Local Junior bikers cherish time on new Thin Air Racing team
Originally Published: April 26, 2015 6:02 a.m.
Saturday's Amateur 50 & 30 Proof resultsPRESCOTT, Arizona - The Thin Air Racing Junior mountain biking team was established here in November 2014 to give standout middle/high school cyclists in Prescott and its surrounding communities the chance to compete against other amateur peers in races across Arizona.On Saturday, Thin Air's Alex and Drew Shumaker, Zoe Dunn, Phoebe Teskey and Andrew Mull had the luxury of riding in the Whiskey Off-Road's '30 Proof' amateur race - right in their own backyard in downtown Prescott and on the Prescott National Forest.Dunn, 16, who attends Chino Valley High, said this was her third year in the Whiskey amateur. She took second place in the Junior Girls category of the 25 Proof in 2014."This is my favorite weekend of the year," Dunn said. "It means a lot for all of us to have it as our home race because we can just show off, like, 'Oh, this is our trails, this is our turf.' "Alex, 14, rode in her first Whiskey on Saturday. She had planned on racing in the Whiskey's shorter 15 Proof on Friday, but felt confident entering the 30 instead because she's managed to keep pace with Dunn and twin sister Drew on longer rides. Like Dunn, Drew has ridden in the Whiskey for the past three years."This is actually the first year that I've trained for it, so this will be exciting," Drew said early Friday night from downtown, where she and other Thin Air racers had gathered to watch the Whiskey's pro women's criterium race. "It'll be a new experience."Related: Photo gallery from Saturday's Whiskey Off-RoadNine Thin Air members participated in the 2015 Whiskey. They are between the ages of 12-18, although the team does have an honorary rider from Prescott College.Mull, 16, started mountain biking since the start of middle school about five years ago. He began cycling seriously two years ago when he joined the new Prescott High mountain biking team as a freshman.In 2014, Mull won the 15 Proof in just over 1 hour and 37 minutes. He wanted to challenge himself with the 30 Proof on Saturday, aiming for a finish of under 2 hours and 40 minutes."I just wanted to go up a race, and next year I'm thinking of doing the 50s (Whiskey men's amateur) - moving up every year," Mull said. "The Whiskey's my favorite race. No doubt. We know these trails like the back of our hands."Thin Air's membership is mostly comprised of students from Prescott and Chino Valley high schools as well as Prescott's BASIS and Northpoint Expeditionary Learning Academy.The Shumakers are home-schooled, but they will attend Prescott High starting with the 2015-16 academic year because they are so attached to their high school team there.On Friday afternoon, less than 24 hours before the 30 Proof, Thin Air cyclists Hayden Rosborough, Grayson Hughes, Paul Fabian and Phoebe Dunn, Zoe's younger sister, raced in the 15 Proof to great success.Fabian won the race in 1:27:55, followed by Rosborough (second) and Hughes (fifth). Phoebe Dunn, 14, who goes to Heritage Middle in Chino, won the Junior female class and placed 14th overall."We hope to do it next year and in the coming years," Mull said of the Thin Air squad. "We hope to get more members of it next year, and make it a strong team." ***This spring, Thin Air has spent several weekends riding in the Mountain Bike Association of Arizona's (MBAA) state league, which sponsors races for all ages.Since Jan. 17, MBAA has conducted six races for Juniors. The final race of the spring season is scheduled for May 16 in Flagstaff, at which time state championships and series titles will be awarded.Mull said parents and PHS mountain biking coach Wayne Fernandez, among others, formed Thin Air to compete in the MBAA. Thin Air is currently ranked third in the state's six-team Junior field.Fernandez, who doubles as Thin Air's coach, said the squad has another purpose - to keep local high school riders in racing shape year-round."We put out an invitation to anybody that wanted to race in the off-season," Fernandez said, "and the fastest kids all showed up."Fernandez added that his riders practice on sections of the 15 and 30 Proof trails over and over again, "until they get it right."The Copper Basin Road climb; the Aspen Creek Trail (Trail 48), which is rough and rocky; and Trail 260, which is fast and rocky and drops into Copper Canyon, are among the toughest portions."We do training rides three times a week - Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays," he said. "Tuesdays, Thursdays is mainly strength training. We do sprints, hill repeats and things like that. And Saturdays are endurance rides, at least 20 miles."Two years ago, Thin Air's current cyclists couldn't keep up with Fernandez, 65, who started mountain biking in 1995 in Prescott and raced as a competitive amateur until 2003. Now the opposite is true, he said."They are great kids. They listen, they learn, and they accomplish what they set out to do," Fernandez said. "You can't ask for more than that."During the fall, Thin Air members ride for their respective high schools' mountain biking teams in the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA)."We all just knew each other from the (high school) races, and we're all friends," Zoe Dunn said. "And we're like, 'Hey, we're cool. Let's just join together and become like one big team.' And we're already kind of like a family, so it just made us a lot closer. We're just out here to have fun on our bikes."The Shumaker twins said they've been "immersed in mountain biking" their entire lives. Serious training didn't come until the past year, though. John Shumaker, the girls' father, is one of three founders of the Arizona High School Cycling League and the race director for the Whiskey. He also rides.During the Whiskey Off-Road, the Thin Air girls enjoy welcoming the pro cyclists to Prescott. Occasionally they'll bump into one of them on the mountain biking trails here, training on the days leading up to the race.They draw some of their inspiration to race competitively from 2014 Whiskey '50 Proof" pro women's champion Chloe Woodruff, an elite rider who now makes Prescott her home. On Friday, the Thin Air girls watched from the sidelines as Woodruff won the women's Fat Tire Criterium for the second consecutive year."She's a really big mentor for all of us," Zoe Dunn said. "She's an amazing person, and it's so cool to see her out here crushing it in the Whiskey."After high school, Zoe Dunn said she wants to delve into longer solo endurance races. Phoebe Dunn, who'll join her high school team in 2015-16, enjoys cross-country racing, although she's interested in learning more about cyclo-cross.Alex and Drew say they want to keep it fun as they grow stronger and faster on their bikes.And yet each of the Thin Air girls dream of riding in the Whiskey women's pro race as adults."That gives me chills, like coming out here and racing with these people that we've been watching race since we were little," said Zoe Dunn, referring to the pro women in the criterium on Friday. "To be part of it, just even now, is amazing. If we got the opportunity someday to race it as pros, all of us would be so happy."Follow Doug Cook on Twitter @dougout_dc