Chippewa Valley Teens Form Competitive Mountain Biking Team

Sean Brandenburg

Riley Mullin, a 15 year-old mountain biker from Eau Claire, has nothing against the middle-aged folks on expensive mountain bikes with whom he rides the trails at Lowes Creek County Park. But when he learned about the Fall Creek Composite Mountain Bike Team – one of three National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) racing teams in the Chippewa Valley – he jumped at the chance to ride with other kids.

“It’s just refreshing to have other people your age. I’m looking around like ‘Holy cow, that’s cool!’ ” Mullins said after a recent Thursday evening team practice at Lowes Creek.

Mullins stands with his mountain bike in the Lowes Creek Expo Center alongside several teammates, all of whom compete with him in NICA races throughout Wisconsin. He’s here this evening because of Tammy Somerville, whose son, Sam, who had been competing in NICA races independently and told his mom he wanted to be part of a team.

“There was no team in the area to join,” explains Tammy Somerville, “so I said, ‘Well, let’s get a team going.’ ” Shortly after, Somerville and her son started putting out feelers in Fall Creek and immediately began hearing from other interested students and families from throughout the Chippewa Valley. They quickly made the decision to create a composite team featuring middle and high school students from Fall Creek, Neillsville, Chippewa Falls, and Eau Claire. Next, they began recruiting riders.

“We talked to the Chippewa Off Road Biking Association (CORBA); they posted something on their website, I was posting signs at school. So it was basically word of mouth.”

Somerville’s phone started ringing. Parents wanted to help get the team off the ground and to get their kids involved; students were hearing about the team and wanted to race. Before she knew it, Somerville was having to turn away interested students because NICA limits the number of student athletes per team. Some students were new to mountain biking, while others already had racing experience.

Miette Gosse of Eau Claire races with her father and team coach, Jason, in the Wisconsin Off-road Series (WORS) throughout the summer. And for teammate Matthew Mosher, WORS was a gateway into the high school league.

“I did one WORS race called the Firecracker here at Lowes Creek,” Mosher recalled, “but I wanted to get out and do more races and that’s when I heard about this team.”

As many Chippewa Valley residents already know, the region boasts a number of high-quality mountain bike trails thanks to the efforts of CORBA and its dedicated group of volunteers. The Fall Creek Composite Team practices throughout its season at Lowes Creek County Park, Area 178 in Chippewa Falls, and Northwest Park in Eau Claire. Racing competitions, which began in mid-September, fall under the banner of the Wisconsin High School Cycling League. The League’s five events take the team as far away as Waukesha, Waterloo, and Hayward. The athletes competed in a league championship race on Oct. 22 in Iola to close out their season.

For Mosher, Mullin, Gosse, and most of their teammates, the appeal of high school cycling over other more traditional sports is about the opportunity to participate. The team does not hold tryouts, no one gets cut, and every team member participates in every race. For a few others, though, such as new team member Trinity Lontz, it came down to peer pressure.

“I was influenced by my friend, (teammate) Becca (Somerville); I’d never been mountain biking before.” Lontz said. “So yeah, I got peer pressured, but it’s really fun and I’m glad I did do it.

Whatever their reasons for joining the team, the students athletes of the Fall Creek Composite Team are enjoying the opportunity to ride and race together.

Learn more by searching for the Fall Creek Composite Mountain Bike Team on Facebook or by visiting wisconsinmtb.org.