Thompson is off to the races in New Mexico

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, June 19, 2014

By Marl Schmerling
Green Creek’s Ethan Thompson is not only up to the challenge of downhill bicycle racing (which does not involve coasting downhill on a smooth paved road on a fat-tired cruiser bike!), but since switching from cross-country racing last year, he’s already earned first-place finishes in his new challenge of choice.
Regardless, the Polk County High School student is most at home on two wheels, and pedaling hard.
This Saturday, he’ll compete in a USA Cycling downhill race at Angel Fire Bike Resort in New Mexico. According to Thompson, about half of the New Mexico course is natural terrain, while half is constructed for this type of event.
Thompson recently finished first in a USA Cycling Pro GRT race in New Jersey, where the course featured among other challenges, a 45-foot jump. Readying himself for the New Jersey competition Thompson described himself as “nervous,” though his only mishaps occurred during a practice run.
With jumps and other rough terrain as part of the sport, downhill racers spend a fair amount of time in the air. “Being in the air is awesome, said the 17-year-old Thompson, who competes in the 15-18 age bracket.
As one might expect, bicycles for this sport are highly specialized, built oversized to better withstand brutal impact with the earth and other hard surfaces. Thompson’s current bike of choice was built by Lucas Shaw of Hendersonville, a World Cup downhill professional. Much heavier than even a stout mountain bike, and weighing some 37 pounds, this machine sports beefier and wider rims, tires and bars, as well as adjustable, rugged suspension.  If has but one chain ring, along with a nine-cog cassette. It’s no fun to pedal uphill, but who cares? That’s why they call it downhill racing.
“It’s probably my favorite bike,” Thompson admitted.
The New Mexico Race will be about six minutes long, he calculated. This year, Thompson expects to compete in about ten or eleven downhill races. “The neat thing about downhill,” said Thompson, is It’s pretty much year ’round.
Last September, in the first-ever Green River Games, outside Saluda, Thompson entered the Enduro event, in which competitors were timed for three downhill sections, between which, they cycled up steep sections of trail.
Not having a chance to practice on the course his ride at the Green River Games was somewhat of a disappointment, as he injured himself in one crash, but still managed to finish.
“This year, he vowed, “We’re ready to dominate that place.”
In national events, like the one in New Mexico, Thompson competes in Category 2, while in more regional races, he’s in Cat. 1. Among his upcoming downhill races two will be closer to home– one at Beech Mountain, North Carolina (close to Tennessee), the other at Snowshoe, West Virginia. At both, Thompson will compete in the Pro GRT series.
Each downhill course is different. Downhill racing courses do not always feature exclusive downhill terrain. In the New Jersey race, for instance, though Thompson went into the 45-foot jump at about 30 mph, the course just above that was not straight downhill, making it difficult to maintain sufficient momentum to clear the jump. “You had to get really tucked behind the bars,” he noted,  “and pedal where you could.”
Any type of bicycle racing is expensive– travel and competitive equipment are costly. At this point, several sponsors have staked their belief in Thompson’s talent and desire. They include Ryno Power, Renthal, Industry Nine and Leatt, as well as Tryon Health and Fitness, where owner Tina Durbin helps with Ethan’s training.

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