Hundreds of youth riders from across the state will take over part of Moore Park this weekend for the Oregon Interscholastic Cycling League’s state mountain biking championships.
It will be the first time Klamath Falls will host the event, and locals hope it won’t be the last.
But of course, after months of the pandemic and long-lingering wildfire smoke threatening sporting events in the Basin, a string of storms forecast to bring heavy precipitation this weekend has the potential to throw a wrench in the weekend’s festivities.
Whether or not riders ranging in age from middle school to high school will get a chance to take on the Moore Park course — which is about 3.5 miles per lap — the fact that the championships are even here is still a chance to highlight the sport more locally.
“We’re really trying to showcase and make it a really cool venue so that they hopefully come back here permanently every year,” said Zach Gilmour, the coach of the Klamath Falls Composite team and the owner of downtown’s Zach’s Bikes.
Should everything go according to plan, the championship events should unfold between Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday, racers will get to pre-ride the course from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. and again from 7 to 8 a.m. on Sunday.
Racing begins at 8:30 a.m. on Sunday with middle school boys in the first wave. The first of the girls’ races starts at 9:45 a.m., while high school boys’ blast off the line at 11:30 a.m.
With the chance that incoming weather could soak the trails beyond usability, organizers will have to make calls on whether to go forward at the beginning of each day.
According to the Oregon League’s website, event organizers and some folks from the Klamath Trails Alliance will be out very early Sunday morning to determine whether to go forward as planned, condense the racing schedule or cancel all together. It would be tough to get everyone back together for a makeup date, Gilmour said, as they get later in the year the weather is “just going to get worse, right?”
The spectator experience at one of these races usually features a sizable crowd making quite a bit of noise in a “supportive atmosphere,” said Susan Holliday, the mother of Matthew Holliday, one of Klamath Falls’ riders.
“It’s just so much fun, so much energy,” Holliday said, noting that both parents and competitors try to help each other out with any issues whether they be motivational or mechanical.
That sort of atmosphere certainly speaks to the ethos that Gilmour said the Klamath Falls team aims for. They run programming for those who are “in it to win it,” Gilmour said, but also for those who “just want to show up and have fun on a bike.”
“We call it a youth development program,” Gilmour said. “Not really like an athletic development program in that basically it’s a kind of experiential in some regards. So, people are developing as a young adult, not necessarily as an athlete, even though there is an athletic focus to it.”
Those racing this weekend will have participated in most of the season’s four races that have been taking place across the state since late August. Thirteen different Klamath Falls riders are qualified to ride this weekend. The most recent races took place in Medford two weeks ago.
At that Medford event, called Prescott’s Prize, Klamath Falls’ Hazel Heaton was tops among South Conference sixth-grade girls while Elizabeth Lindsay won the South Conference seventh-grade girls’ race. Matthew Holliday placed fourth in the conference’s race for sophomore boys.
Team sign ups typically start in the spring and the Klamath Falls team usually tries to take new riders all the way up to the end of the season, Gilmour said. No experience necessary and there’s loaner equipment typically available for those who want to try it before jumping all the way in.
Gilmour said the bike shop also does their best to sponsor, make scholarships available and fund “as much as possible to make it so that cost isn’t a barrier for people.”
There’s a definite need for more girls in the sport, both Gilmour and Holliday said. Both nationally and locally there’s a push to better recruit girls and on Saturday that would manifest itself as the 3:30 p.m. GRiT ride — which stands for Girls Riding Together.
The GRiT ride — where only girls take to the course — takes place at every race event and gives a chance to “just build camaraderie,” Gilmour said.
This past year the Klamath Falls team left multiple spots open for girls but still only have two on the team, Gilmour said. That pair are among a few of the team’s riders that are competing well statewide against others in their age range.
“We measure success in kind of a little different way because it is a very experiential thing,” Gilmour said of the whole program. “But seeing how much do the riders progress and how much better they are at everything from encouraging other riders and teammates to mountain biking... It’s just really awesome to see. That’s kind of what it’s all about.”