adventures with your teammates while tackling both small and epic challenges. NICA has 31 states with leagues in them," said Simpson. "Their mission is to build strong minds, bodies, character, and communities through cycling. NICA also uses fun, inclusivity, equality, respect, and community as values we use as coaches. We have a saying in NICA: 'No one sits on the bench. Everyone rides'".
In their third season, Simpson said they are always looking for younger riders between grades 6-12 from Three Forks and the surrounding areas.
The coaches of the team whom the NICA trains to work and ride with kids are Karl Botsford, Lindsay Schack, Ryan Ewan, and Jason Yager.
"As you can see, the parents end up being coaches. In our sport, you can ride with your kid, so most parents end up coaching. We need coaches first, then riders, and then bikes," Simpson said.
Looking back at the first race of the season at the Crosscut Mountain Sports Center, Simpson said all the kids did a great job at the two-day event and finished with respectable times in their races.
The Three Forks Composite Team was led by Lydia Ogeka, who finished first in her September 2 race. The distance of the race on September 2 was 3.8 miles, with 356 feet of climbing.
There was a shorter course on September 3 of 2.5 miles and 266 feet of climbing. Simpson said middle school riders did one lap, and high school riders did anywhere from two to four laps, depending on the grade.
"The terrain was a mix of single track, double-track, and gravel, which makes for an interesting mix of terrain," Simpson said.
With the season's first race complete, Simpson discussed the importance of working with the members of the Three Forks team.
"As you coach these riders, you wonder if they are understanding what we are coaching, level pedals, one finger on the brakes, always looking ahead, then you see the race pictures, and they are doing what you have been coaching, and it brings a smile to your face," said Simpson. "Knowing that what we coach is more than just mountain biking. With NICA's mission, we help build strong minds, body, and character through mountain biking. Mountain biking has two different dynamics. On one hand, we ride and practice as a group, and we build community and respect. Then we race, and it becomes an individual sport, and you can ride as easy or hard as you want. It is your race. As you finish, the community is there for you. Whether you come in first or last, the team is always cheering the riders on."
Simpson wanted to thank sponsors Wheat Montana, Gallatin Valley Vision, GCC Trident Plant, Round House Sports, Love Schack Architects, and Outlaw Woodworks for their support.
"Without our sponsors, we would not exist," Simpson said.
Those interested in coaching, riding, or helping with the team can contact Simpson at [email protected].
According to Simpson, the season begins in April and ends around the end of September or early October. The team practices twice a week starting in July, with racers beginning the first week in September.
"No one sits on the bench. Everyone rides," Simpson said.