A new under 25 mountain bike racing team will appear on the US domestic racing circuit for the 2011 season. The Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory Devo Sweet Elite presented by Spine Colorado/Durango Orthopedics and Fort Lewis College is based in Durango, Colorado, and managed by past US pro road champion Chris Wherry.
The team will include racers such as Under 23 US cross country national champion Tad Elliott and 2009 US Collegiate cyclo-cross champion Teal Stetson-Lee, Collegiate and junior national champion Howard Grotts and junior national champion Alicia Rose Pastore. Fort Lewis rider Colton Andersen is also on the squad, which will be coached by Joey Thompson.
Wherry explained to Cyclingnews how the team came to be: "The team sort of developed from Durango Devo, a youth mountain bike program. They have kids from age five through high school. After that, the available programs drop off.
"We have super talented mountain bike riders coming out of the woodwork, and we decided that it would be a great idea to help these kids get to the elite level of the sport. They will have a chance to see where the sport will take them."
In 2010, Durango Devo riders won eight titles at the National Championships in Granby, Colorado. Last month, Fort Lewis College was crowned collegiate mountain bike national champions for 2010.
Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory had been sponsoring some local riders, and the company saw this as an opportunity to promote the development and elite side of the program.
When asked why the team chose the age threshold of 25 as opposed to 23, Wherry said: "We were looking for kids who have been through Durango Devo and/or are tied to Fort Lewis College. Teal Stetson Lee has been racing really well lately in cyclo-cross with the Cal Giant Berry team. She's the oldest memeber of the team, and she's 24, so that's how we came up with the cut-off. She's been a supporter of the Devo program and went through the Fort Lewis program."
All of the team members are natives of Durango although management did not specify hometown among the criteria for joining the team. "It just so happens that we have five great kids who have come up the ranks in Durango," he said.
The team will race at local and regional mountain bike races including the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic as well as the National Championships in Sun Valley, Idaho, this upcoming July 2011.
The five racers will compete on Specialized S-Works 29 inch wheel bicycles, with additional equipment and service support provided by Mountain Bike Specialists in Durango. Racers will be provided specific coaching and training programs, as well as race and travel support. The team will meet two times per week to practice as a team with their coach.
The group forming the team includes Ned Overend. Sarah Tescher, Matt Shriver, Wherry, Joey Thompson, and Chad Cheeney, all accomplished cycling athletes at a national level and sponsor and structure coordination from John Glover (Mountain Bike Specialists) and Gaige Sippy (Iron Horse Bicycle Classic).
"The local environment in Durango is super supportive," said Wherry. "Programs like the ones run by Durango Devo remind me of the racing I did as a kid growing up in Boulder - like the Red Zinger mini-classic road racing. Durango has the same sort of program, but with mountain biking. Fort Lewis College has also been a great force in collegiate racing."
"The natural environment here in Durango is amazing. When you're downtown, you're not more than minutes away from amazing singletrack," said Wherry. "There's a well maintained singletrack network, it's such a beautiful place, and the (high) altitude is a great training resource.
"Todd Wells has been living her for a long time, and Ned Overend and Travis Brown live here, too. You have a lot of history in mountain biking here. In fact, Worlds were here in the 1990s."
It may seem like Wherry is making a big leap from his roadie roots to manage a mountain bike team, but in fact, he's been a mountain biker for awhile.
"I've been tied to the road quite a lot, but I've done quite a bit of mountain bike racing during my career," said Wherry. "I always dabbled in it."
"I moved to Durango in 2005 and even though I was racing on the road then - the year I won the US Pro Champs - I ended up riding the trails a ton. I enjoyed being out and about and having a good time. My wife and I have been supportive of Durango Devo as coaches for a number of years, and it's a great group of people. I was available and have some time to see if we can get this program off the ground."
2011 Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory Devo Sweet Elite Team Roster
Tad Elliott (2008 & 2010 U23 cross country national champion)
Teal Stetson-Lee (2009 Collegiate Cyclo-cross National Champion)
Colton Andersen (2010 Fort Lewis College National Championship Team Member)
Howard Grotts (2010 Cat. 1 17-18 Junior cross country National Champion & 2010 Div. II Collegiate Short Track and Cross Country National Champion)
Alicia Rose Pastore (2010 Cat. 1 17-18 Junior cross country National Champion)
Joey Thompson (coach)
Chris Wherry (team manager)