Novato, CA--Much was made of today’s race, and rightly so. This event marked the culmination of effort for hundreds of young cyclists across the largest and most populous state in the country. It was the largest high school mountain bike race in the history of these United States. Ever. These emerging gladiators traveled from near and far to pit themselves against the best of their peers, all under a gorgeous northern California sun. They rolled on a freshly manicured course around Lake Stafford, climbing 600 feet in each 5.2 mile lap, darting through redwood and oak, dodging stags and geese, and getting regularly gut-punched by the 24% max grade of the Jeep Hill Climb and amazing thousands of spectators with their relentless speed. All the training, all the hours, all the grit, all the heat; it’s tempting to distill it down and say that it all's about this one day.
But we all know better. Every end is a beginning, every closing a new opening. Going home after the California State Championships, triumphant or otherwise, marks the start of the off season. The Egyptians, the Greeks, the Medieval Europeans called it the ouroboros, the snake that eats its tail to form a perfect circle. And as that cycle rolls on, all these racers, regardless of what they choose next, have forged themselves in the saddle. Whether their next step is Nationals in Pennsylvania, grassroots racing across the state, riding for fun, or a path completely unrelated to the bike, they’ve done something they’ll never forget, something that’s changed them (and us) for the better.
So kick back and relax. Or don’t. They’ve all earned their next step and they’re better prepared for it than they know.
Team pits lined part of the Stafford Lake course -photo by John Suzuki
Team Standings from California High School MTB State Championships
Division 1: 1. Redwood High School 2. Sir Francis Drake High School 3. Marin Catholic Mountain Bike
Division 2: 1. Crescenta Valley High School 2. Santa Cruz Composite 3. South Orange County Composite
Every time, the team results tell a story different from the individual results. Here we see elements interacting, strengths leveraged, broader approaches rewarded. It’s impressive to see a single person triumph along the thin brown lines of our California hills. It’s exceptional to see that play out as one voice in a larger chorus. Congratulations to all the teams for their dilligence and hard work in creating a unified force within their respective divisions.
Due to a late-hour scoring miscalculation, Sir Francis Drake High School was recognized at the podium on Sunday as the California State Division 2 Team Champions. While they’ve certainly spent a lot of time as the NorCal League Team Leaders, the bold racers at Redwood High School actually trumped them to become the Division 1 State Champs. The NorCal League and Rhesus Timing regrets this error and congratulates Redwood on their new champion standing.
Hannah Rae-Finchamp showing us what a true champion looks like - photo by Dain Zaffke
Individual Standings from California High School MTB State Championships
Varsity Girls 1. Hannah Rae Finchamp (Maranatha HS) 2. Cara Woods (Terra Linda HS) 3. Maddie Melcher (Redlands Comp) 4. Sarah Ogden (Redwood HS) 5. Emma Klingaman (Hemet HS)
The varsity fields are always impressive, both for the athletes that are racing on event day and equally so for those who are absent. Hannah Rae Finchamp (Maranatha) comes to the SoCal League with strong pedigree as the overall amateur female XTERRA champion. “I competed all over the US doing XTERRA, most recently in the western championships, then I head up to Virginia for the eastern championships.” As for her performance at Stafford Lake, “I just thought if I can get out strong, I know I can stay strong and take it. Each course brings different things. In the flat sections you need be ready to go hard and hammer down. In the uphills, you’ve got to get into the rhythm. It was all about going out strong, keeping that rhythm, and going hard.” NorCal League Varsity Girl’s leader Kate Courtney (Branson) was occupied with the small matter of taking a bronze medal at the World Cup in Germany this week, much to Hannah’s chagrin. “I was excited to meet Kate and compete with her today, but I’m sure I’ll be able to compete with her again. I think both of us will still be racing for a long time.”
