2012 SoCal High School Mountain Bike Racing Series ROUND FOUR —
Victory at Vail, Temecula, CA
By Phil Beckman, PB Creative
Temecula, Calif. — Many other high school sports feature cheerleaders and marching bands, why not something like that for high school mountain bike racing? It’s a question that has been pondered by many proponents of this rapidly growing sport, including the Executive Director of the SoCal League, Matt Gunnell. “I have been trying for two years to get a high school drum line to come to a race,” he revealed. “Finally, Redlands East Valley High School rose to the challenge and spent the day at Vail Lake. They added so much! And having them at the top of Marine Corps Hill during the boys Varsity and JV race created an epic party atmosphere!”
Anyone in attendance would agree: this injected another level excitement to an already compelling storyline. As the penultimate event in the 2012 series, the pressure was mounting to solidify or improve championship point standings before heading into the final round. A total of 250 fully committed student-athletes took to a rolling 6-mile high desert course consisting of perfect dirt (thanks to a rainstorm on Friday and Saturday), several fireroads and plentiful singletrack. Numerous short, sharp hills define the Vail Lake Resort topography, and this included a tough ascent early in the lap as well as one of the shortest and sharpest on the circuit, the notorious Marine Corps Hill late in the lap. This has become a popular viewpoint despite being a semi-challenging hike to get there. With the tight, dynamic REV drum line stationed here for the final races of the day, it made for a dramatic scene that will not soon be forgotten.
Hemet High School continued its roll by again earning the day’s prestigious Division 1 team honors. As Head Coach Pete Kirkham stated, “It was our best race day ever; the highest point total we’ve ever had. The girls rocked it in the morning, the JV boys rocked it in the afternoon. We did well in a couple of classes and gutted it out in the others. It’s hard competition this year, really tough with everybody pushing us. Once again we’re lucky enough to come out on top.”
Woodcrest Christian High School again took second for the weekend, with Murietta Valley High School enjoying its best team performance yet in third place. This reflects the D1 team standings for the season, with Hemet leading Woodcrest and Murietta.
In Division 2, for teams with less than 12 registered riders, rookie squad Redlands Composite also took its third in a row. “We’ve pretty much been sticking to the same plan in these last few weeks since it has been working,” said Head Coach Matt Freeman. “We feel like our success is due to all the support the team gets from sponsors and parents. They make it easier for the kids to reach their race goals and fun for us coaches to run practice and training. Another thing is that our kids just love riding their bikes. They ride them all the time. It has gotten to the point where we are having to tell them to take days off.”
Ramona High School had an outstanding race to finish runner-up, with South Orange County Composite in third. For the season, Redlands leads with San Gabriel Valley Composite in second and South Orange County in third.
Having recently returned from South Africa to race in another World Cup (placing 16th in the Junior field) as well as complete some heavy training, Casey Williams (Independent) was in fighting form at Vail Lake. But the rest of this talented class was up for the challenge. As Williams described it, “We had five guys working together in the wind on the first lap and then we started slowing down and looking at each other to see who was going to go and who wasn’t. So I think finally Joel [Titius, Corona Composite] went out for a little bit. Then on the second lap about three-quarters of the way through, he slowed down again. I went to the front and stood up and powered away. It stuck for the rest of the race; I’m stoked.”
Luck and some timely on-site tech support also played a role. “An hour before the race my derailleur hangar just snapped in half,” Williams explained. “Luckily the guys over at Casino Bicycles (who have staffed SoCal’s SRAM Neutral Support Zone every race for two years) were able to help me out.”
Jesse Rogers (Independent) finished less than a minute behind for second, with Titius rounding out the top three. Rogers maintains his series points lead, followed by Titius and Wyatt Myers (Victor Valley)—sixth on the day—in third for the season.
Hannah Rae Finchamp (San Gabriel Valley) made it four-for-four in 2012 high school MTB racing, but it was hardly as easy as that sounds. Just the day before, she had won an XTERRA off-road triathlon event in Nevada, qualifying for the World Championships. At Vail Lake, she had worked up a comfortable lead but had a brush with disaster on the third and final lap. “As I began to move around a lapped rider she drifted into my line and we smacked right into each other,” exclaimed Finchamp. “We flew through the air, landing hard and rolling a few times. After escaping out from under two bikes the other girl and I quickly tried to remount, knowing this was costing us valuable time. I then realized that when my wheel was straight the handlebars were sideways. I was forced to run up every hill from this point on. On one of those I saw Emma [Klingaman, Hemet] right behind me. I had two decisions: I could accept defeat after a brutal weekend, or I could die trying to win. With the help of God I was able to make it down the switchbacks and go through the finish just seconds before Emma.”
It was exciting for Klingaman as well: “My start was not good. I got off the line a bit slow and did some bar-banging and thought I was going to go down. Then on the first climb there was a stall so I had to get off and start running. Later on there was a girl that had fallen so I stopped to make sure she was OK, then stopped to alert a course marshall. But before I knew it Hannah was right there in front of me. I was in disbelief. So I just went for it, figured that was my chance. It was a crazy race but it turned out pretty good. I am totally stoked.”
McKenzie Melcher (Redlands) rolled in for third. In the standings, it’s Finchamp leading Klingaman and Melcher.
Finchamp stated that she will not be racing at the State Championships in May due to a date conflict. She will instead be competing in the ITU Cross Triathlon World Championship in Alabama, racing for Team USA as a junior elite. “I am so honored to be representing our country,” she said. There are some serious skill sets in the SoCal League!
