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Front Rangers Juniors Cycling Club developing good riders and great people

By David Pico

The Front Rangers Juniors Cycling Club was out on a training ride. A dozen mountain bikers ages 12 through 18 bounced off the rocks in Palmer Park, polishing there technical riding skills.

I caught the group on a particularly difficult section, just in time to see the last rider give perform a beautiful maneuver that made me jealous. One of the club coaches, Jeff Gibbs, encouraged each of the riders as they climbed through the rocks.

Gibbs has been a Front Rangers coach for several years. I’ve ridden bikes with him before
and I’ve maimed myself on rocks that he cleared with his eyes closed.

“I always take the kids on technical rides to challenge and improve their skills and balance,”
Jeff says. “If they can ride a rocky section rather than walk their bikes over it, it really boosts their self-confidence. Anyone can ride a flat easy section but technical riding is where they become better riders.”

I went ahead and followed over, but I got caught by the trail’s death-grip and spilled myself all over the rocks. I writhed in pain on the ground for a bit before I got up and quickly rode away, retracing
my tracks with my head down low like nothing had happened while the coach called after me to see if I was all right.

The main purpose of the club is to develop young riders, provide coaching, cultivate a love of
outdoors and sports in our city’s youth, offer an opportunity to ride with peers, teach cycling skills to
those who want to compete and to those who just want the recreation. The club has grown to over
forty riders and a healthy number of coaches supporting road, track, mountain biking and cyclocross
disciplines.

The Front Rangers club will hold its season kickoff meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the USA Cycling headquarters, 210 USA Cycling Point, Suite 200. Young riders and their parents are invited to attend to learn about the Front Rangers Juniors Cycling Club.

Check out the Front Rangers website.

Jeff tells me that there is a team feeling in the club, and while there can be a competitive
undercurrent that develops in some of the juniors, the best part of the club is just getting teens
outdoors to enjoy the fresh air and keeping them healthy.

“There are so many areas, especially in the mountains that a lot of kids otherwise would not get
to experience because they are only accessible by hiking or biking.”

Herb Rodriguez has been involved with the team since 2003, when he took his own three
teenagers to compete in their first mountain bike race at Cheyenne Mountain High School. It was
through building, maintaining and riding bikes with his own teens that he realized the impact the Front Rangers has on young people. From behind his retirement beard, his voice goes up an octave when he talks about getting his own kids outside and active, away from the TV’s and computers, and as a retired military guy, he finds it extra rewarding to mentor our future leaders in some small way.

“We do try to teach the kids more than just bike skills,” Herb says. “Most of our kids start out
with us before they have ever gotten behind the wheel of a car. The skills they develop riding in town
gives them the ability to safely commute by bike. They can be independent without mom having to haul them around everywhere. For a kid that's a big deal. I think parents like that too.”

Joe Grossi is another Front Rangers coach who saw the impact first-hand.

“My son joined a couple of years ago when he was sixteen,” Joe says. “He wasn't interested in
racing but he enjoyed getting out and riding with the other juniors.”

Joe has always been a cyclist, and along with group rides with the Front Rangers, he and his son
were able to take on other challenging rides together. “We rode up Mt. Evans one summer, just the two of us.”

Juniors join the club for various reasons: to race, to develop biking skills, to just enjoy riding with
other juniors. They learn sportsmanship, riding skills, bike maintenance, and love of the outdoors, all
with a focus on cycling.

“Beginners and casual riders mostly just come along for the rides,” says Eldon Goates, one of the
many coaches of the Front Rangers whose son also rides for the team. “It's social, and it's a good time to learn from coaches and peers.”

If only such a thing existed in my youth. As a teenager, I grew at sporadic, high rates of speed
and when I was awkward and bumping into things, my parents nearly gave up hope completely before
dropping me into karate classes where the instructor sent me to the corner to punch away on an
Everlast bag for an hour. I became confident and coordinated. Exercise outlets like cycling work the
same way.

“I learned to ride with a junior clinic on the velodrome and loved it.” says Hunter Reehoorn, a
Front Rangers veteran and senior at Cheyenne Mountain High School. “A year later I rode with the club and I was hooked. Without the team I wouldn't have the peers to train with and push me.”

Hunter competed on the four-man team for the Front Rangers in the 24 Hours of Colorado
Springs in September, coming in second place on the podium along with his teammates, Mitchell
Goates, Trevor Von Boeck, and Nic Jenkins.

“Exercise and fitness are the obvious benefits (for youth),” Eldon says. “But learning to deal
with opposition, and learning they can push themselves further than they thought are also big.”

Eldon has a booming voice, and he uses it often to encourage the Front Rangers. At the Sand
Creek Series Mountain Bike Races his encouragement echoes off the hillside and startles you into a jump if you’re not ready for it.

“As the kids mature, we move them to leadership roles where we ask them to assist with the
team -- leading rides, helping one of the younger kids accomplish something, that sort of thing.”