Second place’s Cara Woods kept Hannah in her sights all day, which was part of the problem. “I saw her on the first really steep uphill, but she kept getting farther and farther out. You can really see everyone throughout your race on this course, so you get a good idea of your times, but it’s also discouraging when you realize how far off the leader is.” Cara’s eyes will be trained on the rest of her summer as she plans to “keep racing through July, go to Nationals, possibly Europe. It’s still borderline right now. Hopefully this race will help that.” We’d say so...
Marin Catholic's Taylor Smith getting in position to take the W -photo by Paul Skillbeck
Varsity Boys 1. Taylor Smith (Marin Catholic) 2. Jacob Albrecht (Santa Cruz Comp) 3. Sean Bennett (El Cerrito HS) 4. Marcus Segedin (Redwood HS) 5. Ben Spurr (Marin Catholic)
It’s a big comeback for Taylor Smith (Marin Catholic), who was looking about ten feet tall at the finish line and managing a broad smile, despite a race effort that would have most of us heaving and panting like rabid possums. “This is the first time in two months that I’ve felt healthy. I had a stable stress fracture in a vertebrae I discovered after the race at Laguna Seca that I’ve been fighting for six weeks. I’ve been doing therapy for my back the past three weeks after some upsetting races. And this is my last high school race in my hometown and I had to put it down.” He found himself in a strong position before exploring an opportunity fairly early on. “Coming into the second lap, I was in the lead. I looked back and Jacob (Albrecht, Santa Cruz Comp) and Sean (Bennett, El Cerrito) were stuck in a steep, rocky section. From there, I rode my own race and kept it consistent. There was some cramping in the fourth lap, but I was able to get some water and do alright.“
Echoing Taylor’s assessment of the race drama, Sean Bennett took his hard-earned third place in stride. “We took off in the beginning, me, Jacob, and Taylor. Jacob and I had a mishap on the steep, rocky part and Taylor pulled away. We were working together to catch him, but on the last lap, Jacob attacked and I couldn’t keep on him.” He also intimated that there may have been a player absent in the lineup. “One of the SoCal guys, Shane Skelton, wasn’t here and I think he would’ve definitely been up there with us today.”
Avery ripping the Stafford singletrack -photo by Dain Zaffke
Avery Morin (Independent) has worn a hole in her shoes standing on the winner’s podium this year, but she was given a run for it at Stafford Lake this time around by NorCal pressure from Rachael Anderson (Novato). “I was so close to first. Avery and I were neck and neck, I went on a full-on sprint and she beat me by only a wheel-length. Normally we’ve got a lot of gaps between Avery, Chantal (Duliba, Salinas), and me. We got to the last turn and I went for it. We were coming in screaming... so much adrenaline.”
Despite the closeness of the finish, Avery did make the win and was able to use the course to her advantage. “The course was really tough. It was really bumpy and dusty and there were some tough hills. I made the big grade once, but it was faster to jump off and run it as fast as I could. It was a real calf-killer. I think it was a deciding factor and when the top three dismounted for that climb, I was able to make a gap. Rachael caught up to me, but she had worked so hard to catch up, that she didn’t have as much left in the tank for the sprint as I did. Even the last ten feet was a battle for the win.”
Not far behind, Chantal Duliba caught a bad digestive break, but that didn’t stop her smiling at the end of the day. “All three of the leaders were working together. I had a good gap for a while and was leading, but I got a weird bottle and it messed up my stomach a little. It was a tough race and I was really happy to get on podium. It was way better for me this year, the course was more interesting. I was able to use the steep climbs to my advantage and I was the only girl to clean them all.”
JV Boys off to a quick start -photo by Dain Zaffke
Junior Varsity Boys D1 1. Benjamin Enbom (Sir Francis Drake HS) 2. Dale McHaney (Salinas HS) 3. Bryce Lewis (Woodcreek HS) 4. Sam Weinstein (San Rafael HS) 5. Randy Graham (Murrieta Valley HS)
It was the long game for Ben Enbom (Drake) this time around. “I stayed in the lead group and I didn’t attack to save my energy. We slowly picked off riders. I rode with Bryce Lewis (Woodcreek), stayed smart, and, when he couldn’t make some of the rocky sections, I charged and had the energy to win.”
