Nationally sanctioned mountain bike race to kick off in Leland

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LELAND — After more than two years of planning, the first NICA race will be held in North Carolina. Over 200 teens are scheduled to attend and race in the inaugural mountain biking series which starts March 11 in Leland. Held at the Brunswick Nature Park on River Road, the race will kick off a series of five North Carolina NICA races planned for 2017 in cities like Davidson, Greensboro and Wilkesboro.

The National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) is the only national cycling program in the country dedicated solely to putting on mountain bike races just for teenagers. Since launching in 2009 NICA has soared in popularity, hosting races in 17 states across the U.S. This month North Carolina becomes number 18.

“It really is a huge deal,” said Glenda Browning, executive director of the Leland Tourism and Development Authority. “Leland was instrumental in North Carolina becoming sanctioned as an official NICA state.”

The local NICA bid was initiated by Mike Long, a local father with a daughter who loves to mountain bike.

“We were watching the Tour de France, all these bikers on road bikes going amazingly fast, her eyes got real big, she said, ‘Daddy, are there races for mountain bikes?’. I said if grown men race lawn mowers, I bet they have races for mountain bikes,” Long said with a laugh.

Once Long learned about NICA, he submitted a bid to bring it to North Carolina.

“It had to happen for my daughter and it had to happen for the kids of North Carolina,” Long said.

Browning partnered with Long to bring the NICA race to Leland’s Brunswick Nature Park, which had just been newly equipped with mountain bike trails.

“Cape Fear SORBA (Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association) raised money and made trails for us just like the ones you have in the mountains with rock beds and streams and hills,” Browning said.

Spanning 912 acres and three different tracks, SORBA enabled a mountain bike sanctuary to exist in a coastal town.

Five races are scheduled from March through May, stretching from the coast to the mountains. The series means huge exposure for Leland and the Brunswick Nature Park.

“This is such an exciting opportunity to bring people in from all over to Leland and if they like us and like the area, they will come back,” Browning said.

NICA’s goal is to create life-long cyclists exposing teens to healthy living and clean competition.

“There’s not a bench, there are not cuts with this,” Long said. “The point is to get kids into riding a bike and get them out there.”

Registration is still open and filling up fast, visit http://www.northcarolinamtb.org/race-series/ to sign up.

-Content provided by Glenda Browning

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