Pro circuit lures local mountain biker | AspenTimes.com

Pro circuit lures local mountain biker

Greg Reed
Grand Junction correspondent

Ross Schnell, a former employee at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, has put his career on hold to pursue a career as a professional mountain bike racer. He completed his first season for Trek as the National Off-Road Bicycle Association Super Downhill series champion. (Greg Reed/Grand Junction Free Press)

Ross Schnell came to a fork in the trail of life.

He took the harder of the two trails and pedaled like hell uphill.

That was about a year and a half ago. Schnell, 26, grew up riding the trails in Fruita “before the explosion of Fruita mountain biking,” he explains. He stayed at home in the Grand Valley for college, splitting his time between the radiology program and the Mesa State College cycling team.

He graduated with his degree in one hand and the 2003 NCAA Mountain Biking national championship in the other.

Then Schnell put up his bike and went to work full time at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs.

It didn’t last.

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His bike, and the trails, kept calling out for him to come back.

It was decision time.

“It was either see what I could do with the bike-racing thing or work full time and be a working stiff,” Schnell said. “I chose to travel and ride bikes.”

What a decision that turned out to be.

Last weekend while other working stiffs spent their Saturdays lounging about, recovering from a full work week, Schnell recently finished his first full season on the National Off-Road Bicycle Association circuit at the NORBA National Finals at Snowmass.

He finished sixth in the cross country race and sixth overall in that series.

He crashed in the short track race but still finished 10th nationally.

Oh, and he won the Super D, known as Super Downhill to novices – his specialty. He won the race. And the series.

And now, the guy who grew up first riding BMX, then mountain bikes with his sister, Rana, in the Fruita desert, is a national champion.

That would be the great ending to any story.

But for Schnell, it’s really only the beginning.

It’s not that Schnell didn’t enjoy his job at the hospital. Rather, he wrestled with the unrest long enough.

“I’d been toying with the idea for a couple years,” Schnell said. “You can only be a professional bike racer once in your life – and now is the time to do it.”

Schnell rode the NORBA National Mountain Bike Series last year without a sponsor. As he’s done from his days of BMX state championships and collegiate national championships, he kicked butt.

He caught some eyes, all right. Enough to earn a sponsorship from one of the top teams in mountain biking, Trek.

And what they got was an all-around racer. Looking back at his collegiate career, Schnell showed he was good when he won the 2001 national title in cross country.

But that 2003 title was the omnium, or all-around. That’s his specialty – having no specialty.

With the sponsorship came the support needed to excel on the NORBA circuit. Instead of paying your own way to events, then sleeping on couches to save cash, finding your own food, doing your own bike maintenance, he’s now taken care of and can concentrate on getting ready for the races.

“Having that support at the race is crucial,” Schnell said.

Schnell is, by most standards, living the dream. He’s doing what he loves to do, and loving every minute of it.

Thing is, there aren’t many minutes off during the season. Schnell said he’s spent all of about two weeks at home since March.

But, national championship in hand, his first full season as a member of Team Trek is complete.

Now, Schnell is headed to Europe to meet friends in Switzerland to ride the Alps, the Dolomites, “and whatever other mountains we can scope out,” he said.

Next comes fall. Other than joining three other Trek teammates to ride in a 24-hour race, his plan for this fall is to chill. “In the fall, I rest and just take a break. My physical training will start up in December again.”

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