ECCC Kingdom Trails Adventure 2014

Following up on its spectacular debut last year, the ECCC is happy to announce that its Kingdom Trails informal summer camp is a go for 2014! This year’s adventure will be July 9th to 25th, and the sign-up sheet is already live. Current racers, alumni, coaches, and all members of the ECCC community are invited to come hang out with riders from across the ECCC and enjoy fantastic mountain, road, and cyclocross riding together at the Kingdom in East Burke, Vermont.

The Kingdom

Kingdom Trails is a unique venue that has come to the fore in recent years, widely recognized as one of the best mountain bike trail systems in the country. Rather than a dedicated private park or a single public forest, the network has been built across a patchwork of land, coordinating dozens of landowners under the Kingdom Trails Association (KTA). Almost 100 miles of trail criss-cross forests, skirt cattle pastures, and duck under maple tap lines to provide extensive singletrack and doubletrack riding across a wide variety of terrain.

Riders will need every kind of bike they have for this cycling playground.
Riders will need every kind of bike they have for this cycling playground.

That variety caters to a wide range of riders, from families doing loops around the arterial doubletrack and fireroads to expert mountain bikers doing hot laps across extensive boardwalks and down tight, twisty descents. The system is extremely well marked, mapped, and labeled with difficulty markers, from the technical and higher risk double black diamonds, to the twisty, challenging blue singletrack, and then pastoral and very accessible green routes. Few trails include features particularly hazardous or overly difficult to new riders, making the Kingdom an excellent venue for beginning mountain bikers even as veterans thrill to the flow and sheer fun.

Many of the trails are also appropriate for riding with cyclocross bikes, from the fireroad gravel access trails to the less technical singletrack.  Combined with the many long Vermont dirt roads and climbs nearby, the Kingdom offers a substantial number of miles for cyclocross riders to train on and polish their trail skills.

Not to be left out, roadies will also enjoy the amazing riding in the area. Roads are in almost all in excellent shape and easily navigable, and there are many small towns nearby for great day trip excursions, lakes to cruise around, and mountains to ride over. Roadies are even encouraged to bring their passports and make a short trip to Canada, easily within riding distance for most racers!

Another beautiful day in paradise, cruising around nearby Lake Willoughby, VT.  Photo from Blake Rubin.
Another beautiful day in paradise, cruising around nearby Lake Willoughby, VT. Photo from Blake Rubin.

Adventure

In 2013 the ECCC coordinated renting a house for two weeks with beds for eighteen, less than five minutes’ ride from the trails. MIT also set up a substantial encampment at the Burke Mountain Campground on the opposite side of the trails.  All told, over forty ECCC riders came out at various points over the two weeks to hit the trails, play games, make dinner, and furiously contest Strava standings.

This year the ECCC will be returning to the same house, just to the northwest of the main cluster of trails on Darling Hill. The sign-up sheet is live right now, and space will be assigned first-come, first-served by payment. Beds are $20 per night. MTB and CX riders using the trails will also need a KTA pass, $15/day or $75/annual. Everyone is expected to pitch in to help make a dinner during their stay, and in 2013 a great variety of excellent meals were prepared. Laundry is on-site, and the Internet access more than fast enough for streaming the Tour de France on the big screen TV to be a daily post-ride gathering. Comparatively inexpensive mountain bike rentals are available from the bike shop in town, adjacent to the trails.

Riders of all ability levels and disciplines are welcome to come join the festivities.  No specific agenda or clinics are scheduled, but the trails are very friendly to beginning mountain bikers. In 2013 a number of more veteran riders lead introductory and beginner group rides while the experts went off to party bike on more intense routes. Downhillers and adventurous XC riders may also take advantage of the freeride and gravity trails on Burke Mountain, adjacent to the Kingdom Trails system. In addition to all the mountain biking, many attendees in 2013 also brought cyclocross and road bikes, with a number of great group rides held at a variety of ability levels.

Discussing the day's many adventures at dinner.
Discussing the day’s many adventures at dinner.

Catamount

To cap off the adventure, immediately following the ECCC’s stay at Kingdom Trails is the Specialized Catamount Classic race weekend, just east of Burlington, VT on July 26th and 27th. Many ECCC fat tire enthusiasts are expected to migrate across the state after their KTA adventure to participate in and spectate at the amateur and pro mountain bike races being held that weekend at the Catamount Outdoor Family Center, itself an incredible venue with great trails and an amazing cycling community and atmosphere.

Come Get Some!

All told it’s going to be another summer of amazing adventure and great riding for the ECCC.  Make sure to reserve some dates on your calendar between July 9–25 and sign-up for space right away!

The view from the front porch, ECCC summer camp 2013.
The view from the front porch, ECCC summer camp 2013.