Bryce fills in the blanks, as he succumbed to a too-loose bike and too-tight legs. “Ben did a crazy drive on the second lap and it was just me and him. I had left my skewer open and had to stop to fix that. When I sprinted to catch up, the cramps started. The cramps kept coming and I got passed (by Dale McHaney, Salinas) right at the last straightaway.”
Junior Varsity Boys D2 1. Daniel Johnson (South Orange County Comp) 2. Sean Bell (El Toro HS) 3. James Pflughaupt (Corona del Mar HS) 4. Nathan Barnett (Clear Lake HS) 5. Steffen Andersen (Santa Cruz Comp)
It was a SoCal Sweep by the Beach Boys in the JV Boys Division 2, marking the biggest, broadest placing of that League at Stafford Lake. Daniel Johnson (South Orange County Comp) found his homies and did what they apparently do best. “It was four of us for a while, but then it was down to us three SoCal guys. We compete all the time together. The course was more technical than the SoCal courses, so that was a good thing for us.” Not bad for an away game, fellas.
Jocelyn and Geneva rippin it up -photo by Dain Zaffke
Sophomore Girls 1. Jocelyn Vides (Independent) 2. Geneva Burkhardt (Kirby Santa Cruz Comp) 3. Anna-Sofia Whalen (Tamalpais HS) 4. Jenelle Doolittle (Monte Vista HS) 5. Jesse Willson (Albany HS)
Anna-Sofia Whalen (Tamalpais) comes off as lithe and delicate. It’s only when she quietly lists the hardships of the day that you realize how misplaced that perception is. “It was hot. And dusty. I crashed a few times. My bike was acting up a bit, my seat got bent and I had to fix it after one of my crashes. The girls in front of me were going really fast and I couldn’t see because of the dust.” All this and she still nails down third place. “I’m planning on taking it easy this summer, not much racing.”
Race leader Jocelyn Vides (Independent) comes off another win at the Boggs race, using her history as a triathlete to keep the pressure on these sophomore girls. “I was in the back to start and was able to slowly make my way back up. On the first hill, I was able to get second, then on the next climb, I was able to get first and keep it.” A key advantage: “I did a cross race here, so I was familiar with the course.” Pay attention, everyone. That ‘cross bike can be your friend in the lead-up to MTB season.
Andrew Wilber (Redlands Comp) gets a welcome respite from the searing heat, thanks to mom. -photo by Dain Zaffke
The pressure was being felt throughout the field on race day, but it was conspicuously absent from Tyler O’Neal’s (El Cerrito) front tire. “On my first lap, I slid out and got a slow leak in my tire. By my second lap, I had about half of the pressure I started with. Attacking was hard, but I was able to keep it upright on the steep sections and stayed out front.” Despite the squishy front end, he still managed to pick up some fine art for around the house. “I’m hanging this State Champ jersey on the wall. Right next to my NorCal Leader’s jersey. And the medals.” Beats Bed, Bath, and Beyond any day of the week, best we can tell.
Sophomore Boys D2 1. Porter Wesson (Santa Cruz Mountains Comp) 2. Eli Kranefuss (Marin Academy) 3. Alexander DeRoche (Crescenta Valley HS) 4. Caden Gruber (Corona del Mar HS) 5. Jack Henderson (Maria Carrillo HS)
Your race reporter tried to get Porter Wesson (Santa Cruz Mountains Comp) to tell us about his race, but he had other plans. He did say that “it was very dusty and very hot. Me and the pack of ten guys took off at the beginning and held a pretty good pace. I got a drop on some of them at the super steep section and was able to make my move there. I rode it the first lap, ran it the second, and walked it the third, but it was an advantage on the course.” Where he was most forthright was in thanking those who got him where he is today. “I would never have been able to do any of this without my coaches Andrew and Steve and my teammates. They improved me, especially my downhilling. I’ve been racing mountain bikes since I was ten and was a strong climber, but they helped me gain confidence and gave regular encouragement. I’m extremely grateful to my dad for basically outfitting my entire bike and to my mom for all the food she makes me.” People, the overriding character of cycling for over a hundred years has been that of a gentlemanly, deferential sport. Any of you who have expressed concern for that trait’s persistence into the future may now rest easy.
