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Tahoe mountain bikers loom large

Michael Traum

Not so quietly, Lake Tahoe is becoming a hotbed for mountain biking.

With its athletes garnering major sponsorships and gracing the covers of national magazines, the area is definitely blazing a defining trail in the up-and-coming sport.

“It’s a good athletic town and there’s a lot of competitive people who are fun to ride with,” said local expert-class cross-country rider Peter Alexander. “We’ve got some great trails. You can ride all day long and it’s a challenge to ride your mountain bike over the various terrain.”

Alexander, 45, who is partially sponsored by Wolf Creek and gets help from Tahoe Bike Shop, is just the tip of the mountain top in town. An extra special group of riders, especially of young pack of potential superstars, make up the core of what’s emerging.

Amber Ramos, Chad and Matt Gerken, Matt Mirell and Jennifer and Donna Kramer are just a few of South Tahoe’s young guns.

Leading the list in exposure and exploding popularity is the young sixth-grader, Ramos. Just 11 years old, she is currently on the cover of “Bike Racing Nation,” an industry trade magazine, and is backing it up with continual stellar performances.

“When the (other competitors) first saw me at races, they’d talk and be nice to me. Now they’re not as confident as before,” said Ramos, a primarily cross-country rider who began racing at age 8 and is now competing in the 15-18 junior expert class. “I’m almost always the only girl my age. The girls I’m racing against have been on their bikes a long time. Things have been going well so far. I’d like to take my bike riding to a higher level and share the adventure, self-confidence and accomplishment that mountain biking has given to me.”

And she’s well on her way. Racing for GT Bikes for a second season, Ramos has backed up last year’s fourth place at nationals with a solid start to 1998, including a first at last week’s race in Oroville, a second at the Sea Otter Classic and a fifth in the Napa Valley World Cup.

Meanwhile, off-roader Chad Gerken has landed a major sponsor, Diamondback. Traditionally a select company to hook up with, according to Gerken, the company is looking to expand its support of young riders.

“I contacted Diamondback and showed them what I had to offer and what my goals were as a racer. They thought it would be good to help me out,” said Gerken, 14, who finished fifth in the 16-under class in Napa, third in Keyesville in the sport class and fourth at Bogg Mountain in the 18-under. “It means a lot to be associated with such a great company. My goals are to be a really competitive world-class racer and plan to go places with mountain biking.”

Chad follows somewhat in the footsteps of his older brother, Matt. One of the first top-caliber racers to emerge from the area, the 21-year-old professional has been preparing for the upcoming season in San Diego.

“I’ve been doing lots of road miles and just training my brains out,” said Matt, who recently split with RockShox/Devo and is fishing for a new sponsor. “I kind of outgrew them. I’m waiting for the season to get going, so I can get some results and get some sponsorships. Right now I’m just on my own.”

Garnering a new ride shouldn’t take too long for Matt. He was ranked 18th overall in the country last year, third in the 23-under age group, and was on the national team. He wants to be the 23-under national champ this year, make the team again and do well at worlds in September in Quebec – all while aiming toward 2002 in Australia.

“That’s definitely a possibility,” he said.

Most of the riders are aiming toward the first Chevy Trucks National Championship Series race May 16-17 in Big Bear.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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