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It Hurts So Good

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on the way to a national championship

SANDPOINT, ID –  It had been over  two and a half hours since the riders took off from Vermilion Bay on their mountain bikes, and I assumed it’d have to be another half hour at least before we could expect to see anyone cross the finish line. That was an erroneous assumption.

    Andrea told us her boyfriend/fiancé, Jamey, had set a goal of finishing the Vermilion River Challenge Mountain Bike Race in less than three hours, but I silently scoffed at the notion. Why, it had taken the likes of Clark Richman, Ken Barrett and Dan Streubel a full three and a half hours to complete the fifty-mile course in past years. Could Jamey Yanik finish it that much faster?

    The short answer is, “Yes. And he did.” At 2:51:55, Jamey came tearing across the finish line on a sunny September afternoon, 25 minutes ahead of his closest challenger.

    I shouldn’t have been surprised, I guess, since Jamey is, after all, the reigning Semi-Pro Men’s Mountain Bike Racing National Champion in 2001. It’s a feat no one has ever accomplished as quickly as he did this past summer. A freshman racer in the semi-pro division, Jamey, who recently turned 25, shocked the mountain bike-racing world by placing first in two of the four races used to determine the champion. He placed seventh in each of the other two, and the points he tallied in those races outdistanced the rest of the pack by more than 70 points. It was, he was told, the first time a first-year freshman had won the men’s semi-pro championship.

    For Jamey, bike riding began, as it does for a lot of kids, at an early age. He was riding BMX bikes in Simi Valley, California and developed some pretty good bike-handling skills. After he turned 12, his family moved several times, partly because, Jamey said, “Dad always wanted to get out of California.”

    Finally, in 1992, with his brother Jessie and his sister Darlene and their parents, the Yanik’s arrived in Priest River. Jamey was a sophomore at the time and spent half a year attending Sandpoint High School. Later they moved to Clark Fork, where Jamey graduated in 1995 with 21 other seniors.

    As a Wampus Cat, Jamey played football and ran track. But a serious knee injury during his senior year benched him for the season. Three years later he received surgery and a rigorous program of physical therapy to correct the painful damage done to his knee that night on the football field. The therapy included riding a bike.

    That was 1998, and Jamey was on a mountain bike for the first time, which, he discovered, was a world of difference from his days racing BMX bikes. He entered his first mountain bike race in May 1999 at Winthrop, Washington and placed first in the cross-country Sport division for 19 to 29 year olds. A month later he claimed another first place finish in Spokane, and he was hooked on mountain bike racing.

    Jamey won two of his next three races that year, and quickly climbed through the ranks to the expert level. In the summer of 2000, his successes continued to mount: first place at the Lake Chelan Mountain Bike Festival, first place again at Winthrop and Spokane, first place in three of the four Starlight Series races at Schweitzer, first in the Schweitzer Hillclimb, and first in the Lake to Forest Mountain Bike Triathlon. At bigger venues – the W.I.M. Series (Washington-Idaho-Montana) and the National Championship Series (NCS) – Jamey’s performances included a second at Mammoth Lakes, California and first place at the Fall Classic at Big Bear, California. Those experiences set the stage for his rise to national prominence early this year.

    His first race at the national level this year took place in late May at Snow Summit, California. Jamey participated for the last time in the expert division and won the cross-country race by more than two minutes. This convinced him to move up into the men’s semi-pro category. His application to do so was approved by NORBA (National Off Road Bicycle Association) and three weeks later Jamey was introduced to a new level of competition at Snowshoe, West Virginia.

    That was the second race of the season that would count toward the semi-pro men’s national championship, so Jamey started a full race behind most of the other competitors. The race at Snow Summit was also an NCS race, but because Jamey rode in the expert division, it did not count in his points column. He placed seventh at Snowshoe, six and a half minutes behind the first place finisher.