ECCC Expands Juniors’ Racing in 2014

With the upcoming 2014 road season, the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference (ECCC) enters the third year of incorporating junior racers into its races, and is opening the fields up even wider. Previously juniors were required to race for teams that held USA Cycling High School club licenses. New for 2014, all full time high school students will be permitted to race in the ECCC with simply a USAC Juniors license. Those juniors will compete as an integral part of the collegiate fields, instantly creating twenty five high quality juniors races throughout the northeast US in March and April, featuring ambitious road races, exciting downtown crits, several team time trials, and multiple hill climbs and other individual TTs.

Growth & Experimentation

Incorporating juniors cycling has long been a goal for many within the ECCC, both to improve the early racing experiences for those younger riders and to better establish a recruiting pipeline developing new collegiate and then lifelong racers. Over the years a number of races experimented with separate juniors categories, particularly at Dartmouth’s L’Enfer du Nord weekend, Yale’s Lux et Velocitas, and the US Military Academy’s Spring Classic. With a diminished pool of juniors in the region though these were sparsely attended, almost exclusively by cycling teams from Killington Mountain School (KMS) and Deerfield Academy. This was further exacerbated by variances in the availability of these opportunities with the natural changes of the ECCC’s road schedule from year to year, crippling sustained growth. Similarly, several more novice juniors such as Victoria Gates (Fitchburg High School) began racing in the ECCC with the expansion of its Women’s Intro fields to all new women racers, but this left no opening or growth path for experienced juniors.

Headed toward the 2012 season, Peter Vollers, coach of the KMS team, proposed simply including the juniors into the collegiate fields at all of the conference’s races. After wide ranging discussion about USAC permits, potential culture clashes, increased liabilities, and other considerations, the effort moved forward and was an instantaneous success on the first race of the year. ECCC director Joe Kopena remarks “All those concerns basically washed away immediately on seeing how much it meant to the kids, particularly the girls, to have such a great, valid race, with a large field of other young riders.” The KMS team and Gates have since become fixtures of the ECCC circuit, competing throughout the season and even threatening to claim the vaunted ECCC season leaders’ jerseys. Tony Fedirko, Gates’ uncle and constant race day companion, says “The competition is excellent and the experience is invaluable to the juniors. All the schools have been very welcoming to us. We are also so grateful for the opportunity.”

Ansel Dickey (center) and Brendan Rhim (left) from the Killington Mountain School go 1-2 in the 2013 RISD/Brown/PC Men's A crit in downtown Providence. Photo by Jan Valerie Polk.
Ansel Dickey (center) and Brendan Rhim (left) from the Killington Mountain School go 1-2 in the 2013 RISD/Brown/PC Men’s A crit in downtown Providence. Photo by Jan Valerie Polk.

Increased Access

For 2014 that opportunity will be open to many more junior riders. Previously juniors were required to be part of a USAC licensed high school club to race in the ECCC’s collegiate fields. While straightforward to acquire for organized programs and highly motivated individuals fortunate enough to attend amenable schools, this presented major barriers to participation from juniors at schools with less supportive administrations, particularly the many who find themselves the sole competitive cyclist at their institution.

Beginning this season that requirement is removed, and all full time high school students with USA Cycling Junior licenses will be permitted to compete. The only additional requirement is that they race in jersey and bibs featuring their school name and/or logo, or plain cycling clothes.  Club and trade team kits are not permitted.

These racers will compete directly in all of the ECCC’s fields and are included in all of the team and individual season standings.  Notably, those fields include five categories for both men and women at all races, ranging from pro and elite racers in the A fields, to the beginners in D and true neophytes in the ECCC’s Introduction to Bicycle Racing category. The latter in particular provide an excellent opportunity for new, young racers due to their innovative structure: Each ECCC Intro race features veterans and coaches directing off-course skills clinics and course walkthroughs, followed by a coached, controlled segment on-course to teach safety and group riding skills, and concluded with a short but full-out, no-holds-barred race.

Onward Progress

Following the KMS team’s highly successful 2012 and 2013 seasons, head coach Vollers reports “I FULLY credit the awesome ECCC racing for my guys being in such great form this early in the season for crucial national team selection races like Battenkill. The conference racing is simply a dream come true for a coach trying to prepare juniors for elite level racing, or any level of good racing development for that matter. Moreover, the kids have a blast and they get exposed to all of the wonderful collegiate teams.” With so many categories offered throughout the entirety of its full slate of early-season races, and a universally praised atmosphere and excellent races, this new ECCC initiative is poised to drive significant progress in juniors racing throughout the northeast and upper mid-Atlantic.

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Victoria Gates (left above), takes 2nd place for Fitchburg High School in the hotly contested 2013 ECCC Women's C Criterium Championship at PennState's Frat Row crit. Photos from Katie Maass and Velocity Results, respectively.
Victoria Gates (left above), takes 2nd place for Fitchburg High School in the hotly contested 2013 ECCC Women’s C Criterium Championship at PennState’s Frat Row crit. Photos from Katie Maass and Velocity Results, respectively.