Heading downhill is all good
July 29, 2006
Why take the long, hard road, when the steep, rocky one is much faster?
At least that’s the way downhill mountain bike racer, Andrew Pierce, sees it. The recent Park City High graduate, who has only been racing since ninth grade, will travel to Rotarua, New Zealand to compete with five other Americans at the 2006 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships, August 22-27.
Getting to the biggest event in the junior ranks is something that Pierce has had his eye on for awhile. Last year he missed the cut by one spot and used that feeling of disappointment to inspire him all during this season.
Pierce raced on the NORBA national circuit as a junior to earn enough points to get the nod to go to New Zealand, but as of this week, will turn pro so he can continue to rise in the sport
Pierce first tried downhill mountain biking in Deer Valley with close buddy Nate Davis, who now lives in Salt Lake. Interestingly, in a town as bike-obsessed as Park City, very few are downhillers. That meant that Pierce more or less taught himself how to ride down the mountain, using a trial-and-error, or trial-and-injury, method.
"The sport is still growing, so there’s not really anyone telling you what to do," Pierce said. "It’s watch and learn, mimic and adapt."
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For those unfamiliar with the sport, downhill is basically riding straight down a mountain going over challenging and treacherous rock features on the way. Not for the faint-hearted, the sport demands armor-like protection and a heart of steel.
However, Pierce says that what gets the most "ohhs" and "ahhs" at competitions is often not nearly as hard as it looks with the right riding technique.
After a while, it seems to be natural and doesn’t bug me," Pierce said. "It can be hard, but it looks harder than it is."
Regardless, it is clearly a sport for the risk-taker and thrill-seeker, personality traits that Pierce says have always been a part of him.
"I’ve always done something like it," Pierce said, while listing aerials, moguls and kayaking as other sports he has tried.
His passion for wild riding gets him in trouble once in a while. He has broken his collarbone, a few times, and had a compressed fracture in one of his vertebrae, but otherwise his injuries have been minor.
He says the inherent risks involved with the sport have caused his parents, Jon and Shelley, to waver in their support, but now that he’s headed for the "big time" next month, they’re are fully behind him. He laughs and adds that their initial support was mostly in the form of buying him pads and protective gear.
"My dad says statistically, it’s safer than a car," Pierce said.
For the next few weeks Pierce plans on training as much as possible for Worlds. He goes on cross-country mountain bike rides with his friends, lifts weights and has mounted a downhill bike on rollers, so he can practice indoors.
"I imitate how it would be," Pierce said.
Once Pierce returns from New Zealand, he will move to Salt Lake to attend the University of Utah. Clearly unscathed by any hard hits to the head in bike crashes, the 18-year-old already has devised somewhat of plan that will allow him to pursue downhill long-term. He had originally envisioned a career in mechanical engineering, but when he realized that he could be successful as a downhiller, he rethought that plan and decided that teaching or investing would better allow him to have summers free to ride on the national circuit.
"It was always a hobby," Pierce said. "This is the first time I thought I could actually do it."
The move to the valley will also allow Pierce to surround himself with other downhillers. He says it can be challenging to be serious about the sport when nobody else understands the physical and mental demands.
"It takes a lot out of you if you want to get good," Pierce said. "I’ve just started being there."
Along with his new pro status, he has also secured full sponsorship from GoRide.com, and will be relying on them heavily for the impending trip to Worlds.
"It’s huge," Pierce said. "The only thing I pay for is food. I wouldn’t have been able to go otherwise."
Everything has come together for Pierce this year, so now, all he has to worry about is winning or "realistically," he says, "finishing in the top five."