SoCal League Sophomore Boys Division 1 leader Alexander DeRoche gave it his all out there, right up to the bitter end. “I tried my hardest. I started in the middle, but was able to make it up on the hills and steep climbs. It took a lot out of me to catch up to them and couldn’t catch the leader. I got passed right at the end by another rider.”
Morgan Tardy uses her 007 license to thrill, dropping back down to the lake. -photo by Dain Zaffke
Freshman Girls 1. Hannah Eckvahl (San Gabriel Valley Comp) 2. Kelsey Urban (Redwood HS) 3. Brenna Pratt (Crescenta Valley HS) 4. Ellis Cobb (Crescenta Valley HS) 5. Meghan Kelley (Incline HS)
In her last freshman race before moving up the ladder to Junior Varsity, Kelsey Urban (Redwood) had to buck a few obstacles. “I had a rough start and was way back there today. My chain dropped at the finish, as well as a couple of other times. I ran out of water. I had a rough day, but that’s bike racing. I almost caught Hannah a few times, but she always pulled away. She was definitely the stronger rider.”
From down south, Brenna Pratt (Crescenta Valley) had no fear of the mystery posed by a course filled with NorCal League racers. “I’m starting to get used to racing an unknown field, so racing against NorCal League racers wasn’t as much of a game changer for me. It was pretty hard, fast-paced, really dusty for all of us.”
Freshman Boys D1 1. Connor Jinguji (Woodcreek HS) 2. Kyle Legge (Newbury Park HS) 3. Burke Kennedy (Salinas HS) 4. Kristofor Lewis (Trojans HS MB Team) 5. Jake Legge (Newbury Park HS)
Connor Jinguji (Woodcreek) continued his podium stretches here at Stafford Lake. “We started off strong with Tofer Lewis (Trojans) in the lead. I was able to draft behind him until one of the big hills and then I beat it down the hill. The rider from SoCal (Kyle Legge, Newbury Park) was able to catch second place and stayed behind me through the end of the race. It was good competition.”
Freshman Boys D2 1. Evan Williams (Big Bear Comp) 2. Ezra Acker (El Molino HS) 3. Evander Hughes (Great Oak HS) 4. Alex Smith (Granite Bay HS) 5. Nathan Barton (Placer Foothills Comp)
When Ezra Acker (El Molino) talks to you, it’s with a suspicious eye. That’s because he’s clearly thinking in there, sizing you up in the race and outside of it. “It started off slow and I think it was a good strategy. I edged into my pace and, when I got up to full speed, I was able to pick off people,working with my NorCal buddies along the way.”
Evan Wllliams (Big Bear Comp) has a similarly strategic mind, one that served him well out on course. “I had gone online to check out the NorCal League times. There’s some fast kids out here.” That must have translated into something good as he “stayed on second’s wheel, but once I got to the first climb, I did my first attack. I didn’t look back until my first race, and when I looked back, there was no one.” Never hurts to do a little planning, we suppose.
Congratulations to all racers on completing a season thick with the best and brightest young athletes tin the world of cycling. California is a leader in scholastic mountain biking and the quality of these athletes proves it again and again.
On a personal note, I’ve had a great pleasure speaking with so many of these young racers over the last season. I’ve been surprised by their eloquence, their maturity, and their strength of character both on-course and off. Equally so has been the teams of coaches and parents who bring so many resources to bear in order that their children and charges can succeed and grow in the warm embrace of cycling. I thank you all for taking a minute to talk to me when all any of you wanted was to sit down, catch your breath, and wipe any number of fluids off your face.