2012 California State High School Mountain Bike Racing Championships,
By Phil Beckman, PB Creative
Los Olivos, Calif. — Perhaps National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) founder Matt Fritzinger described it best. He had ridden a lap behind one of the races in the afternoon. At the awards ceremony later, he said that two words came to mind during his six-mile reconnaissance: “Rotisserie chicken.”
The 2012 California State High School Mountain Bike Championships were hot, with a relentless sun beating down on an otherwise idyllic SG Dirt Club near Los Olivos. Hydration, shade and sunscreen were in high demand. The conditions taxed the stamina of everyone involved, including the 477 competitors, their coaches and families, the many selfless volunteers and the race organizers themselves. In the interest of safety, the races for the last wave of three classes were shortened by one lap each.
But everyone persevered and came through like all cycling champions do. For the fourth time, this event pitted the best riders from the NorCal League against those from the younger SoCal League. If anything was hotter than the weather, it was the racing and the friendly rivalry between the Leagues. For many this passion was driven by the lure of donning a prestigious grizzly bear-themed State Champion jersey, but for most it was about simply being competitive and a part of this inspiring, unique program. Where else would you find a group of teenagers this large gathered in one place to engage in an activity so demanding and requiring so much dedication?
This year’s event was hosted by the SoCal League, and as Executive Director Matt Gunnell described it, “It was fantastic to have almost 500 student-athletes from NorCal and SoCal at the State Championship race. Though the weather was hot and made for a challenging weekend, everybody rallied and remained flexible which allowed a stellar, competitive day of racing. The Dirt Club venue works fantastic for high school mountain biking. It has nearly unlimited camping area, great trails, beautiful vistas of the wine country, and just about the best spectator viewing of any mountain bike race.”
The overall Division One title (for teams with 12 or more riders) fell once again to multi-time NorCal and State Champions Sir Francis Drake High School from Marin County. This sophisticated effort is led by longtime coach Paul Chourre, who stated afterward, “This was a unique year for us. It was a super competitive season with Salinas and Redwood. It really put some pressure on us. Being pushed up against the wall like we were inspired the kids. I’m unbelievably excited. This is huge for us.”
The two teams Chourre mentioned were again strong at Los Olivos, with Redwood High School finishing second and Salinas High School third.
The Spartans High School Mountain Bike Composite squad captured the Division 2 team championship, followed in the point total for the day by Woodcreek High School and Redlands Composite. This was a high point for SoCal fans, as the Redlands result marked the first time a squad from the south was able to stand on a State Championship team podium.
Spartans Head Coach Mark Ferry felt that the team’s success could be attributed to its training structure and camaraderie. “We have such a large number of kids involved, including the Trojans High School team, that we can break them up into groups of similar skill levels. They then push and challenge each other to get better. This is also tied into a non-profit program called Cycling Development, which gets 8-13 year olds involved as well. When we’re all together we consider ourselves one big team.”
Spectators could be forgiven if they mistook the Varsity Boys race for a pro national. These young guns were displaying the skill and speed of World Cup veterans. For the majority of the shortened 3-lap, 18-mile race, four NorCal riders ran wheel to wheel at an astounding pace. In the end, Taylor Smith (Marin Catholic) prevailed in a jaw-clenching sprint to the line against defending champ Tobin Ortenblad (Independent) — less than a bike length separating them. Lucas Newcomb (Drake) witnessed it happen just one second in arrears. NorCal season winner Jacob Albrecht (Santa Cruz) had dropped back slightly on the final lap to finish fourth. Casey Williams (Independent) rolled in for fifth, the first SoCal finisher.
“We stuck together while trading pulls for 2 laps, then Lucas and I broke away on the steep, loose climb and put a gap into Jacob and Tobin on the third lap,” reported Smith. “From there, Lucas and I traded pulls again, passing slower riders every few minutes. At the bottom of the last descent Tobin had managed to bridge back up to our two-man group, which was very impressive. At this point I knew that the finish line was very close and I must stay in front to have the best chance of winning the sprint. My philosophy proved to be correct and my position coming into the finish area is ultimately what won me the race. Overall it was a huge success for NorCal and I was happy to share the podium steps with two of my good friends.”
