On the way up on a downhill bike
On Wednesday, Park City High School soon-to-be senior Naish Ulmer celebrated a milestone as he turned 18 years old, but that isn’t the only big event he’s been celebrating recently.
Just one month ago, at a race at Angel Fire Resort in New, Mexico, Ulmer qualified for the Mountain Bike World Championship, which will be held in Val di Sol, Italy at the end of the month. The high schooler is one of only two downhill mountain bikers who automatically qualified for the Junior Men’s Downhill Team. Five others were later added to the team.
For Ulmer, it’s an exciting twist to an interesting journey. Ulmer first discovered the sport during a camp held by the Young Riders, a local youth mountain biking program. The sport, which entails hurtling over rocks and cliffs down mountainsides at top speed, intrigued Ulmer and he continued riding down the trails of Deer Valley. He received encouragement and support from Ron Lindley, who runs the Utah State Championship Downhill Series, to continue compete. Ulmer was more or less self-taught until recently when a coach, Gene Hamilton, a top pro rider, was assigned to him after he qualified for the world championships.
Hamilton has been helping Ulmer with the mental aspects of his riding.
"He said, ‘Ride as fast as you can. If you break your arm, it’s better, than breaking it while doing something else,’" Ulmer said.
Injuries are a constant reality in downhill racing, but Ulmer hasn’t let that fear affect him as prepares himself for Italy.
"If you look at something, you’re going to hit it," Ulmer said. "If you try to look at something else, you won’t hit it." Snow on Deer Valley’s downhill trail has forced him down to Sundance to practice a trip he makes a few times a week. When he’s not practicing in Utah’s mountains he is at the gym doing cardio and strength training workouts.
Ulmer will need to be prepared. He will be competing against the best young riders in the world and knows it will be a challenge to finish well. No American has placed at the world downhill event in eight years, but Ulmer said that the U.S. group heading over there this year has a legitimate shot at finishing well.
"If we win, it would be like a new generation," Ulmer said. "There’s a lot of fast kids on the team this year."
The Italian course is said to be fairly rough, so The U.S athletes will arrive in Italy early next week to familiarize themselves with the course. In an average downhill race, riders have walked and pre-rode the course numerous times so they know what to expect. Ulmer said that precious seconds are gained by taking the correct line on a course, so he hopes to get a good knowledge of the championship course. He said a lot of it is an exercise in memorization.
He is also excited about the fans at the event. In stark contrast to the smallish crowds in the States, the Italian event is expected to bring more than 200,000 spectators. Among the crowd will be his parents. He will also have a contingent cheering at home, including his high school friends and the other local downhillers and training buddies, Andrew Pearce and Nick VanDine.
"They tell me just go for it," Ulmer said.
He also gets plenty of support from sponsors GoRide and Spy Optics. Without GoRide, downhill racing would be a bit out of Ulmer’s price range. Good downhill bikes are about $5,500 and the danger of the sport means they have to be replaced frequently. Smaller pieces of equipment, like tires, have to be replaced every race. They also cover all of his travel and lodging while attending races.
The official junior downhill race will take place next Saturday. Both Ulmer and his bike will be making the trip overseas. This week he will meet the coaches and support staff for the U.S. Team after arriving in Italy on Monday.
To see the full roster of world qualifiers from the U.S. and to follow the Mountain Bike World Championships, visit http://www.usacycling.org.
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