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National Championships

The Gravity Academy Sets Sights on Gravity Mountain Bike National Championships

By: Jim Rusnak  June 27, 2023

The Gravity Academy mountain bike team has made serious strides in the three years since head coach and founder Cory Rimmer started the club. This year, they have their sights set on a National Championship close to home.

Coming off a big growth year that saw two riders compete in the UCI World Cup, another young rider podium in multiple events at the USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships, and positive development on the regional and younger side of the team, Rimmer is optimistic for this upcoming season — including the USA Cycling Gravity Mountain Bike National Championships, July 12-16 at Ride Rock Creek, North Carolina.

“Our goal is to create a pathway for riders to go all the way from NICA to World Cups,” Rimmer said.

About the Club

Now at the start of its third season, Gravity Academy is a three-discipline team that trains riders to compete in downhill, enduro and XC races. Rimmer operates the club out of Knoxville, Tenn. While most of the riders hail from the Southeast, Gravity Academy boasts riders from all over the country, including the Pacific Northwest, California and Colorado.

The ages of the riders range from 13 to adult, and Rimmer offers a complete coaching program with on- and off-the-bike training, two sports nutritionists, and mechanics at every event. Team members often fly into Knoxville for individual or weekend training camps at nearby Windrock Bike Park.

“It’s kind of like a one-stop shop for the athlete,” Rimmer said. “They can join the team and know they have full support in all aspects of mountain bike racing. All the USA Cycling National Downhill events are on the East Coast, so they’re coming to the East Coast quite often, and they’ll stay a week to get some extra on-the-bike training.”

A Big Growth Year

Last year, especially, was a significant growth year for Gravity Academy. Rimmer had two riders in the Junior Men’s 17-18 Class – Matt Mitchko and Austin San Souci – compete in their first UCI World Cup races.

“That was a big growth point and part of reaching our goal – supporting riders at that level,” Rimmer said. “There was a lot of growth in that aspect. There was a lot of development on the regional and younger side of the team, as well. Finding riders and supporting riders that want to be highly competitive athletes is something we try to do.”

Zanna Logar contributed to much of that success on the younger side, finishing third in the 13-14 women’s downhill event at last year’s Nationals and fourth in the XC event. Rimmer also had a few other riders finish in the top 10 at last year’s Nationals.

“We’re still fine-tuning the athletes and ourselves in terms of how to run the program,” Rimmer said. “I have to ask myself, is what we’re doing helping out the riders? It was nice to go to these World Cups and see the riders take the work they’ve been doing and putting it toward the top level. Those two riders started with us from the beginning. That allowed me to see how effective the program has been.”

The Outlook for This Season

So far, 2023 has been going well for Gravity Academy. The team has competed in a few races in the Downhill Southeast Series, which will serve as a tune-up for Nationals in July.

Top riders so far this season include Abby Wronca, who won the women’s pro division in the first race of the season at the Trials Training Center in Sequatchie, Tenn., and Logar, who finished third in the 15-16 women’s class at that same race.

“It’s a great series to prepare for the larger events,” Rimmer said.

For the men, San Souci will continue to compete in the 17-18 Men’s Junior Division. Mitchko moved up to the Elite class.

“On the female side, we’re looking really, really strong,” Rimmer said. “On the male side, we’ve got a lot of young kids, which is really nice. We had one kid win in a Cat 2/3 race, and we have three kids in the Cat 1 16-and under who – if they have a great weekend – will be in contention for the podium.”

Biggest Challenges

All teams face their challenges, and Gravity Academy is no exception. Rimmer said they’ve made a few small overhauls to the team this year and added a lot of new faces.

“Any time you have new faces, you kind of have to create a working relationship with the athlete – figure out what works well for them and what doesn’t work well for them,” Rimmer said. “That can sometimes be a frustratingly slow process, because if the race event is the test, those only come every so often. If something doesn’t go right, you have to wait a few weeks before you can try again.”

“We’ve had a lot of riders join the team who haven’t had coaching before. They’ve done it on their own, and they’ve been very successful. Sometimes a new coach can add a new variable for the athlete, and that can be a big adjustment for them. Whether it’s positive or negative, we must work through that to get the most out of the relationship. Those are kind of the big hurdles we’re facing now. It’s a never-ending cycle in that aspect.”

Goals for Nationals

Rimmer said his Southeast-based team could enjoy a homefield advantage at the upcoming Nationals at Rock Creek. They will be used to the dirt, the humidity, and the weather.

But he doesn’t want to overplay it.

“Being in an environment they know is a big advantage for a racer versus traveling to the West Coast or Europe,” Rimmer said. “They’re used to the track it’s going to be on, but it’s going to change so much that it’s not really too much of an advantage. Sometimes it’s a disadvantage because they get so used to riding one line, and then they mix it up, and then it takes them a long time to unlearn that.”

A big goal for Rimmer is keeping the kids mentally in the right place. He says athletes put a lot of importance on big events such as Nationals, and they tend to mix things up and try different things. Rimmer and his coaches try to keep them consistent.

“We really work on that at races,” Rimmer said. “We try to get them a program, get them a schedule and teach them consistency so no matter where they go, there’s a familiarity with themselves and their program, so nothing changes – it’s just another race.”

Rimmer has personal goals for each athlete but doesn’t share them with the athlete because he doesn’t want to put undue pressure on them. He wants to ensure each kid has the race he knows they’re capable of.

“It’s always frustrating to do all this training, all this work, and then something silly happens,” Rimmer said. “They make a small mental mistake on their race run, or they have a silly mechanical. Especially on the mechanical side, we can easily prevent that, making sure their bikes are in tip-top shape while they’re training and race running.”

What Would Make Nationals a Success?

Mountain Bike Nationals have been in Colorado for the last three events, and Rimmer said a lot has changed in the gravity scene on the East Coast since then. It’s grown exponentially, and he expects a massive turnout for this year’s Nationals, citing a test event at Rock Creek earlier this year that brought in more than 400 riders.

“I think that’s just a sign of what’s to come,” Rimmer said. “I’m really looking forward to showcasing East Coast Downhill and making it a large event that everyone can come and enjoy. Rock Creek does a great job putting on events. A lot of people from the East Coast came out to Colorado to do the first Nationals there. As the years went on, those numbers dwindled. I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of new faces back at the championships.”

As for his riders, Rimmer said, of course, that he wants to see them win, podium and finish in the top 10. But in the end, if they come away with a run they can be proud of, that will be a win for him and his program.

“We really consider results a by-product, not the goal,” Rimmer said. “Everyone loves winning; everyone loves a podium. Ultimately our job as coach is to get the most out of the athletes. If they feel like they’ve made significant improvements, and they are happy with what they were able to do, that’s a big win for the coaches.”

Registration and information for the 2023 Gravity Mountain Bike Nationals can be found here.

Events like these would not be possible without volunteers! Volunteers will get passes for Rock Creek, the Riveter, and a free whiskey tasting. Sign up here.