Four NorCal riders had broken away at the front of the Varsity Girls race earlier in the day as well, but the finish was not nearly as tight. Josie Nordrum basically had more left in the tank on her third and final lap, comfortably outdistancing her early companions. As she described her performance, “It was basically me, Shayna Powless (Independent), Cara Woods (Terra Linda) and Mackinzie Stanley (Drake). Shayna and I dropped Cara and Mackinzie pretty quickly on the first lap. Then Shayna and I worked together until midway through the second lap. She veered off the trail a little bit and I just kept riding and she never caught me. I made sure to hydrate a lot this past week and I think that made a big difference. The key may have been sleeping — I went to bed at 5 p.m. last night and got like 12 hours of sleep. I’m so glad to have all my teammates out here and all of my coaches and everyone supporting me. I need to thank Julia Violich, coach John Vipiana, my mother, for sure, and Ezra Coleman.”
JV Boys Division 1
Tactical savvy and the legs to pull off the move proved to be the winning formula for Silas Blunk (Independent) in the largest field of the day with 62 riders. He and the two League champions — NorCal’s Sean Bennett (El Cerrito) and SoCal’s Jarred Jordan (Murietta) — had worked together to establish a significant gap after the first of two laps. Blunk takes it from here: “I attacked at the top of the last climb then just powered down the descent and made it work coming back to the finish on the flats. I attacked at the right place at the right time. It was really hot, obviously, but I hydrated a lot so that helped. The course wasn’t very technical, but it was good. I’d like to thank my parents for being so supportive, and everybody that makes this event possible.”
Bennett was able to close to within four seconds at the line, but it was too little, too late. Jordan, who had been undefeated during the SoCal season, rolled in alone for third.
JV Boys Division 2
This class served up a compelling north vs. south storyline, with NorCal champion Daniel Hall (Spartans) up against SoCal winner Kyle Skeen (Ramona). These two threw dust on each other for the entire two laps while gapping the field. Skeen would get away in the closing moments. “Hall and I were battling the whole race,” recalled Skeen. “I was able to get him on the last climb and then just sprinted the rest of the way. It was awesome — a good race and a great season. I’d like to thank my parents, my teammates, my coach and Cynergy Cycles.”
NorCal class champion Sarah Ogden (Redwood) completed a perfect season by winning again at the Dirt Club. Fellow northerner Kaitlynn Elvidge (San Ramon) kept her honest throughout, but in the end fell ten seconds short. As Ogden put it, “I was second coming out of the start, then managed to move into first place just before the first hill. I kept a very marginal lead on Kaitlynn throughout the rest of the race. I’m thrilled; so excited. It took a lot of training, a lot of effort. It’s awesome that it all paid off. It went pretty much according to plan. I’d love to thank all my coaches, particularly Julia Violich and head coach John Vipiana, Ezra Coleman and all the ride leaders and coaches. My parents were an awesome support crew and have helped and encouraged me with every race. And thanks to all my teammates and everyone else for making the racing and training and mountain biking what it is.”
SoCal’s Dalma Felenyi (Rim of the World) was a solid third in this class.
Sophomore Boys Division 1
Talk about peaking at the right time of the season… Alec Pasqualina (San Ramon) had not won a NorCal race all year. In fact, he finished down in sixth place in the final class standings. But he had improved his results at every event and was leading the NorCal finals before suffering a mechanical problem. The State Championships would prove to be his redemption.
“I woke up this morning feeling I was going to do the best ever today,” he said. “I pushed hard and had my teammate Elliott Benson with me for most of the race. I made a quick pass on another rider right before the downhill toward the end of the third lap, and that’s how the gap set in, when Elliott couldn’t get by him. I just pushed from there all the way to the finish. I am so happy. It was so much better to just come out here and do the best I could, keep the bike running, and it turned out great. I knew I had it in me all season. It was just my day I guess.”
