As NICA progresses toward the goal of coast-to-coast high school mountain biking by 2020, the times are marked by a series of banner years for the growing organization.
NICA, having formed as recently as 2009 out of nearly a decade of experience in NorCal and SoCal leagues, enjoyed a great season in 2011. Four leagues were up and racing, in Northern and Southern California, Washington, and Colorado. More than 1,000 student athletes reaped the rewards of high school mountain bike racing.
The quality of the experience led 99.5 percent of student athletes surveyed to say they believe they will ride their entire lives.
In 2012, three new leagues will each run a race series: Minnesota, Texas and Utah. This rapid growth is expected to double the number of student athletes to more than 2,000 overall. NICA plans 32 races in 2012, 21 camps for student athletes, an expected 220 teams, and an expected 690,000 hours of student athlete participation.
Perhaps the most significant initiative in 2011 was the 50-State "Indie Club Program" , which enables any qualified adult to become a NICA coach and set up an independent team without the requirement of an existing state league. 130 new coaches were trained in 2011, and by the end of this year NICA expects to have licensed close to 1,000 coaches in total.
The year ahead is filled with promise for NICA. Its calendar has swelled from 49 events in 2011, to well over 60 in 2012 , a growth rate the Association considers both rapid and yet manageable. There is way for everyone to get involved with this movement that will change the sport and lives of America teens forever. Contact Tyler Dibble for details on how to volunteer, start a team or donate to NICA.
On January 14, 2012, NICA will hold the 2011 NICA Awards Banquet, a fundraising event at which the guest of honor will be US Mountain Bike National Champion and Olympian Adam Craig. The purpose of this event is to recognize and celebrate NICA's outstanding student athletes, dedicated coaches, and passionate volunteer community that support the high school mountain biking revolution.
This is the second year of the NICA Awards, and Craig was chosen as the honored guest after he spent a lot of time talking about life as a pro to NICA students at the 2011 Sea Otter Classic. In 2008 Craig's eyes were opened to one aspect of NICA's potential when he joined NorCal star John Bennett in the USA relay team at the mountain bike Worlds. Craig recalls being impressed by Bennett, who exemplifies the strength of body, mind, and character that the high school mountain biking develops in its members.
"I'm pumped for this opportunity to learn more about the NICA mission and those that support it across the spectrum, from the kids to the donors and everyone who works hard in between," said Craig.
NICA will present awards to 21 individuals that the Association considers to be the most outstanding athletes, the most dedicated coaches, and the most passionate volunteers to have supported high school mountain biking in the past 12 months.
What: NICA Awards Banquet
Where: Clif Bar and Co headquarters, Emeryville, California
Who: Adam Craig is guest of honor in celebrating NICA's outstanding student athletes, dedicated coaches, and passionate volunteer community
Tickets: Buy tickets.
Athlete profile: Tobin Ortenblad
For NICA rider, Tobin Ortenblad, 17, of Santa Cruz, California, the Christmas break was a flurry of cyclo-cross races in some of the sport's most famous Belgian venues, including Zolder, Diegem and Loenhout.
The 2011 California State High School Mountain Bike champion was part of a 20-rider US squad attending Euro 'Cross Camp IX, at the US Belgium cycling base in Izegem, west Flanders.
"The house is set up to handle a huge group of racers. There are about eight to 10 rooms with two bunk beds," said Ortenblad. "Then there are six showers, super nice, not a lot of waiting!
"There is a huge dinner table where we all have dinner every night and breakfast in the mornings. Then right outside of the kitchen there is a huge garage/room for washing, cleaning, and working on bikes. It's really the perfect setup. As far as the food goes it is all super healthy race food! Lots of rice, pasta, salad, white meats, chicken, turkey, string beans, and broccoli."
This is his first time racing in the world's most 'cross-mad nation, and it has been educational. According to Ortenblad,"This is where the real competition is so I am trying to learn as much as possible. The Belgian juniors are really fast and talented. The race courses here are super gnarly and the juniors are exposed to them every weekend. It makes them great at handling, and super strong, too. There are also a ton of juniors here compared to the USA, it is part of the culture, everyone knows what 'cross is here!"
After joining the local high school mountain bike team to get out of PE classes as a middle-schooler, Ortenblad switched from being a dirt jump rider to a cross country star. "NorCal has been huge in my racing development. The races are great because of the huge amount of competition there is with other junior racers. It is hard to find that anywhere else (in America). The Varsity field has about five to six of us that are very close in fitness racing for the win, so NorCal has taught me that you have to win with strategy not just pure power."
And what's he learning in Belgium? "You can race extremely aggressive here. I can use my size as an advantage, but if you're not paying attention you will get chopped right into the fence. Keep your elbows out! Secondly, staying warm is huge here. Right after your race get something on, this is super important to if you're going to stay healthy in the cold here. Third bring mud tires!"
NICA January calendar
January 7-8: NorCal League Wilderness First Aid training
January 14 - NICA Awards Banquet (CLIF Bar and Co HQ, Emeryville, California)
January 22: SoCal League Rider Day Camp (Los Olivos, California)
January 28-29: NorCal League Beginner/Intermediate Rider Camp (Fairfax, California)
January 29: SoCal League Rider Day Camp (Bonelli Park, California)
Cyclingnews is an official media partner of NICA. Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for more news and updates about NICA's activities.