I spent a year and a half traveling the country camping every night for a graduate program. I saw a LOT of camping set ups during that time from dig your own latrines to warm running water and well lit bathrooms with roofs. When we checked into our Beals Point campground after pre ride on Saturday afternoon, I felt like we’d hit the campground jackpot. The place was beautiful, both in the spring season bloom and general care. Tent spots were flat, secluded and integrated beautifully into the lush natural landscape. Vegetation was groomed like a well cared for garden. I was stoked.
After back-to-back-to-back Saturday races in Monterey, we finally had a change both in location and race day. For race number four we headed up to lake Folsom, near Sacramento for a weekend of radness at Granite Bay.
With a leasuirely Saturday drive behind us we hit the trail as a group of three coaches and three team riders. Coach Tara had gone out with Jacob to get a head start on the lap and quickly myself, Emilio, Sergio and Coach Spencer were on course sessioning lines and talking strategy. “You’re going to need to get off your bike on this course.” I instructed. “Maybe because you can’t ride a section but more likely because of a pile up after someone in front of you bobbles or falls over and backs up everyone behind them. You need to prepare for this in advance and avoid falling yourself. Pick a spot to get off your bike, pick it up like this and run around the mess.”
We practiced jumping off our bikes and running with them up and over rocks and other obstacles and then jumping back on when the coast was clear.
Going into this race some riders had a new kind of goal. Sergio and Emilio wanted to try and earn a qualifying spot for the state championship race at the end of May. Due to high demand in impacted race classes such as the Freshman and JV boys, riders who want to participate in the state championship race have to qualify by earning a race result in a top percentile. For Sergio and Emilio, racing in the Freshman boys category, they need to get in the top 60% in just one race to be eligible.
“Even if you get a qualifying race result, you may not be able to race in states because of the 100 person cap the league puts on each category. When 100 kids in a division register for states, they’re full” I tell them, “even if you got first at every race, if you don’t register in time you might miss your shot. So you have to qualify and there has to be a spot for you.”
It would be hard work to get there. Emilio and Sergio were up for the challenge. And so with the challenge in mind we traced our way through the course for a second time, closer to race pace without stopping to see how it felt when moving more quickly. ”Smooth is fast, and fast is smooth.” I yell back as we roller coaster our way along the course. “Carry your momentum and get low!”
The sun was already making a statement when we arrived to the course. We found our way to a parking spot and instantly sought out a shady place to hang out. We set up, warmed up and caloried up and then cheered on the lady rippers at their 9am start time.
Harrison was our first team member to tow the line. It was his second race of the season and coming off of an unfortunate start to his first race that involved chain suck at the beginning of the Laguna Seca race, he was ready to rock. 15 yards off the start line and another rider bobbled and ejected onto Harrison like a linebacker going for a huge tackle. Harrison was knocked clean off of his bike into the starting chute tape. He rose quickly only to find that his chain had sucked right into his frame again. Double whammy!
Harrison figured it out, dusted himself off and was off to the race! Sergio and Emilio were up next, excited to make a go at a qualifying time. Although we tried to get a good starting spot, their general call up and late arrival to the starting area meant they would start the race dead last. We motivated them to move up in the field of racers as soon as possible and just keep making putting riders behind them throughout the relatively short two lap race.
Sergio and Emilio came through the feed zone about one minute apart with Sergio leading and looking strong. For the first time in the season coaches were counting race positions to help understand our riders place in the race. With both riders vying to place in the top 60% of their Freshman Division 2 field, we were communicating to them where they were in the pack and giving encouragement at strategic spots along the course. Mostly the encouragement was some form of “LET’S GO!!!” But also included things like “Andelé!” and “Dig, dig, dig!”.
About one mile from the finish line the course funneled out of a ripping singletrack section to a gravel and then paved road. This was the final section to make a move on your competition or hold them off. This was the make or break spot since shortly after the brief road section the trail turned back to twisty fast singletrack which made passing difficult at best and dangerous at worst.
On the last lap coaches gathered at the road section counting Freshman riders coming through. “1, 2, 3...18, 19, 20. Where’s Sergio? Any sign of Emilio?” Our initial count of riders in their field at the start was 39 riders which meant they had to come in 24th place or better to secure a qualifying spot for State Championships. “21, 22, where is Serg-there’s Sergio!”
“Is he in qualifying position? How far out is the next rider up?” We scrambled as Sergio approached. “I think he’s in this. The next rider up is about 8-10 seconds ahead of him. “GO SERGIO! GO!” I jumped on my bike and took off to try and beat him to the finish line via a paved side road off course. As I rode I caught glimpses of Sergio moving along the course through breaks in vegetation. I yelled out when I saw Sergio softening up his pedal strokes and seeming to relax. “Go hard Sergio! Last push!” He didn’t know where the voice was coming from but instinctively complied, torquing his body into pedal strokes full of power.
Sergio came across the finish line with his head up. “Did I get it?” he gasped. “I’m not sure but you are right in there. You came across the line right where you needed to be. Amazing race Sergio.” His family swarmed in to congratulate him and before we knew it Emilio came across the finish line looking spent. We hugged and high fived and congratulated his great effort. Then it was time to check the results to see if Sergio had made the cut.
I pulled up the live race results and it showed Sergio had placed 23rd. My calculations showed he had just barely made the cut for a qualifying position. One position back and he would have missed it. We cautiously celebrated. “We’ve got to wait for the final results but right now they’re showing Sergio in 23rd out of 39 racers. I think he did it.”
At Norcal races, as one race is ending, another is about to begin. We often have to cut celebrations short to shift focus to the next rider and race and today was no exception. Hunter was up next and preparing to warm up and line up for the JV race. This was Hunters second race and in the three weeks between the last race (his first) and this one he’d been putting in the time, effort, and miles with the intention of putting a major dent in his last race position. Even in three weeks we’d all seen Hunter ‘level up’ as a rider. Now was the time to see how all the hard work paid off.
Hunter took off with three laps to go, making passes straight out of the gate. When he came around to the feed zone after his first lap he tomahawked his water bottle 25’ in the air as omage to his first race when he almost took a girls head off overhand throwing his water bottle at 90mph. We laughed and shook our heads. “Oh Hunter.”
Hunter smashed his way to an impressive 30th place finish, jumping almost 10 spots from his first race a couple weeks before. He was spent upon crossing the finish line, but managed to eek out a smile letting us know there was fun being had underneath the pain and heavy breathing racing 18 miles on a mountain bike can produce.
We packed up in the blazing sun that had beat down on us all day and took deep tired breaths as you do when hours of action finally subside. We had another successful race. Our fourth as a team. Riders continue to improve and more importantly have fun. We’ll be back to Granite Bay.
Next up, the Norcal Conference Championship at Six Sigma Winery in Clearlake. We’re looking forward to ending our season with a bang camping alongside the rest of our Norcal community and seeing if any of our riders have any luck with one last chance to qualify for states. Until then...