Gina Grether is packing her bicycle and heading to France in a couple of weeks. She's flying across the Atlantic to compete in the world championships in "observed trials," a bicycle competition of precise, technical maneuvers over and around obstacles such as piles of logs and stacks of jagged rocks.
With her long, platinum blond hair, petite frame and manicured nails, it's hard to imagine this Steamboat Springs resident tackling 7-foot-high piles of tumbling logs and slick waterfalls while perched on two wheels with nowhere to fall. But Grether, a mild-mannered pastry chef, is so good at maneuvering the trials courses that she is the only American woman who qualified to compete in the world championship level for observed trials in Le Gets, France, this year.
"You've got to be pretty motivated to be at the top of your class," Grether said, pointing out that there isn't much opportunity for a financial windfall for an American woman who excels at bike trials. "Yeah, I'd like to buy a new pair of jeans this year -- but it's sacrificing a lot for the love of what you do."
Grether said she travels to competitions almost every weekend with her Team Flying Wheels teammate, who doubles as her mechanic and coach. The bikes used in observed trials are so specialized that having good mechanic skills is critical, she said.
Because she also races bikes in downhill and mountain cross events, sports she has to travel out of Steamboat to train for, Grether often rides motorcycles for a cardiovascular workout and upper body strength training.
In addition to bike trials training sessions, which she often squeezes in after dark, and her job in the pantry at Tobiano, Grether has a 13-year-old son who races downhill and a 12-year-old son who competes in trials. In this less-than-high-profile sport, she pays for her transportation and entry fees and rarely walks away with winnings, she said.
Grether said her greatest sponsor has been Tobiano, whose staff is supportive of her demanding competition schedule and is soliciting contributions toward her trip to France.
In trials, each competitor starts with zero points and aims to end up with the fewest possible points. Each person rides 10 short but technical course twice. There are no pre-rides to test the courses, and mistakes such as putting a foot down or touching a part of the bike to the obstacle, so-called "dabs," add up the penalty points.
The mission is to make a "clean" ride with no dabs, or points.
Demonstrating her prowess on her Moots bike, Grether reminisced about the day her son's friends saw her doing a wheelie as she rode down the street. She said it wasn't hard to figure out what they wanted to learn.
"It's the trend in biking -- terrain parks," Grether said. She said she hopes some type of bicycle terrain park will open in Steamboat eventually, whether it is at the base of the ski area or near Howelsen Hill.
Even though Grether competes on a highly specialized bike with no seat and a basic "granny gear" in the front, she said any bike will work for learning balancing skills and the kind of hopping she does in bike trials. Grether maneuvers her bike with fluid agility, as if it were a mere extension of her legs.
Trials riding is advancing rapidly, Grether said. She said that women now regularly compete at a level that pro men were competing at when she ventured into the sport. At European competitions, children get out of school and thousands of people show up to watch, she said.
In 2003, Grether went to the world championship in Switzerland. Despite a bad crash that left bone-deep gashes and a concussion that required six months of recovery, Grether finished in eighth place. She went into the championship ranked second last year, but won't find out her official rank for the 2004 competition until the last minute, she said.
Regardless, Grether said she is expecting a tough course and some tough competitors in France.
"I expect a lot of rocks and steep terrain," Grether said. Last year's world championship course included a harrowing descent down a rocky waterfall, she said.
Grether hopes to finish in the top five at the championships, which will be held Sept. 11 and 12.
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