TEMECULA, Calif. — Momentum continues to build in a big way for high school mountain bike racing, as was plainly evident at the opening round of the 2010 SoCal High School Cycling League Series. Now beginning its second season, a total of 164 student athletes representing 19 teams took to the roller coaster trails of Vail Lake Resort — a new attendance record and more than double the number of participants compared to the inaugural SoCal League event held at this same venue a year ago. The level of enthusiasm, quality of competition and involvement of coaches, parents and dozens of volunteers have never been higher, pointing to a bright future for the sport.
According to Matt Gunnell, the Executive Director of the SoCal League, “It was bigger than I had thought it would be in my most optimistic projections. We saw 110 percent growth in just one year. What bodes well for the future of the League was the size and quality of the Freshman and Sophomore fields. Many of the kids that came out last year were barely able to ride, and now in year two they are solid, competent racers. I believe that year over year, more of these kids will make bike racing a primary sport and hopefully move on to national- and even Olympic-level cycling. I hope we can keep feeding into that system. It was a great start to the season and what looks to be solid growth for the next few years.”
Matt Fritzinger, who created the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) in 2009 — and whose founding NorCal League drew nearly 500 racers at its season-opening event a week prior — said he could not be happier with the progress of the SoCal League. “I’m blown away not only by the fact that this event was twice as big as last year’s, but also by the sophistication and enthusiasm here; that’s quadrupled,” he stated. “And Matt Gunnell did a fabulous job in his first role as Race Director. I’d also like to say many thanks to all the volunteers who really stepped up.”
Based on the top three results drawn from both genders (one boy and two girls or two boys and one girl), the Newport Beach Composite team claimed a very narrow victory on the day over Hemet High School and Yucaipa High School. Andy Somerville, one of two coaches for this central/south Orange County-based squad, said, “The same thing happened last year. We were surprised to be in first then and we are surprised to be in first now. The competition is much tougher this year. What’s the secret? With our kids, when the race starts, they get serious.”
Zach Valdez of Hemet High School, fresh off a Cat 1 17-18 class win at a U.S. Cup event in San Dimas the day before, dominated the Varsity Boys at Vail Lake. The defending SoCal League class champion finished his four laps of the 6-mile course in just 1:20:24. After the race he reported, “My legs were kind of shot from yesterday but I felt pretty good. I tried to get some time on the others right from the beginning. One advantage was being able to ride the really steep climb on the back side of the course every lap. I think that made the difference.”
Yucaipa High School’s Tucker Trotter finished just over three minutes behind for second place and said, “It was my first Varsity race, so I’m pretty pleased overall. I’ve seen and raced Zach before and knew he would be pretty tough to beat. I battled with my teammate Brady Kiss for quite a while. I had one crash, falling right in front of everyone on one of the final corners on my first lap.”
The huge field of 64 racers in the JV Boys class was led to the finish by Casey Williams, riding as an Independent. Williams had also competed at the U.S. Cup the previous day, winning the Cat 1 15-16 division comfortably. Williams had his work cut out for him at Vail Lake, coming from behind at the start and then encountering stiff resistance from Chris Johnson, also an Independent. As Williams explained, “I was able to bridge up to the front and then a group of four of us broke away and worked together. I threw in an attack on the last lap that worked.”
Johnson rolled across the line less than a minute later. “I feel like I did really well considering I raced in Cat 1 17-18 at the U.S. Cup yesterday,” he said. “I led for a lap and a half until Casey Williams caught up. I grabbed his wheel until about a mile from the finish when he turned it up a notch. This was my first high school race and it was unbelievable. It was an awesome venue, all the racers were really friendly and there was a ton of competition. Usually I see a field of about five to ten riders, and this time there were 64. I loved being a part of the race and I will definitely be doing the other SoCal League races.”
Alex Milewski of Newport Beach Composite was able to complete the two-lap Sophomore Boys race the quickest. Zachary Bianco (Woodcrest Christian) overcame a mid-pack start to place second in the 34-rider field. Steven Gamache (Yucaipa H.S.) edged Weston Weaver (GUSD Composite) by just two seconds at the finish line for third place.
The most dramatic finish of the day came in the Freshman Boys class, when Brandon Kirkham (Hemet H.S.) threw down a furious sprint to the line against Alex Bagg (Yucaipa H.S.) to win by only one second. These two had been elbow-to-elbow most of the day. As Kirkham explained, “We passed back and forth occasionally but I think what made the race for me was when we duked it out on the last hill that hardly anyone could make up. I rode the whole hill and he had to get off.” Kirkham also had to contend with a skipping chain and eight cactus needles in his arm, a souvenir from a pass attempt.
Defending class champion Tiana Row (Independent) got her season off to a strong start by taking a decisive win in Varsity Girls. Instead of riding alone as she did most of last year, this time she was joined on the start line by Rachael Somerville (Newport Beach), Leila Carrillo (Newport Beach) and Jasce Goldsmith (Hemet H.S.).
Sophie Wilson (Santa Barbara Composite) was thrilled with her victory over 10 other JV girls. “I’m really happy about winning, because I have trained really hard and pushed myself as hard as I could during the race,” she stated. “I have really worked on my downhill skills and that’s what helped me gain time on my competition. I really had a great day of racing and cheering on the other racers. The venue was awesome and the course was fast and fun. Everything just fell into place for me.”
Rim of the World High School, which hosts the third event of the series in Lake Arrowhead, finished second and third in class with Danika Bates and Maddy Horan (who pushed her bike the last two hundred yards after her chain derailed within sight of the finish). Those results helped Rim place fourth overall in the team standings. As coach Scott Craft explained, “Our girls really stepped up today; they are our strength right now.”
Jennifer Valente (Independent) overcame a second lap crash to win by a minute over Emma Klingaman (Hemet H.S.), with Pamela Bogust (GUSD Composite) in third. “I had never raced with or even knew any of the girls in my class,” reported Valente. “Within the first mile I could see how everyone was riding and figured out who the competition was. I rode in second place with Pamela for half a lap, but then rode the rest by myself. I had so much fun racing and just being a part of the League. Seeing so many high school athletes interested in bikes was really cool.”
Upcoming series events:
March 28, Warner Ranch Roundup, Warner Springs, CA
April 11, Lake Arrowhead Challenge, Lake Arrowhead, CA
May 2, Cow Pie Classic, Santa Ynez, CA
May 16, State Championships, Grass Valley, CA
About the Southern California Interscholastic Cycling League
The SoCal Interscholastic Cycling League was organized to provide a well-defined race season for junior racers and to promote the formation of teams at public and private high schools. With the cooperation of local race promoters and our sponsors, the League organizes a first class series of races designed for high school aged riders. The League is working to make high school racing the easiest way for juniors to get involved in the challenging and exciting world of competitive cycling. The SoCal League was founded with a generous grant from the Easton Sports Development Foundation II (ESDF II) and is supported by other generous sponsors such as Specialized Bicycle Components, SRAM, Trek, Primal Wear, CLIF Bar, the Palos Verdes office of Merrill Lynch, Dr. John Gunnell Oncology and Turner Bicycles. The SRAM Neutral Support Zone at Vail Lake was staffed by mechanics from i.e. Bikes of Murrieta. For more information on the League, visit http://www.socaldirt.org or contact Matt Gunnell at email@example.com and 818-415-1133.