The Front Rangers Junior Cycling Club organizes team rides once or twice a week within each
cycling discipline, and in Colorado that schedule moves with the weather. Throughout the spring and
summer months they hit the sizzling asphalt on road bikes and the dusty trails on mountain bikes.
Cyclo-cross is in the fall and track rides are whenever the schedule is open – when the Olympians take a break on the 7-11 Velodrome. In the winter, it’s indoor training at Bicycle Village or Carmichael Training Systems, where wild-eyed coaches scheme torture on Olympians and National Champions all over the country.

In addition to the regular weekly rides, the club adds in mini-trips to Rampart, Crystal Lakes,
Pueblo Reservoir or a long day out to the world-class Monarch Crest Trail, or even a week-long excursion to Moab, replenishing on the trail with the PowerBar’s that have been stuffed in their back pockets.

“For those that want to be more serious,” Eldon says, “we do offer more in-depth coaching --
things like assignments for workouts and additional training time.”

In doing this, The Front Rangers have a tendency to crank out well-rounded cycling phenoms,
teenage mutants on bikes who get a call one day from the pros, asking if they would like to represent
their team in world championship racing.

“I was part of Front Rangers when Russell Finsterwald just started riding with us,” says Jeff
Gibbs. “I refer to him a lot when I talk to the younger riders, showing them what dedication and hard
work will do for you and where it will take you. There were several times when myself and another ride
leader were the only ones able to show up to ride and there was Russell, the only kid to join us.”

There was Russell, riding around for six hours at a time on a thirty-pound, ten-speed
Rockhopper, pouncing on the trails and displaying a natural ability that made even the most
treacherously technical rock garden look as smooth as a backyard slip-n-slide. I’ve seen him explode
around blind corners with his wheel held high and his pedals spinning fast, tearing down steep descents with eyes as big as plates, his bike bouncing underneath him like a jackhammer with 130mm shocks.

He’s now traveling the world and racing against other prodigies of the sport, collecting professional
scars and battering himself against the real freaks.

I remember him in the Front Rangers yellow and blue, always at the front of the races, and then
he graduated to the local ProCycling Bike Shop team, still lighting the trails on fire on his way to victory.

Now he’s a Subaru-Trek rider wearing the stars and stripes jersey of a national champion and smiling
frequently for passport examiners at customs.

“The Front Rangers was the first team and junior program I rode for,” Russell tells me. “I was
twelve. It gave me the opportunity to travel to races with friends on the team as well as ride with lots of other junior riders. It's awesome to see the program still growing.”

Kyle Bloesser is another notable alumnus of the team. He’s a student at Doherty High School
and has always been a terror on the trails, horrifying the competition with adrenaline-charged whips
around tight corners. Put a bike under this guy and watch him go berserk, rabidly scooping handfuls of poison ivy to rub into his war-wounds and taking huge bites out of tree trunks.

“The Front Rangers was a great way to get introduced into the cycling community,” Kyle says. “I
really enjoyed participating in the group rides, and getting to ride with a group my own age.”

Kyle excelled on the team, winning two Colorado State championships in cross-country and
short-track, and was the overall series champion in the Mountain States Cup, a race that traveled all
over Colorado and attracted talent from every dark corner to toe the line. It was easy to see that Kyle
would be pedaling a Front Rangers jersey right into a primetime role in anything he did.

Rocky Bloesser, Kyle’s dad, saw it.

“From my perspective,” Rocky says, “cycling in general has been a fabulous sport for Kyle and
has given him the desire to not only succeed on the bike but he utilizes this self-motivating sport to
excel at almost everything he participates in – including his studies at school. The Front Rangers was a great resource to get Kyle introduced to the sport of cycling and to be better each time he rides.”

Kyle is riding for the BMC USA Development Team for 2013.

There’s also Laurel Rathbun, who joined the club early and struggled at the back of training
rides. She kept at it and has risen steadily over the years, reserving spots at the top of the race results and picking up sponsors.

“She has a great attitude and personality and that will take her as far as her riding will, which
continues to grow each week,” says Jeff Gibbs.

Laurel came in first place in December’s cyclo-cross state championship at the Cross of the
North in Loveland.

But Russell, Kyle, and Laurel didn’t join the club to stand on top of podiums and shake their fists
in victory. The Front Rangers Juniors Cycling Club provides the dedicated coaching and makes group
riding with other juniors available to any youth who finds an interest in cycling. The confidence, the
fitness, and the freaky skill development are bonuses. They were all on full display in Palmer Park when I caught up with the training ride and was bested on that rock jump. I couldn’t duplicate the confidence or the moves so I dusted off my bruises and fled in embarrassment.

Learn more about the club at FrontRangers.org, and join them for the club’s 2013 kick-off meeting on
Tuesday, April 2nd from 6pm to 8pm at USA Cycling at 210 USA Cycling Point, Suite 200.

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