When Monday of race week rolls around the mind begins to shift into planning mode. Logistics and prep take a front seat as plans begin to shake out.
Are you coming? Do you need a ride? Where are you staying? Are you camping? Are you racing? Is your family coming? Is your bike in working order? Have you registered? Do you have a sleeping bag? And on and on and on.
Add in a few practices during the week and the days leading up to the race seem to fly by in a blur of to-do lists and endless follow up. But then you wake up and it’s Friday morning. You pack the car, check your final to-do list and like pushing the pedals at the beginning of a long ride, before you know it you're off and the adventure begins.
Race Day Eve
After a pretty steep first race learning curve we were feeling more settled as we drove down to Monterey on Friday afternoon for our second race. We left earlier, traffic wasn't as bad, the playlist was fire and the conversation moved from race questions and anticipation to immigration, school, work, the weather. We arrived to the race venue at Laguna Seca to the roar of Porsches burning rubber on the nearby car race track, an audible reminder that we too were there to burn some laps on the adjacent dirt.
Six of us suited up in the parking lot, fastened helmets and made our way to the starting line to ride a lap together and check out Laguna Seca for the first time. After a short fire road climb the course hit singletrack and then picked up speed on a wide open fire road descent. It was short lived though. Before we knew it we were grunting up a paved climb that led into a super steep and rutted dirt section in the trees. After we punched up to the top things leveled out just long enough to catch our breaths before turning downward on a flowy singletrack trail that brought smiles to everyone's face.
From chapparal to open fields, the trail twisted and turned through open meadows, alive with the green of springtime. The course was as lively as the dozens of other preriding teams out on course with us, exchanging hellos and “Hey aren’t we lucky to be out here?” sentiments.
We made our way up the infamous “Hurl Hill“ without losing our lunch (bonus!) and kept right on going through to the feed zone stopping to take in the sweeping views and talk strategy. “When you get to this part of the course on your last lap, grab a gear and TURN IT UP all the way to the finish!”
We collected in the parking lot and chatted about how each rider would approach the course the next day-when to go hard, when to ease up and recover, when to make a pass or let someone go. Then, we packed up the bikes and drove to our nearby campsite.
At the campsite we got settled into our sites, unpacked and started setting up tents. With the sun setting overlooking a valley below we raced to blow up sleeping pads and stake down everything before our natural light was lost for the day.
We loaded up again to head to dinner where we’d meet up with another part of our crew, two more student athletes and another coach. We ordered two extra large pizzas and gathered together to catch up and wait for two delicious pies to come our way. Hungry, we dove in as soon as the pizzas hit the table, but not before snapping a pic of our stellar crew.
After dinner we caravaned back to the campsite where we got to work lighting a campfire and settling in for our nighttime activities. Lily and Alex had joined us in the car that arrived for dinner and we not planning on racing the next day. They took it upon themselves instead to bring the night activities and food extravaganza. As soon as the fire was lit, the bacon came out, the jalapeños were cut, a pot went on the grill with eggs inside and the picnic table turned into a bustling food prep area. We would be dining on jalapeño poppers with cream cheese and bacon to start and subsequent courses would get more interesting.
After some good laughs and delicious culinary adventures kids started peeling off to their tents, the telltale sign it is time for bed. As the logs turned from flames to embers students could be heard drifting off into dreamland.
We awoke just past dawn to dew covered tents and a misty morning with fog flitting through the adjacent hillsides. Tents were shook, slumbers interrupted and student grumbles heard. “It’s race day! It’s race day! Get up, it’s race day!”
We loaded up again and took off to the race venue to set up our team canopy tent and get ready for the day ahead. We arrived around 7:20am and the venue was already abuzz with activity. Grills were going, coffee was being poured and we were running around fixing things, headed to registration, greeting arriving riders and coaches and getting the blood flowing for a long day ahead.
Before we knew it it was time to warm up. Coaches and student riders jumped on bikes and took to some nearby white gravel roads to spin up the legs and get ready to explode on the race course. We passed by San Francisco Composite as we warmed up, going in opposite directions as we got in the zone.
After warming up we headed back to our team area for last minute tasks including water bottle fill ups, snacks and some mechanical fixes. Then we shuttled up to the start line to find our place in our race groups. It was Harrison’s first race and so he chatted with other riders from Alameda and Oakland as they waited nervously for their turn to race.
In the first wave of Richmond Composite riders was Sophomore Harrison Rivera. He was a mix of nerves, excitement and pure steel cool. As he settled into the starting shoot and awaited his turn, waves of racers ahead were released. Then it was Harrison’s turn.
The countdown ensued and his wave was off. Spectating you could see something wasn’t right with Harrison’s bike right out of the gate. He was frantically mashing the pedal down and then rotating it back half a turn before mashing it again. He was going nowhere. His chain, we’d find out shortly, had sucked down in between two chainrings and would need to be yanked free by hand. Coaches and another non-racing student rider jumped in to help Harrison free himself of his mechanical issue and hopefully continue the race. We got lucky and after fussing with the chain for a minute or two the pedals were turning again and Harrison was on his way, powering up the starting hill motivated by the setback to play catch-up. Within a short minute Harrison could be seen flying solo down the open fire road descent with determination in his eyes. He was finally off.
In the next wave were three of our Freshman riders, Emilio, William and Sergio. Although it was the second race for all of them, nerves had been creeping into their minds all morning. Some manifested the nervousness with focus and quiet. Others darted around physically and verbally like an animal pacing, ready to make an escape dash at any moment.
Their race started and riders began scrambling in the chaos for a better position as they worked their way up the starting gravel hill before the trail narrowed to singletrack. Teammates, parents and coaches cheered like hell for our riders.
After the dust had settled on the last wave of racers our remaining team switched gears to support and cheer mode. Four non racers started the long journey out to the feed zone and beyond to Hurl Hill to provide mental support, water and nutrition as riders came close to finishing each lap.
William had a crash that took him out of the race on the first lap and wound him up in the medical tent. When we found him he was telling stories and in good spirits wrapped in an emergency blanket eager to share what had happened. Harrison finished a second lap and called it good for his first race. He’d had a crash too and many subsequent issues with the chain that got stuck at the beginning of the race. He was beat! Emilio and Sergio had gone back and forth their entire race and came to the finish line just one second apart from each other--a great site to see.
We ate lunch in the Berkeley High tent (Thank You BHSMTB!) and then circled up for our closing gratitude circle. Harrison got a lot of love for racing his first race and overcoming many challenges on the course today and somehow coming out all smiles. New parents came out for the first time to witness high school mountain biking and were blown away by the support and community present at these races. Four of our team riders (Donovan, Alex, Lily, Lucas) who came to support but not race this weekend got lots of shout outs too. They brought so much spirit and enthusiasm to our race weekend and exemplified what a team is all about.
Our final race in Monterey is in less than two weeks and then we're heading north to Sacramento, Clear Lake and Petaluma for the remaining races of the season. If our team keeps showing up how we've been showing up--with positivity, enthusiasm and community spirit--then we'll continue winning in the fun category. And if there's one thing Richmond Composite is serious about it's winning all the fun.
Join us in person on Wednesday March 28th from 6-8pm at Clif Bar in Emeryville for a team fundraiser including food, drinks, a short talk with student riders and coaches and a showing of the incredible documentary "Singletrack High".
Info & Tickets can be found at https://richmondcomposite.brownpapertickets.com/