Grey Goodin (Trojans) rounded out the top three.
Sophomore Boys Division 2
It didn’t take long for Sammy Bello (Independent) to assume command of this class — making his move on the first steep switchback climb — and then it became the same story the SoCal League has read all year: Bello checking out. It might have been a different tale had NorCal champ Tom Foxx (Santa Cruz) not been sidelined with a mechanical issue on the second of three laps. Zachary Dalstrom (Woodcreek) was best of the rest of the 53-rider field, while Douglas Hall (South Orange County) put in an outstanding ride to finish third by just two seconds over Jasper Guyer-Stevens (Annadel).
“My day was better than amazing,” stated Bello. “It was too hot but I managed to get over it. This success was huge for me, the first time I’ve accomplished something like this. When I stepped up to the podium and got the California Champion Jersey, some tears almost came out. I would like to thank God, my parents, my coaches Alex Estrada and Deya Guerrero, and all the people that support me.”
SoCal’s Megan Bradley made it a clean 6-0 for the season with her victory at Los Olivos. It wasn’t quite as easy as usual for the Rim of the World rider this time, however, as she had company throughout her race in the form of NorCal champion Morgan Tardy (Redwood).
That suited Bradley just fine: “It was awesome. It’s the first race this season where someone was riding the same as I was. It was fun. I was drafting her at the start up to the switchbacks, then I passed her on the second lap and stayed ahead the whole time. I had no problems. The course isn’t that hard, but the heat made it seem hard.”
Rachel Anderson (Novato) finished a couple of minutes back for third.
Freshman Boys Division 1
To say the competition in this class was tight would be an understatement. The race for the win between NorCal’s Otto Salmi (Branson) and SoCal’s unbeaten Michael Lansing (Woodcrest) was intense and abruptly decided on lap two. As Salmi explains, “It was a close race the entire time. We kept switching the lead but we were always on each other’s tail. Finally, on the final lap at the very top of the second hill, I decided that I had more left in my tank and decided to pass. As I yelled ‘on your right’ and started passing, my competitor and I locked handlebars and we both fell to the side. I was able to scramble up faster and did not look back and pretty much sprinted the rest of the lap until the finish.” Lansing saw things a little differently, but as they say, that’s racing.
Salmi continues: “I had a great race and I am so stoked that I won. Overall, the course was fun but the heat was a major challenge. I am really proud of myself and I owe my win mostly to the rest of my team, especially the upperclassmen, for supporting me and letting me ride with them for my first year. I believe it was one of my keys to success. I also owe my win to my two coaches for always pushing me and helping me with tactics. I also need to recognize my dad for all the support and introducing me to this sport. I am so glad that mountain biking is growing as it is one of my greatest passions and I look forward to racing and riding in the future.”
Freshman Boys Division 2
James Pflughaupt (Corona del Mar) finished his first year of SoCal high school mountain biking with a flawless record, but not without some pressure at the State Championships. “It was close racing between Chad Nelson (Redlands), Bryce Lewis (Woodcreek) and me for most of the first lap,” said Pflughaupt. “Towards the end Bryce and I dropped Chad which left just us two. Then on the final singletrack climb I attacked and thankfully got away. I had no idea how he was feeling and really hoped that he was tired. This move though in the end played out to my advantage. Making passes and not wasting too much time trying to get around people was important. This was a very hard course to pass on, which added a new level of complexity to the race. I am proud of what I accomplished in my race and feel great about the result.”
Ashley Albor (Spartans) claimed that the heat was “horrible,” but her second lap was almost as quick as her first — and significantly faster than any of her competitors’. With that, the NorCal rider was able to create a comfortable gap on second place, SoCal champ Alexis Marques (Hemet). Not that Albor was aware of this. “I kept looking back and thinking ‘oh my gosh, she’s coming,’ so I kept going faster and faster. I want to thank Mark my coach and all the coaches that help, my team members, my family and everyone who supported me.”
Chantel Duliba (Salinas) rounded out the top three.