In this Sept. 17, 2016 file photo, Emma Hjelle, left, and Johanna Craig, right, race together in a Wisconsin High School Cycling League mountain bike event at Iola Winter Sports Club. Hjelle and Craig both finished in the top 10 of their respective age group divisions in last year’s WHSCL standings. (Submitted photo)
9/9/2017 7:35:00 AM Rhinelander Northwoods mountain bike team ready for Year 2
A group of 12 riders is set to embark Sunday on the second year of racing for the Rhinelander Northwoods Composite Mountain Bike team.
The team has a tough act to follow after an impressive inaugural year in which it placed seventh overall in the Wisconsin High School Cycling League standings.
"We've got pretty similar numbers to last year," coach Joel Flory told the River News this week. "We have a couple of newer riders either on-board or coming on-board, but we're still made up of primarily Lakeland (Union) High School, home school athletes and Rhinelander High School athletes."
The team will take part in a five-race schedule beginning Sunday at Minooka Park in Waukesha and concluding with the state championship at Iola Winter Sports Club Oct. 22. The team has trained over the last few weeks on the Washburn Lakeland Silent Sports Trail system in the town of Woodboro.
Because so many of the riders are veterans of last year's squad, Flory said the team has been able to spend more time working on the technical aspects of mountain bike racing as opposed to going over the basics.
"It's focusing on kids learning how to ride, ride safely, ride aggressively and be able to do that as long as they want," he said. "We get a lot of kids that are dedicated in other sports but still want to race. They come as often as they can, but sometimes I think they wish they could be there a little more."
Because the high school squad features more than five riders from Rhinelander High School, new WHSCL regulations forced the team to split - for scoring purposes at least - into an RHS team and Rhinelander Northwoods Composite team.
The RHS squad will feature twins Garrett and Hunter Bachmann and Freddy Wisner, all of whom will be competing in the JV boys' division. The girls' team will feature juniors Alexis Pyrchalla and Emma Hjelle - who finished third and seventh, respectively, in the sophomore girls' division last year - and freshman Gwyneth Lowry.
"Emma Hjelle and Alexis Pyrchalla are the lead girls on the high school side. They did fantastic last year and I think they've really got a lot of drive behind them this year. They've both worked really hard and I'm looking forward to them having a really good time," Flory said. "On the boys' side, Garrett and Hunter Bachmann did a really nice job last year for us and when they came in at the beginning of practice this year, it was pretty obvious that they'd been riding a fair bit this summer ... Last year kind of set the baseline for them and I think they both want to get out there and beat last year's times by as much as they can."
Bridger Flory, Joel's son and the runner-up in the sophomore boys' division last season, hopes to race, but his status is up in the air at the start of the season as he continues to recover from a lower leg injury sustained in the offseason.
Lakeland's Johanna Craig will carry the banner for the Composite team on the high school side, following a third-place finish in the freshman girls' standings last year.
Middle school riders include eighth-graders Jakob Craig, Megan Lester and Sage Flory, and sixth-grader Joey Belanger.
Flory said, above all else, he wants to see improvement from his riders in year No. 2.
"Last year we were all new into it," he said. "There's a couple of kids from the Lakeland area, Jakob and Johanna Craig, who are just fantastic riders. They're going to look to be at the top of their age group as much as possible. The rest of them, I just want them to move up. I think that's the best thing. I think, as a team, we can finish top 10. I don't think that's unrealistic at all. I just want these kids to keep improving, and they have done that."
The 2017 schedule also includes stops at Nordic Mountain in Wild Rose, as well as Hayward. Flory said the race courses throughout the year become increasingly technical and challenging in the run up to the state championship. New on this year's schedule is a trip to the Waterloo area for a race on the Trek Trails, a private proving ground used by the Trek bicycle company.
"Some of these kids may never get a chance to ride these trails again, other than this race venue," Flory said. "That should be a neat opportunity."
Behind the scenes, Flory said community support has been strong from groups like the Rhinelander Area Silent Trails Association (RASTA) which maintains the trails the tam uses for training and the Rhinelander Athletic Booster Club, which provided the team with a grant to cover the cost of racing uniforms. Additionally, Flory said the support from parents and volunteer coaches has been overwhelming.
"This year we have almost as many coaches as we do riders," he said. "Now these people aren't always doing on the bike skills training, but they're there sweeping to make sure no kid gets left behind. They're helping with bikes at the beginning of practice. We have some much help that, if we wanted to, we could one-on-one with these kids sometimes. It's just a tremendous amount of support."
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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