Get on your bikes and ride: Austin cycling team is blazing a new trail

Published 6:37 pm Monday, October 3, 2022

The Austin cycling team isn’t just a place for students to try a new sport, it’s a program that is starting to learn how to compete and improve.

As Austin draws close to the final two meets of its ninth season, the team has already made some big strides. Austin had four racers in the top 10 in a recent middle school race at Mountkato and Austin also won its first ever first place trophy when the middle school team took the top spot in a meet in Rochester two weeks ago.

Austin coach Michael Helgeson said his squad was elated after the first place finish.

The kids were pretty stoked. You could see the smile on their faces,” Helgeson said. “We’re hoping to fill some more hardware. I told the kids we’re going to have to build another cabinet if they keep getting more trophies.”

Austin has improved by increasing its training. Since the team’s mountain bike trail at Wildwood Park doesn’t have any hills, the coaching staff had to get creative to prepare the team for more difficult treks.

“It’s been one of the most fun years so far. In years past we’ve only practiced a couple of times a week, but to bump it up I wanted to incorporate a Tuesday hill night out at Skinner’s Hill to really focus on getting the kids stronger,” Helgeson said. “I think it’s really shown in the races this year.”

The team is maintaining its numbers at around 30 riders, but it is also trying to welcome more female riders. Helgeson’s daughter Lexi has helped start that trend and the team has also reached out to the community to get girls riding at earlier ages.

“The goal is to get more girls,” Helgeson said. “My daughter’s been around the team since she was in fifth grade. She’d love to have more racers with her. She pushed those (middle school) boys and they never beat her once last year. Now they’re even stronger because of that and they’re our lead dogs.”

While cycling may appear to be an individual sport, it actually encourages riders to work together and compete as a team. It provides a great opportunity for any local kid to give it a shot.

“This is such a unique sport and everyone on the team plays such an integral part,” Helgeson said.