Longtime Rim Country mountain biking guru Wayne Gorry predicts a banner year for a contingent of nine Payson racers.
"All are in prime position to pursue the state champion jersey for the 2006 season," he said. "But they know from previous experience that over the next four months of racing, anything can happen."
Gorry's predictions came Jan. 28 at the conclusion of the first race of the Mountain Bike Association of Arizona State Championship series at McDowell Mountain Park near Fountain Hills.
Next on the agenda for the local riders, who are sponsored by Manzanita Adventure Sports, is the Estrella Especial Feb. 25.
After an April 1 race at White Tank, the riders will be in the Rim Country April 29 for the Payson Pounder.
The series wraps up May 20 with the double-points Prescott Punisher finals.
At the McDowell Mountain season-opener, Gorry paved the way for five Payson gold medal winners riding his way to a first-place finish in the 50-years-plus Expert division.
Gorry said he opened the 27-mile race in fifth place, but with about six miles remaining, he began to overtake the riders ahead of him.
At the finish line, he was a full three minutes ahead of the runner-up.
Winning is nothing new to the Julia Randall Elementary School teacher.
In September, he peddled his way to a second consecutive National Mountain Bike Marathon championship at Mammoth Lakes, Calif. and is a previous MBAA state champion.
Gorry's son, Cypress, followed in his father's footsteps by capturing first place in the 13- to 14-year Junior division. The 12-year-old opted to move up a division so he could compete in a longer race and face better competition. Even with the move up, he cruised to an easy win, besting his nearest competitor by about three minutes.
"Even though he had a slow start, leaving him in ninth place as he entered the 12-mile single track trail, he steadily worked his way through the pack," the senior Gorry said.
In the 17- to 18-year Junior division, Manzanita Adventure Sports' Eric Molitor picked up a first place, touring the course in 59:30.
"Eric competed in two of the series races last season and decided to contest the entire series this year," Gorry said.
Also from Payson, Ken Shepherd captured the championship of the 45- to 49-year Sport division.
Shepherd, who narrowly missed winning the 2005 MBAA state championship, covered the 21-mile course in 1:37:45.
"Ken jockeyed for position for the first four miles and then established a lead on the climb up South Ridge that he held until the finish," Gorry said.
In the 50-plus Sport division, Brian Goble overcame a broken chain and snapped derailer to win the event by about six minutes.
"He had every reason to quit, but Brian made the trailside repairs and began the chase," Gorry said. "By the end of the 8.5-mile-long loop, he had caught everyone but the leader in his class.
"He eventually moved into first and cruised to a win in spite of a bicycle that wouldn't shift properly."
Last year, Goble made his debut on the racing circuit by winning the NOVA Desert Classic.
The five Payson winners, Gorry predicts, "will be in the hunt for the title of state champion this season."
Also in the McDowell race from Payson were Trevor Titus-Zimmerschied, Daniel Conley, Brandon Christensen and Nick Payne.
Titus-Zimmerschied, competing in his first mountain bike race, was second in the 10-years-and-under Junior class. Payne took third in the 19 to 20 Sport division and Conley and Christensen did not place.
"Daniel's derailer broke and Brandon was not awarded a place due to a scoring error that hasn't been resolved," Gorry said.
Local bicycling fans will remember Payne as a member of the four-man team that won the Payson Stampede 24-Hour Race last summer.