Teenager Daniel Conley has returned to the Mountain Bike Association of Arizona racing series with a vengeance.
Competing Jan. 27 in the McDowell Mountain Meltdown held near Fountain Hills, Conley pedaled his way to the championship of the Junior Boys 13- and 14-years age division, covering the course in 54:38.06. His nearest competitor, runner-up Ryan Geiger, was almost two full minutes off the pace.
Winning is nothing new for the 13-year-old Rim Country Middle School eighth-grader who last year captured the crowns of the Payson Pounder, Prescott Punisher and Estrella Especial mountain bike events.
He also took first at the USA Arizona Cycling championships road race held near Mormon Lake.
Conley's win at McDowell Mountain Park helped erase some of heartbreak he suffered last year at the race when he did not finish due to a broken derailleur on his bike.
"That was tough, not finishing," he said.
Even though a "DNF" was tagged on Conley's MBAA racing sheet, his performance at McDowell prompted local mountain biking guru and state champion, Wayne Gorry, to predict the teen would become a force on the circuit.
Just as Gorry anticipated, Conley has rounded into one of the up-and-coming cyclists on both mountain bike and road racing circuits.
The Meltdown event is the first of five on the MBAA state championship circuit.
The next race, the Estrella Especial, will be held Feb. 24. The Whitetanks Whirlwind is scheduled for March 24. Also on the MBAA agenda is an April 21 stop in the Rim Country for the annual Payson Stampede.
Also for Payson
Longtime Rim Country cyclist and defending state champion Ken Shepherd said there is good reason local racers didn't dominate the MBAA event as they did in 2006.
"Most of us are moving up classes or changing events," he said.
As an example of the changes, Shepherd pointed to Gorry -- a three-time state champion and two-time national titleholder -- who competed in the Meltdown in a first-ever men's marathon challenge.
Gorry finished seventh in the field of 33 marathoners, about 20 minutes off the winning pace.
Shepherd, who moved up to Expert from the Sport class, was fifth in the 40 to 49-years age division.
Brian Goble also moved from Sport to Expert this season and was second among the 50-years-and-over riders. His time of 1:53.53.7 was about two minutes slower than event winner Michael Marinshaw.
In the Junior Boys 15 to 16-years division, Cypress Gorry took fifth and in the 11 to 12-years Junior Boys group, Trevor Titus-Zimmerschied was seventh.
The MBAA series wraps up May 12 at the Prescott Punisher. The racers who accumulate the most points in their respective age/experience division during the series will be crowned state champions.
Last year at the Prescott Punisher finale, six Rim Country cyclists earned state championship honors. They included Shepherd, Goble, Wayne Gorry, Cypress Gorry, Nick Payne and Eric Molitor.
Also from Payson, Titus-Zimmerschied finished third in the series, just six points out of first place.
The showing prompted National Off Road Bicycle Association official Dan Basinski to declare the Rim Country "a cycling mecca."
"No small town in the state had as many champions as did Payson," he said. "The town might also have had the first father and son state champions -- Wayne and Cypress (Gorry)."
For Conley, an MBAA state championship would be the stuff of which dreams are made.
"That's my goal, what I really want to do," he said. "Since I got my first (mountain) bike, I've been (training) to win a state championship."