    A week later Jamey traveled to Park City, Utah for the third NCS race at Big Bear. His strength in the sport of mountain bike racing took front stage center when he eked out a victory over Steven Zdawczynski by a mere 65/100ths of a second. He repeated that kind of a photo finish in late July at Mammoth Lakes, California when he held off Kevin Day for his second consecutive win, this one by less than a second also.

    With the rare accomplishment of winning back-to-back NCS races, Jamey experienced the exhilaration of positioning himself for a national championship. One race remained, but his points total was way ahead of the rest of the field. In West Dover, Vermont at Mount Snow in mid-August, Jamey sealed the title, placing seventh. The quest for a championship ended and after just four races as a semi-pro rider, Jamey Yanik stood on the podium at the top of the world of semi-pro mountain bike racing.

    Here in mid-November, Jamey is currently ranked No. 1 in the nation among Men’s Semi-Pro Mountain Bike Racers by USA Cycling. One hundred fifty two racers appear on that list. Jamey Yanik of Sandpoint, Idaho will be the first name you see.

    This glory won’t last long for Jamey, however, since he plans to apply to race next year as a pro. Once again, he’ll set foot right into the most stringent mountain bike competition in the nation. But though the big times are ahead for Jamey, his interest in the sport of mountain bike racing had its modest beginning right here in Sandpoint.

    Jamey first bought a mountain bike from Bruce Trejos at Sports Plus. He was aware that Bruce had a racing team, but the real reason was to commute from Hope to work at Coldwater Creek in Ponderay. “Bruce,” Jamey said, smiling, “had an influence on me (concerning racing), and he said, ‘Give it a try; see what it’s all about.’” It may have been some of the best influence in his life.

    With each rapid step Jamey has taken, he has remained a humble, soft-spoken individual. When he was issued a license to compete nationally by USA Cycling, he said, “I was pretty happy, but nervous because I knew this was a whole different ballgame. The competition level steps up, especially in the national races. But I didn’t think about it. I was just having fun.”

    The fun got more serious with Jamey’s first national race, when he began to recognize his own abilities. “I never thought I was capable (of competing at this level),” he said. “I was intimidated and thought (success) was out of reach.” Then he won his first national race and “realized maybe I could ride with these guys.”

    “As success was coming, I just kept going with it. But success also meant serious time in training.”

    Jamey trains 15 to 20 hours per week during the season, which lasts from March through September. He’ll spend time now free-riding with friends such as K.C. Deane, a 16 year-old who, Jamey says, is the only guy around that can keep up with him enough to challenge him and make him work harder during training rides.

    A little over a week ago, Jamey traveled to San Diego for a session with his trainer, Garreth Thomas of Cutting Edge Training Systems. They met last spring and Garreth was impressed enough with Jamey’s abilities that he offered to take him into his specialized training regimen. Jamey says it’s been one of the best things he’s done. “Garreth has been very helpful. He’s helped me get to the next level.”

    For instance, Jamey’s heart can attain what he calls a VO2 max of 180 beats per minute, a level that would nearly be a heart attack for most of us.

    Jamey explains, though, that mountain bike racing is largely about conditioning. “Cross-country mountain bike racing is all about stamina.”

    And what about that knee problem he had a few years ago? “My knee still gives me aches and pains,” Jamey said, “but it doesn’t hurt one bit when I’m biking!”

    As for the future, Jamey expects to be competing as a pro next year, but on a more personal level, he and his girlfriend, Andrea Rarick, have plans to be married in August. They’ll just have to schedule the big day around Jamey’s racing schedule, which she is quite happy to do. “She’s been really supportive,” Jamey sighed. “She’s right there at every race she can be.”

    In two short years, Jamey Yanik has risen from the masses of people who ride mountain bikes to a racer who won a national championship. Has it been a dream-come-true?

    “This has been a really great thing that has happened to me,” he said. “Where there’s a dream, there’s hope.”

    This winter, his dreams stir anew and the hope is for another national title as a pro. Only time on the trail next summer will tell.


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Dennis Nicholls Dennis Nicholls was the founder, publisher, janitor and paperboy of the River Journal from 1993 to 2001. He passed away in 2009.

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