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Shown are riders at a mountain-biking event in Burnsville, Minn. Submitted photos

Startup league picks RF for series event, pedals dual purpose

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The Minnesota High School Cycling League chose the hillside trails of Whitetail Ridge Corporate Park as the location for an Oct. 6-7 event that is expected to bring about 500 people to River Falls and is the third race of the league's inaugural series.

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Gary Sjoquist started the new high school league -- he's an avid racer of mountain bikes and works in the industry. He praises the local trails, which were established and maintained by the local Kinni Off Road Cyclists (KORC).

He said it is a "great place to ride" and a good reason to "cross the border."

Sjoquist mentions that a portion of the race proceeds will go to make a cash donation to the nonprofit club.

"It's just a great place to come and ride," he said about the local trails.

He requested at the July 24 City Council meeting River Falls' assistance in the form of public works time and equipment in mowing the grass and delivering picnic tables, trash cans and barricades. The council approved his request.

Sjoquist, a UW-River Falls graduate, said he also picked the local spot as a way of planting the idea that a similar high school league would be possible in western Wisconsin.

As the person starting and now operating the Minnesota league, he's had questions from people in the area about the sport, racing and starting a league.

The league director said there are plenty of volunteer opportunities for those who want an inside look, "People who are interested can help run the (Oct.) race."

League of its own

Sjoquist says the startup Minnesota league is for males and females in grades 9-12. Both genders don't ride together, but their scores are tallied as a team.

Sjoquist likes the sport because everyone gets a chance to ride for the team and score points toward the aggregated score -- nobody "rides the bench."

He said some kids who may not be drawn to traditional sports, might enjoy mountain biking a lot. Though it is mildly competitive in that schools compete against each other and there is a 'win' at stake, the activity is mostly social, fun and good exercise.

He said the first two races in their series are on flat terrain -- the third one in River Falls introduces them to hills. The number of laps they do depends on their age.

It also gets kids outdoors and helps them build a sense of accomplishment and belonging. One of the league's main principles is inclusivity. Sjoquist goes a step further to say that cycling of all kinds is good in general for families, communities and the economy.

Sometimes the kids start the sport, and the family joins them, "It really is a lifelong activity that they can do together," he said.

He says the startup league consists of 18 different communities that have assembled teams. The goal for the River Falls race is to have 200 riders at the starting line.

The races will happen in different locations so the riders get different experiences.

"I'd like to make it an annual event but don't know yet if that will happen," said Sjoquist about if the race will happen in River Falls again.

The startup league generally takes someone like him to volunteer to put it together and lead the group. He started looking into it in 2010.

The league starter says he has the good fortune of working for Quality Bicycle Products -- the biggest bike-parts distributor on the planet -- as a bicycling advocate. He said the league technically does mountain biking but is named with the word cycling so it is not restricted to one kind of biking in the future.

Sjoquist said it is among his goals to establish mountain biking as a high school sport by 2020. He said Minnesota is the sixth state to start one.

He said people can learn more online from the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA), which is the governing body for mountain-bike racing -- go to www.nationalmtb.org; his e-mail address is also listed there.

People can also learn more at the Oct. 6-7 event in River Falls, which offers "pre-ride" runs for kids and their parents the first day and competition the second day.

Said Sjoquist: "We'll be racing all day Sunday (Oct. 7)."

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