Published Date Written by Marty BaschAlex Couture is in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains ready to compete against the nation's best downhill riders. The North Conway native and 2011 Kennett High grad is among nearly 400 racers gearing up for the Mountain Bike Gravity National Championships in Beech Mountain this weekend. In his second year as a pro, the former KHS Mountain Bike Team rider is looking for a solid finish.
"I'm hoping to just have a consistent result," he said. "I'd like to say finishing in the top 15 would be a good result, but there are going to be a lot of people there."
Couture, 19, studies marketing at Champlain College in Burlington, Vt. where he's a sophomore. His summer is filled with racing and training, riding everywhere from the Pro Gravity Tour, a national series that takes riders to locales from New York's Whiteface to Arizona, to the weekly Wednesday Pin the Trail series at Attitash through Aug. 15.
Next month he's riding in the PGTs Northstar race in northern California.
But he's also competing in Bartlett.
"Pin the Trail is an extension of my training," he said. "It helps my mental game. Being in the starting gate helps you become more comfortable with the thought of racing your bike. You get nervous and this helps calm me down."
The series has been a tremendous boost to Couture making him more familiar with the gate, timed runs and improving his technical skills. He's in his third year and was the overall winner last season.
Couture grew up riding in the valley, chasing his parents Jane and Mike and older friends on rides developing skills and a passion for the sport. At 10, his mom brought him to Sunday River to watch a downhill race with friends Kyle Hickey and Pat Noonan in it. He was hooked and a year later was riding the Attitash bike park.
"A rider will quickly pick up the necessary skill and courage to ride downhill by spending time on the cross country trails," he said. "Many of the local cross country trails offer just enough pitch to make a rider familiar with descending and bike position."
He advises those starting out to take things slowly, first mastering basics before picking up speed.
As an amateur Couture competed in a pair of European World Cup races—2009 in Austria, 2010 in Italy— finishing both in the middle of the pack.
He also races in the Eastern States Cup, a 14-stop series that's a building block to the national circuit. The competition isn't as intense there, and he consistently finishes around the top 10.
Couture has raced for companies like Michelin Tires, Kona, Ryno Power Sports Supplements, Smith Optics and Renthal. He's worked with Boston-based videographer Tom Guilmette doing videos that can be found on YouTube.
As a pro, he's often humbled by the quality of competition. But it motivates him.
"I know I can be top five," he said. "It's just a matter of when it will happen. I make little mistakes in races that shouldn't be happening, like broken chains, but you work harder, reevaluate and improve what you are doing," he said.
Couture trains by riding, running and hitting the gym with cross-fitness workouts that help him with strength, speed, endurance and agility. He also is focused on nutrition, avoiding sugars and white flour.
He's coached by an Australian legend, former World Cup racer Jared Rando. But Rando lives in Canberra, about a three hour drive from Sydney.
So they Skype.
Downhill mountain biking—a time trial— takes steeled nerves and exacting skills as riders navigate steep pitches, obstacles and jumps at breakneck speeds.
It can be terrifying.
"I do scare myself quite often," says Couture. "I make mistakes and crash a good amount. But it's all learning experiences that better my riding."
Spoken like a pro.
The 12th annual NEMBA mountain bike weekend is July 28-29. Saturday includes new trail building at 8:30 a.m. (meet at Echo Lake State Park), a 2 p.m. ride followed by a barbecue and party. Sunday's a 10 a.m. ride. Get more info at www.wmnemba.org.