JV Boys Division 1
Another convincing win in this class was recorded by Jarred Jordan (Murietta), his fourth straight. “I got a good start and felt pretty good. I was drafting with a group the whole road section and got to the climb in second. Then third place slipped and caused a holdup, so Sean Bird (St. Francis) and I decided to go for it. We traded positions a little bit then I decided to attack and took off from there. After that I kept the lead and just built on it. I’m happy with my day,” he related.
Ryan Warrell (Hemet) and Josh Turner (Murietta) were second and third, just six seconds apart. Bird had a mechanical putting him out of contention but he finished the race to scoop up the valuable points that could make a difference when sorting out the season overall standings.
Jordan extended his points lead over Tanner Peery (Woodcrest), fourth in class today, and Warrell.
JV Boys Division 2
Kyle Skeen (Ramona) was again a runaway winner, enjoying a strong, uneventful day. As he put it, “During the race things went awesome. I took the lead from the start and was able to keep a good pace going. It feels good to keep a solid hold on the leader jersey.”
Spencer Rathcamp (Hart Composite) and Ty Dawkins (Redlands) filled out the top three. In points, Skeen leads Rathcamp and Aaron Argueta (Hart).
Showing rapid development as a racer, Maddie Melcher (Redlands) grabbed her second win in a row. In the process she extended her points lead over the twin sisters from Rim of the World High School, Reka and Dalma Felenyi, who were second and third at Vail Lake.
“It was fun,” Melcher told us. “I started in front but then one of the Rim girls came in front of me. I stayed with her for most of the first lap and then I got away. I actually felt good today for once. I dropped my chain on the last lap, just before Marine Corps Hill. It felt like it took a long time to get it back on, but I got it together.”
Sophomore Boys Division 1
It was a Murietta 1-2 punch in this class, as Michael Gossett took his second win of the season less than a minute ahead of teammate Cole Picchiottino. “I led from about halfway through the first lap, then I tried to drop them and took it from there,” said Gossett. “I felt good today.”
Completing the top three was Daniel Balsam (St. Francis), who prevailed in an exciting sprint to the finish line with Evan Cobb (Crescenta Valley).
The results today mirror the current point standings.
Sophomore Boys Division 2
Showing great form was Sammy Bello (Independent), taking the victory at Vail with room to spare. Bryce McKibbin (Santa Ynez Composite) put in one of his best performances for second, with Wyatt Kent (Ramona) in third.
“I tried to keep the same pace the whole race,” said Bello. “I feel very good about all three laps. I would really like to thank God, my parents, my coaches Alex Estrada and Deya Guerrero, and the rest of the people that help me.”
The point standings did not change after this race, with Bello still leading Jeremy Call (Royal High School) and Jose Fuentes (Redlands).
Another four-time winner in 2012 is Megan Bradley from Rim of the World High School in Lake Arrowhead, which hosts the next event on the schedule, the “Power the Pinnacles” SoCal League finals the first weekend in May. “I’m looking forward to that race,” Bradley admitted. “All we’re doing for the next few weeks is riding that course.”
Lauren Allen (Eastlake High School) and Gabriela Bolton (Murietta) both had confident rides to finish second and third at Vail Lake. In the standings, Bradley enjoys a comfortable lead in front of Rim teammate Nicole Jewell and Allen.
Freshman Boys Division 1
Large fields and close racing have defined this class all season. At Vail Lake, Michael Lansing (Woodcrest), Zach Baker (Hemet) and Micah Swinhart (Woodcrest) put on a show. Lansing had to dig deep to hold off Baker at the finish by just three seconds, with Swinhart watching the outcome.
“That one made me feel more like a true racer,” said Lansing. “I didn’t make Marine Corps the second time but I sprinted the downhill and caught Zach in the switchbacks, dove inside and just won the race from there. Me and Zach were rubbing, but rubbin’s racin’ unless someone falls, but no one did.”
For the series, it’s now Lansing leading Baker and Swinhart.
Freshman Boys Division 2
James Pflughaupt (Corona del Mar) is working on a perfect season, although he might have had some concerns when he dropped his chain a couple of times at Vail Lake. He still had a gap of over a minute at the finish line, ahead of Bradley Breyer (Redlands) and Imeh Nsek (Independent).
He reported that, “It was a really fun race. The weather was perfect and the other guys rode really well. First lap the pack was together until Marine Corps Hill, then it all kind of broke up. I attacked on the second lap going into the first singletrack and that’s where it really spread out. I can’t wait to come out here next year and do it again.”
Pflughaupt built on his points lead over Breyer and Andrew Wilber (Redlands), who was fifth today.
The leader jersey in this class will remain on the shoulders of Alexis Marques (Hemet), following her seemingly relaxed Victory at Vail ride. On the contrary, “My good friend Hayleigh was on my butt the entire first lap. I was going really hard and thinking I was killing myself and am going to die on my second lap. But I was able to keep the same pace the second lap, which made me realize I can go fast longer now. It was a perfect day.”
Teammate Hayleigh Kirkham finished second and led yet another Hemet High member—Arcelia Mercado—across the line to make it a clean sweep of the top three for the Bulldogs.
With one race to go, it’s Marques leading Kirkham for first and second in the class points, followed by Danielle Emter (South Orange County) and Mercado in a tie for third.
Upcoming series events:
May 6, Power the Pinnacles, Lake Arrowhead, CA (SoCal series final)
May 20, State Championships, Los Olivos, CA