In its second year, the New River Composite mountain biking team is expanding and offering its participants a chance to experience the beauty of West Virginia both inside and outside its southern West Virginia base.

New River Composite bicyclists compete in the West Virginia Interscholastic Cycling League. Organized in 2018, the league is open to students in grades 6-12 and currently features about 200 competitors statewide. It is a chapter of the California-based National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. The WVICL is one of 21 leagues across the country. According to its website, the league considers itself "a youth development organization, whose goal it is to build strong body, strong mind and strong character in our student athletes, with an unwavering focus on inclusivity and equality in everything we do."

According to Abbie Newell, one of the New River Composite coaches, the squad more than doubled its roster from its inaugural year in 2018, going from six members to its current 13.

The WVICL offers a series of five races in the fall, with leader jerseys featured at each race and a series winner determined at season's end.

"Most of our kids have made the podium almost every race, which is really great, and it's good to see how they've advanced in their bike skills from the first practice to now," said Newell. "And their endurance on the bike has really lengthened, too."

The local squad has two practices a week and a race every other weekend, which is "a big time commitment for families," she said. And many of the athletes also compete concurrently in other sports such as soccer or volleyball.

The New River Composite team utilizes The Arrowhead Trail, a 12.8-mile stacked loop system of trails at the New River Gorge National River, for training purposes.

"This is awesome," Newell said prior to a recent practice session. "These trails have been so great. You can park here and ride around and really experience the New River Gorge.

"And the kids get to see other parts of the state (when traveling for competition)."

The racers are competing in the Battle at Big Bear at Big Bear Lake Family Camplands in Bruceton Mills this weekend. On Oct. 12-13, the series will shift to North Bend State Park in Harrisville for Defend the Bend, and the final race of the year will be The Stonewall Challenge at Stonewall Jackson Lake State Park in Roanoke on Oct. 26-27.

The New River Composite squad consists primarily of middle school-level participants, Newell said. "We're younger in the league, which is great. Because we'll grow and expand and our kids will have a lot of time in the league."

At least one of the participants is very high on the program.

"It's been actually really life-changing," says Evan Nicolau, who is in his second year with New River Composite. "I've been biking for a long time, but I never really got serious about it until last year.

"I felt like I needed to be more involved with the community, and my parents let me know there was a bicycling league coming to West Virginia, so I thought I'd give it a try, and I really like it."

Besides improving his skills on the bike, Nicolau says getting to spend time with friends is an added bonus.

In training, the bicyclists focus on "endurance rides" in their Monday sessions and on "more technical rides" on Wednesdays. During the season, they follow up the weekly training with races every other weekend, said Newell.

"I would like to get a podium spot at one of the races this year," Nicolau said.

He embraces the entire concept behind the WVICL. "I just think it's very beneficial to get kids on bikes."

New River Composite took part in the Rally in the Valley at Canaan Valley on Sept. 15. In that event, NRC rider Tayler Sizemore, the points leader, captured the seventh-grade girls division. Her teammate, Kendra Dempsey, the points leader in the eighth-grade class, was second overall in her race.

In seventh-grade boys, New River's Gabe Hrabosky and Dustin Harrison were third and fourth overall, respectively. Judah Hrabosky was second in sixth-grade boys, Taylor Dempsey was fifth in eighth-grade girls, and Ava Nicolau was fourth in JV girls.

At the season-opening Little Creek Classic in South Charleston in early September, NRC's Kendra Dempsey won the eighth-grade girls division to lead her team. Sizemore was second in the seventh-grade classification, and Gabe Hrabosky and Harrison were third and fourth in the 7th-grade boys competition.

New River Composite sponsors include New River Bikes, Captain Thurmond's Challenge, Almost Heaven Paddle Battle, Canyon Rim Rotary, Meadow Garden, New River Health, W&B Fabricators and Rist Law Office.

For more on the cycling league, visit https://westvirginiamtb.org/.

Email: skeenan@register-herald.com or follow on Twitter @gb_scribe

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