The first year of racing downhill mountain bikes has not gone as smoothly as Alex Deditch (or his mother) would have hoped.
“When you’re in the race, things don’t always go as planned,” said the 15-year-old teen from Wales.
That could go for getting to the race as well. Just ask Deditch’s mother, Christine.
Alex Deditch had a race over Labor Day weekend that to get to required an eight-hour drive. He and his mom hit the road just before midnight.
Six hours in, their vehicle broke down.
After being stranded for six hours at a gas station, they got back on the road and reached the race course at 4 p.m., just in time for Alex to get three practice runs in on a rain-soaked dirt course. The venue was so soaked that tennis shoes were not an option.
“We had to wear flip-flops and every time you took a step, the water poured onto your foot,” Christine Deditch said. “It felt awful.”
Alex crashed twice during his race and came in last place.
The two started for home and while heading back to Maine, they smelled something burning and smoke started coming through the vents and into the truck. Their vehicle had broken down once again.
“It was a very long and frustrating trip,” Deditch said.
Small wonder why Alex Deditch is one of only a few Mainers who compete in the world of downhill mountain bike racing, a sport where the bikes are built to go in one direction — down.
“Something about downhill is my thing, I guess,” said Deditch, a sophomore at Oak Hill High School.
Deditch got a taste of screaming downhill on a bike at the Attitash Mountain bike park in New Hampshire two years ago. He raced in his first Eastern States Cup race one year later in Plattekill, New York, where he met Dave Richard, another downhiller with Maine roots.
Richard manages Mathieus Cycle bike shop and is the director of the Central Maine Cycling Club. He invited Deditch to race on the CMCC/Mathieus team and he has not regretted that decision.
“It’s been fantastic,” Richard said about adding Deditch to the team. “Alex is a great young man. From a shop standpoint, it’s been a really good thing to pick him up and have him riding for us,” Richard said. “It’s good to have a young man his age who is committed and doing some really good things. It’s a win-win for all of us.”
“It’s been OK,” Deditch said about the season so far. “Over the course of the year, I have improved a lot.”
Alex grew up playing soccer and played lacrosse at Saint Dominic Academy and Oak Hill High School. But his passion is driven by individual sports such as freestyle skiing and racing mountain bikes.
Many downhill racers come with a motocross background and Deditch is no different.
“I never actually raced motocross, but I do ride dirt bikes a lot,” Deditch said.
Motocross (dirt bikes) and downhill mountain bikes have a lot in common. Both are meant to be ridden off-road, fast and are intended to spend a lot of time in the air.
“Some sections of the course are so gnarly, you will have a much better chance of making it if you are in the air,” Deditch said.
“We purposely kept him out of motocross because we felt it was too dangerous,” said Deditch’s father, Alan. “The guaranteed broken bones … we did not want to put him at that risk at a young age.
“Now he’s in a sport where there are even more broken bones,” he said.
Christine said the dangers of the sport often weigh on her mind. “As a parent, am I really making the right decision.”
“It’s tough as a parent,” Richard said. “Because what the competitors are doing going down these mountains have some huge consequences. People see this type of racing on TV and they think the riders are absolutely nuts.”
Richard said it’s not just about riding as fast as you can. “The riders are very tactical at how they approach the course. It’s not a game of hope. They are not just hoping for the best — they are really putting a lot of effort and preparation into the race so that they don’t get hurt,” Richard said.
Deditch said two things have made his first year racing a bit difficult — travel time and rain.
“Practice is difficult because the closest place is an hour away,” Deditch said about the bike park at Sunday River in Newry.
“It’s tough to practice because of the travel,” Deditch said.
And about that rain, “It’s been very challenging for sure,” said Christine about the consistent wet weather this race season.
“It’s already like an ice skating rink when it’s dry with all the roots,” said Deditch. “Then when you add rain and mud on top of that, at that point it’s not really about lines — it’s about surviving.”
Both Deditch and Richard are sitting in second place of their respective age categories of the Vittoria ESC Downhill Series as they head into the last race of the year at Mount Snow in Vermont. The final event is Oct. 15.
“When someone has a passion for something, it can be scary letting your kid do it,” Christine said about her son. “But at the same time, it makes them happy and there could be a lot worse things that they could be doing.”
“It’s nice to see him going in a positive direction,” Christine said.
Alex Deditch, 15, of Wales competes in downhill mountain bike races throughout New England and into New York and Pennsylvania.
Alex Deditch cruises over a jump during the Vittoria Eastern States Cup (ESC) downhill race at Pats Peak, New Hampshire on June 11.
Alex Deditch flies over a jump during the Vittoria Eastern States Cup (ESC) downhill race at Plattekill Mountain, New York, on July 9.
Alex Deditch rides through a rocky area during a Vittoria Eastern States Cup (ESC) downhill race at Sugarbush Resort, Vermont, on July 16.
Alex Deditch flies over a jump during the Vittoria Eastern States Cup (ESC) downhill race at Windham, New York, on September 17.
Alex Deditch, left, of Wales and his two Central Maine Cycling Club/Mathieu’s Cycle teammates Dave Richard and Mark Schnepel competed at Plattekill Mountain, New York, on July 9.