Coming into his first season as coach of the Tam High Mountain Bike Club, Paul Kundrat took a novel approach in cycling-crazed Mill Valley.
“I didn’t place a huge emphasis on results,” he said. “The number one focus for me for the entire season was fun. It’s high school sports, and I’m not an agro kind of guy. I just wanted the kids on their mountain bikes and having fun.”
But Kundrat, an independent bike fitter who formerly worked at the in Mill Valley, knew he had a talented group on his hands and that he’d be seeing more than just riders happy to be participating.
“If you make fun a priority, the results will come,” he said. “And we’ve had some great results.”
Take Dillon Charlton and Dominik Cinka, who battled throughout the five-race NorCal High School Cycling League season for the top slot in the sophomore division. Charlton won the season’s final race at Boggs Mountain on May 1 and took the season-long points competition. Cinka finished fourth in that race and second overall on the season.
“He’s like a steam engine once he gets going,” Kundrat said of Charlton.
The team features a wide variety of riders in terms of age and experience. It also includes Spence Peterson, a Mill Valley phenom who is among the the Junior road racing team.
Peterson competed in the varsity division of the NorCal League and ended up placing sixth for the season. As a road racer, he won the 2009 USA Cycling National Championship in the junior men's 13-14 category in Colorado, and topped men much older than him in grabbing the Cat B overall victory in the Bay Area Super Prestige Cyclocross race in Golden Gate Park in November 2009.
“Spence does his homework,” Kundrat said. “He’s not one of the kids who just kind of goes out and rides purely for fun. He definitely wants to get results, and he’s still on an upward trajectory.”
The team will cap its season Sunday at the State Championships in Los Olivos.
Like most high school club sports, the Mountain Bike Club isn’t supported by the Tam Boosters and is funded by parents. It exists outside the Marin County Athletic League (MCAL). The NorCal League, which was founded in 2001, includes teams from 37 schools, from Salinas to the Sacramento area.
While Kundrat is happy with the results and the development of his riders, he’s been most impressed by their demeanor – win or lose.
“If they win, there’s not a whole lot of celebration,” said Kundrat, a Maryland native who previously coached the Ann Arbor Velo Club in Michigan. “And if they have a tough race, they don’t get mad or anything. They just have a very good sense of who they are and how they should conduct themselves.”
Kundrat said he isn’t optimistic that mountain biking could become recognized team sport at Tam or elsewhere, primarily because of the perception that it is an inherently dangerous sport.
“It’s not like football, where your crushing yourself against the opponent on every play, but that’s the perception,” he said. “It says a lot about Tam that it has a club team. It’s incumbent on us to get greater sponsorship and visibility.”