Despite the miles of trails for training, tons of athletes, hospitable weather and now three mountain bike racing series, Boise is not the hotbed of professional mountain biking it could be.
"It's pretty tough for the Idaho folks to go on the national level and compete because the national races are so far away ... they're back East or in California," said Hal Miller, one of the organizers of the Knobby Tire Series, six races that comprise the state championship series.
Along with the Knobby Tire races, Wild Rockies Racing hosts eight cross-country mountain bike races this summer, plus downhill trials. The opening Barking Spider race drew regional competitors. And the newcomer to the racing circuit, the Velopark Grandprix, hosts four races this season at the Idaho Velodrome and Cycling Park in the Eagle Foothills.
Jana Repulski, a physical therapist in Eagle, won the first Velopark race this month, in the women's pro division.
"I race in the pro field, but I also have a career that is not bike racing," Repulski said. She's had a national ranking in past years but won't be competing much outside the Treasure Valley now.
Repulski said a good turnout for women pros at Idaho races is about five. Same for men.
"When people show up, there's good competition," she said.
Brett Nichols won the men's pro category and is one of the few Boise pros who competes in other parts of the country. He moved to Boise to train, mainly because of the climate, but has been pleased with the trails and the Velopark's looping course.
"The United States is really struggling with finding venues that promote that kind of racing, where you can see everything that's happening," Nichols said.
The Velopark races utilize Foothills single track, as well as some of the engineered features in the bike park, including a four cross course, designed for four riders chasing one another, similar to the ski cross event in the Winter Games. The four cross is where Repulski won the race, when her only competitor crashed.
Jenny Tobin separated her shoulder and crushed her helmet in the race, but finished anyway, rather than sitting on the sidelines waiting for her husband, Michael Tobin, also a pro rider, to finish. Michael Tobin, a well-known adventure racer, retired last year but still races locally in the pro circuit.
"We try to do as many of the local things as we can, and they're fun and we don't have to travel as far," Jenny Tobin said.
All the racers BW spoke with enjoyed the Velopark course, describing it as windy, with good downhills and a nice view of the entire field. But Jenny Tobin said there might not be enough places to pass in the Velopark to draw racers from outside. She also said Boise lacks some of the terrain that makes mountain biking so difficult on the East Coast or in the desert, like slippery logs and big rocks. Still, all the local races draw competitive riders in all the divisions and provide a good supplement to training.
According to Jon Gould, promoter for the Velopark series, one of the best races was the trailblazer division--8 and younger--in which a girl who was in second place most of the race nosed out another 7-year-old five feet from the finish line for a win.
Knobby Tire races are organized by the Broken Spoke Cycling team, a large team that has both road and mountain bikers. While mountain biking is largely an individual sport, Miller said they train together and take turns working the races so that other team members can actually race. The top rider in the Knobby Tire series is declared state champion.
Wild Rockies hosts the longest calendar, with both cross-country and downhill races, including at Bogus Basin and Brundage.
Several race organizers noted the dearth of female competitors. Repulski said one reason may be that the men's teams often get sponsors to cover the cost of racing while women are usually paying their own way.
"There's definitely a lot of women riding, but not a lot of women racing," she said.
But racing is a really good supplement to training, pushing a rider to do their best over the course of the race, Repulski said.
"I rely on those to get that early season fitness boost."