Gerken competes at worlds |

Gerken competes at worlds

Steve Yingling

You’d think that Matt Gerken might be carrying the world on his shoulders this time of year.

After all, the South Shore professional mountain bike enters the World Mountain Bike Championships this week in Switzerland without a sponsorship for next season.

“I really don’t feel like it’s pressure, but for myself I want to have a a good race. I want to do it for myself, parents, and all of my fans. I could care less about sponsors, really,” said the 20-year-old Rock Shox Devo rider.

Entering his second world championships as a professional, Gerken likes his chances of bettering last year’s 27th-place finish in the under-23 division.

“This year I’m looking for a top-10, that’s my goal,” he said. “I know I’ll be able to have a great race over there because I’ve been prepared for it through all the World Cup races I’ve been doing this year.”

Last year, Gerken overcame a crash at the start to work his way back from third to last out of 108 starters to 27th.

“I was real happy because I had just upgraded to that category (19-22) and I had a lot of ground to make up,” said the five-time world championships participant. “It’s the top race in the world other than the Olympics, and not everybody can go to the world championships. Each year, I have a goal of making the national team.”

Gerken completed the five-race National Off Road Bicycling national series third among riders 19-22, earning him a spot in the world championships. The second-year pro felt his best performance on the cross-country circuit were at Snoqualimie, Wash., 14th overall, first under-23; Red Wing, Minn., 22nd overall, third under-23; Seven Springs, Penn., 25th, second under-23; and at a World Cup event at Mount St. Anne, Quebec, 50th overall, fourth American. In the latter race, Gerken came in ninth in the under-23 division, indicating that his goal of a top-10 at the world championships is very realistic. Perhaps, a world title is within his reach as well.

“I guess, it is. I would have to have the race of my life. In my category, there’s some real tough competition. Some of the guys I have been racing against have already won two to three World Cups,” he said.

Through his rookie and sophomore seasons as a pro, the 1995 South Tahoe High graduate has felt somewhat like the main character in “Breaking Away” when the aspiring Italian cyclist encountered some Italian racers for the first time.

“A lot of the pros feel threatened because I am the young guy out there to take their job. There’s bumping with handle bars with somebody that doesn’t want you there. It’s frustrating, but you keep on pedaling and if you end up beating them, you feel real good. Then again, a lot of them are really supportive because I’m the next generation,” Gerken said.

Nevertheless, Gerken plans on making mountain bike racing a career.

“I’m looking up to 35, maybe 40 years old, quite a long career,” Gerken said. “My dream was to become a pro, and I always thought that was out of reach. But I kept on riding and it finally happened. I’m having a great time.”

As Tahoe’s most high-profile mountain bike racer, Gerken obviously will have a lot or aspiring pros cheering for him at home.

“He is undoubtedly the leader for all mountain biking in Tahoe. He is our hope for U.S. cycling in the near future,” said 10-year-old Amber Ramos, an 18-and-under NORBA champion. “Matt is one of the main reasons I ride. He is a huge inspiration. He gives me hope that I could someday be as accomplished a rider as he is.

Gerken’s younger brother, Chad, concurs.

“He’s not just my big brother, but a big brother to all younger riders and racers,” said Chad, who recently won a NORBA national title in the 14-and-under hillclimb in August.

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