Little Wolf High School’s Justin Wentworth rode his way to a first place finish Sept. 29 in the Junior Varsity Division of the first-ever Wisconsin Interscholastic Mountain Bike Championships.
The competition took place on the newly constructed mountain bike trails of Cascade Mountain near Portage. Drawing a field of 60 racers representing schools from all over Wisconsin, the co-ed event awarded state champion titles to a boy and a girl in Middle School, Freshman, JV and Varsity divisions.
Wentworth’s mother, Marcy, said her son began mountain bike racing in 2009 under the tutelage of her brother Glen Stroik, a top competitor in the Wisconsin Off Road Series (WORS) at the time.
“Justin raced a few races a year those early years,” she said. “He was able to place fourth or fifth in ‘09 and similarly, he won a fifth, a seventh and a fourth in 2010.
“It wasn’t until 2011 that he really started to place well,” she added. “He placed second at the Iola Bump & Jump, third at the Wausau Big Ring Classic and his first win was at the Bear Paw Rock & Roll. That win got him noticed by John Gretzinger, the coach of the Fox City Youth Scarlet Knights team. Justin was invited to join their team and the following year, he started doing really well. With the Gretzingers helping by taking him with them to some of the races, he was able to compete in more WORS races. He placed third six times, fourth three times and second at the last race of the season.”
Things were about to change, however, as Wentworth joined the Manawa wrestling team.
“The hard work, dieting and especially the weightlifting left him lean and strong,” Marcy Wentworth said. “In the spring of this year, he started riding his bike to school and back home. By the time of the Iola Bump & Jump, he was in top shape. He won his age group and was first overall of the 133 male competitors of all ages racing in the Citizen Class. He moved on to the Crystal Lake Classic, where he won again and was fifth overall. He won first place in every race all the way through race No. 8, the Alterra Coffee Bean Classic in Franklin.”
Since WORS rules only count seven races toward year-end results and also requires the top overall finishers to move up to the next category the following year. Wentworth decided to move up to the Sport Class for race No. 9.
“Sport races are generally one lap more than Citizen,” Marcy Wentworth said. “The laps are generally longer and include more technical trail sections. That next race was the Reforestation Ramble in Suamico. The race was 24 miles long, compared to 12 miles in the Citizen Class he was leaving behind. He worked hard to prepare, going for 20- to 40-mile rides between Manawa and New London. The hills around Manawa are very good for training.”
The hard work paid off, as Wentworth placed second in his age group at the Reforestation Ramble and 35th overall with a time of 1:41. He moved on to the Treadfest in Lake Geneva, where he was second again and 27th overall with a time of 1:00:57. Three weeks later was the WIN Cycling race at Cascade Mountain and the very next day was the next WORS series race.
“He had decided to race in both races,” Marcy Wentworth said. “Justin used good strategy during the WIN race. He drafted nearly two full laps behind the leader. When they neared the finish, Justin sprinted ahead for the win. The following day, Justin was again out on the course for the WORS series race, but the laps were longer and more technical. He had a great race and it was a photo finish, as he was edged out of first by a mere 0.2 of a second.
Wentworth’s new passion for racing has also had an effect on his mother.
“I started racing this year as well,” she said. “It has been quite a challenge getting in shape after not riding my bike for nearly 20 years. Fortunately, these big hills around Manawa really help you get into shape fast if you are up to the challenge of riding on them. It has been a lot of fun and I now understand the extreme tiredness Justin always has after a race.”
WIN Cycling, a nonprofit organization dedicated to establishing mountain bike clubs and teams in Wisconsin schools, organized the Cascade Mountain event, which was open to ages 12-18.
The goal of the organization is to bring mountain biking to Wisconsin schools via a developmental pathway that includes the formation of clubs at the junior high and high school levels; team creation within these clubs; and interscholastic competition between teams. The group is in the process of assembling a group of volunteers in Waupaca to run a team/club out of Hartman Creek State Park starting in the fall of 2014.
“We will probably form a composite team out of Waupaca High School and allow student-athletes from neighboring towns to join the program,” WIN Cycling spokesperson Kathy Mock said. “The success of WIN Cycling’s efforts is dependent upon a range of fundraising activities, generous donors and sponsors and advocates. The organization is committed to providing a safe and fun co-ed cycling experience for students of all abilities.”
More information is available at www.wincycling.org or by contacting Mock at Kathy@wincycling.org.