ONEONTA — For most of Sunday, the weather was perfect for a bike ride. So much so that more than 230 youth athletes from 23 teams decided to do just that as Oneonta High School hosted its first New York Mountain Bike League race.
“I knew we had a great course and a great venue. The weather was the wild card,” Otsego Composite coach Michael Maben said. “It came through for us today.”
Two other local teams, the Greene-based Chenango Shredders and the Galena Growlers of Norwich, joined Maben’s Oneonta-based club in representing the area, with teams from as far as Long Island making the trip to compete. The infield saw more than 30 tents clustered around the course’s start.
The event represents significant growth for the sport in New York and the Oneonta area. Maben started the club six years ago when his son, Noah, and friends took an interest in the sport. This season, the club boasts 30 athletes.
”It’s really been amazing. People see what is happening, and we have had the full endorsement of the city and the Parks and Recreation Department,” Maben said. “These things are taking place but I don’t think anyone had any idea it would turn out this big.”
The Otsego club’s growth, and the establishment of other area clubs, matches the league’s development since race director Jason Cairo founded the NYMBL in 2013. Otsego was one of the league’s five founding members; the league now boasts 28 members, and the overall increase in local participation has made Cairo move more events away from the New York City metropolitan area where the league is headquartered.
“They are the reason why we come out here,” Cairo said. “”It always takes a coach, a few riders to get it going. So yeah, these teams are why we have racing out this way. There’s no other reason.”
Sunday marks the NYMBL’s second venture this far west after holding a race at Chenango Valley State Park last year. The establishment of other area clubs, coupled with an environment well suited for the sport, makes central New York a promising location for the NYMBL to continue raising its profile.
“When you’re working with a town like Oneonta, and you’re working with people like (Otsego Composite team director) Jim DiLiberto and Mike Maben, it gets really easy,” Cairo said. “Some places you don’t have that support and you don’t get this professional look.”
Shredders coach Stephen Bentley is hoping is build on that momentum. He said his club is a registered non-profit, and he aims to expand the sport by making it more accessible.
“That’s the thing about mountain biking; it’s a team, you’re all working together, but it’s not like football or baseball,” Bentley said. “It’s on you. If you want to go out there and relax, you can. And if you want to go out and be number one, you can try that. We try to applaud all of the kids.”
Still, the local clubs bring more than just a happiness to compete to the races. On Sunday, Otsego’s Mikeeli Hanson won the girls junior varsity race, and Chenango’s Jarod Likens won the boys junior varsity race. Alex Trifunovic, also of Chenango, took fourth and Sam Lasher of Otsego was seventh out of 39 in that race, the day’s largest.
Bailey Olds of the Growlers took first in the sophomore girls race, and Kobie Cummings of Otsego was eighth among sophomore boys. Otsego’s Samuel Layton was the highest finisher in the varsity boys race, taking fifth.
“We are used to this terrain with hills and rocks and roots,” Bentley said. “It’s great to have an event like this in your backyard.”
The success of Sunday’s race has those involved looking to the future with optimism. Bentley forecasted that continued growth would see the state divide into separate leagues, while Maben mentioned that discussions have already begun to bring another race to Oneonta.
“The wheels are turning now to see how we can get more grants for ecotourism and that sort of thing,” Maben said. “That’s why we did it. We wanted people to see that we could pull it off. It went off as well as it possibly could have today.”