Grand County High School freshman Eli Taylor joined the largest class to date of Red Devil Mountain Bikers for its 2017 season, which will kick off on Saturday, Sept. 16. [Photo courtesy of Melissa Nerone]

The Grand County Red Devil Mountain Bike team will kick off the 2017 season on Saturday, Sept. 16, at the Powder Mountain Ski Resort, just outside of Eden.

This year’s team has doubled in size: Nineteen athletes are on the roster, compared to 10 during the past two seasons.

Coach Melissa Nerone said the team’s members are very appreciative of the local sponsors who are the primary source of team funding. The team is a designated club as opposed to an athletic team, and it relies on donations to make all of its travels possible.

Nerone said the team hopes to continue its success this year, after finishing second overall in the state’s South Region Division 2 last year. Entering his fourth and final year is Tyler Moreau, who will be racing Varsity for his second season. Moreau has a pre-season ranking of 7 among seniors returning to race in the Varsity class. Varsity is the only category that combines Division 1 and 2 riders. Moreau will also be providing leadership to a predominantly young Red Devil team that is comprised of 10 freshmen.

Two juniors return for their third year of competition. Annie Kopell and Ridge Murdock are both racing Junior Varsity.

As the team’s only female, the Red Devils rely on Kopell – who has a pre-season ranking of 25 – in order to be competitive in the team scoring. Mountain biking is a true coed sport, and riders from both genders are needed for its team score. Kopell also competes on the GCHS girls’ tennis team, so she is quite busy, at least through the end of September, when tennis wraps up its season.

Three sophomores will also be racing JV. Griffin Shannon, Elijah Topper and Wyatt Gholson finished high enough as freshmen to move up to this category. All of these JV boys enter the first race with the following pre-season rankings: Shannon – 6th, Topper – 8th, Gholson – 10th, and Murdock – 15th. Joining them will be first time racer Derek Hansen, who is a senior. The boys JV category typically has the largest number of competitors.

The Red Devils will have two sophomores racing in 2017. After a very successful freshman year, Kenobi Clapper earned a #1 ranking for returning freshmen who will be racing in the Sophomore class. This is the first time the Red Devils will have a #1 call up at the first race. The last time the team had a #1 call up was in 2012, when Preston Bagley dominated the Freshman category. Joining Clapper is Simon Rutherford, who has been riding strongly since joining the team less than a month ago.

In its largest class ever, the Red Devil Mountain Bikers will be fielding a group of 10 boys in the Freshman category. Leading the group into the first race are Eli Taylor, River Martucci and Gail Leavitt. They will be strongly followed by Aidan Baird and Kyler Helquist. Rounding out this group are Jack Charlton, Rowan Murdock, Jackson Sorenson, Jayden Stocks and Joey Lacy.

For this first race, Varsity boys will race for 18 miles and the JV boys will race for 15 miles. All the other Red Devils will compete on an 11.6-mile course. The course will be doubly challenging, having a good amount of singletrack at a significant elevation of 8,700 feet.

After a summer of building up stamina and endurance with longer riding, practices have started to include more interval and speed work. While the racing distances may sound long to many people, the intensity level needs to be quite high throughout every racing minute in order to be competitive.

Nerone said that the kids have been stepping up to the challenges of hill repeats, going up Sand Flats Road, as well as intervals, sprint workouts and time trials on other trails near town.

Red Devils club doubles to 19 athletes