WARNER SPRINGS, Calif. — Round two of the 2010 SoCal Interscholastic League Series unfolded March 28th at rustic, historic Warner Springs Ranch. A total of 161 high school competitors representing 19 teams took to a 6-mile course on the high desert terrain of inland San Diego County — double the number of student athletes who participated at this venue in 2009, the first year of the SoCal League.
In full bloom with springtime flowers, the course proved to be as fun as it was scenic, consisting almost entirely of swoopy, flowing, smooth singletrack trail. Open pastures were linked together with rocky knolls that added some technical challenge. What the course may have lacked in extended climbing was more than offset by a strong wind blowing out of the east all weekend, making the exposed back side of the course a true test of physical and mental fortitude.
The Executive Director of the SoCal League, Matt Gunnell, was justifiably pleased with this event and the progress of the series. “We know Warner Springs is a bit remote, but the location is beautiful and the reception we get here is fantastic. We completely sold out the ranch; the dining room had a hard time keeping up with us. We had a lot of first-time racers here today, and that’s exciting. I’m so impressed with how much pride the schools and teams are showing, and with the level of parent and volunteer support. In only our second year everyone is upping their game. And there was a lot of close racing today; riders were pushing hard. There were a lot of sprints to the finish, not just between the leaders but in the middle of the pack, too. It’s obvious that this racing is being taken very seriously on so many levels.”
The top two teams from round one at Vail Lake two weeks ago swapped positions after round two, with Hemet High School narrowly edging the Newport Beach Composite squad. According to Hemet’s Head Coach, Pete Kirkham, “It was a tough race, really tough conditions with the wind. But our kids rode hard. We had two winners with Zachary Valdez and Brandon Kirkham, and Emma Klingaman moved up from Frosh/Soph Girls to place third in JV Girls, which was exciting and made the difference for us. After all the hard work we’ve put in so far, it was a lot of fun for the team to get on top of the podium for the first time this season.”
Zachary Valdez (Hemet H.S.) once again proved dominant in the four-lap, 24-mile Varsity Boys division, winning by over three minutes. Valdez said that it was not as easy as it looked. “I had a hard race yesterday at the U.S. Cup event in Fontana, and I was hurting pretty bad today. I sat back and waited on the first lap to see what was going on, just doing some drafting. The leaders got away from me a little bit but I caught back up and made an attack on the first climb on the second lap and was able to break away. Then I bonked on the third lap, but my Dad gave me a GU that picked me up for the last lap.” Valdez won that race at Fontana, too, by the way.
Placing second in this class once again was Tucker Trotter (Yucaipa H.S.). “I led the first lap with Zach on my back wheel, but then he got around and dropped us,” he explained. “I tried to work with my teammate, Brady Kiss, to gain a little on Zach, but we were too far behind. It ended up being a battle between me and Brady for second place. Overall I had a good day.”
The largest class of the day was JV Boys, with 55 starters. The fastest finishers were Chris Johnson and Casey Williams, both riding as Independents (and both having ridden the U.S. Cup at Fontana the previous day). These two were wheel-to-wheel throughout their 3-lap, 18-mile race, and concluded it with a bar-to-bar dash to a photo finish. Johnson got the nod this time, reversing their placings from round one. They will both wear leader’s jerseys at the next round, as they are tied in points.
“It was a back-and-forth battle with Casey,” said Johnson. “We tried to share the lead in the wind but it wasn’t really helping. There was a lot of lapped traffic at the end and it made for an extremely close finish. It was so close we had no idea who won until the results were posted. It was definitely one of my most memorable mountain bike races. I’d like to give a special thanks to my sponsors, Rock n Road Cyclery and Sho-Air.”
“Chris raced very smart and deserved the win,” said a gracious Williams. “I feel good about my result, and overall I had a great day. The races are very well organized and everybody is nice and encouraging, and that makes it much more fun.”
Alex Milewski (Newport Beach Composite) made it two in a row in Sophomore Boys. He was able to break away early in his 12-mile race by riding a short uphill section that became bottlenecked on the first lap — forcing much of the 34-rider field to dismount — going on to win by almost a minute. Zachary Bianco (Woodcrest Cycling) and Steven Gamache (Yucaipa H.S.) sprinted for second place, with Bianco taking it by one second.
Yet another finish that was decided by just a bike-length came in Freshman Boys, when Brandon Kirkham (Hemet H.S.) barely edged Nickolas Schultz (Independent). This was the second one-second victory in a row for Kirkham, who later reported, “It was a sprint that whole second lap. It was crazy. I guess I just wanted it more. I threw up at the end because I was hammering it so hard.”
Alexis Ryan (Independent) made her high school mountain bike racing debut a good one, winning Varsity Girls by a solid margin. This high school sophomore rode the first lap with series leader Tiana Row (Independent) and Leila Carrillo (Newport Beach Composite), learning a course she was unable to pre-ride. “After coming through for the second lap I decided I knew the course well enough and turned on the throttle,” stated Ryan, a nationally-ranked cyclocross and mountain bike racer. “The entire day was something I will always remember. It’s the first time I’ve ever been to a non-national event and seen that many teenagers getting together for a bike race. The atmosphere that surrounded the entire event was amazing and the support from parents, coaches and staff was something I had never experienced. I can definitely say that this League is something everyone should try. I hope I can participate in the races to come.”
Tiana Row retains the leader’s jersey in the class, and said, “I feel good about my race because Alexis is a great rider and I was happy to be that close to her. I will do better at the next race hopefully.”
In only her second race ever, Maddy Horan (Rim of the World H.S.) was victorious in the 12-rider JV Girls division. As she related, “I got a good start and kept a good pace during the first lap so I wouldn’t be too tired for the second lap. I made the pass for the lead at the end of the first lap. I had a little crash toward the end of the race but it was no big deal.” Horan, like all of the Rim of the World team, is looking forward to the next event in the series — in their back yard high in the mountains of Lake Arrowhead.
Jennifer Valente (Independent) was again the strongest of the Frosh/Soph Girls, putting in a scorching second lap to win by almost four minutes ahead of Lindsey Chase (Newport Beach Composite) and Alyssa Valenzuela (Independent).
We thank Cyco-Path Bicycle Shops of Temecula, whose mechanics staffed the The SRAM Neutral Support Zone at Warner Springs Ranch.
Upcoming series events:
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. For more information on the League, visit http://www.socaldirt.org or contact Matt Gunnell at email@example.com and 818-415-1133.
source: Matt Gunnell