Los Olivos, Calif. — According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a Gale Warning is issued when surface winds from 39 to 54 mph are sustained for a period of one minute or more. If the NOAA folks had been monitoring conditions at the Cow Pie Classic, they would have asked, “Do we have anything stronger?”
This final event of the 2013 SoCal High School Cycling League Series, held at the usually serene Dirt Club in the Santa Ynez Valley near Los Olivos, will forever be remembered for its Wind (with a capital W). We made a big deal out of the breeze at the prior round in Keyesville. That was a mere zephyr compared to the climate at the Cow Pie Classic.
The race marked the conclusion of the fifth season of the SoCal League. Among those who have been a part of it all, the consensus was this had been the most turbulent day ever. As if championship pressure wasn’t enough, the 302 student-athletes representing 26 teams had to deal with a high, exposed ridgeline trail where the wind was doing its best to either stop them in their tracks or toss them into the savannah, depending on which direction the trail was pointing.
As always, Matt Gunnell, the Executive Director of the SoCal High School Cycling League, was at the center of the tempest. “It's hard to articulate how dramatically the weather shifted from Saturday to Sunday. What started as a hot weekend with blazing sun turned into cool weather with probably the windiest conditions ever to greet high school racers. But the SoCal crew responded, as I heard story after story of riders pushing through the punishing wind."
Yucaipa HS won division 1 team honors for the season by a razor thin edge. 19405 to 19403 over defending champions Hemet HS. - Photo by Phil Beckman, PB Creative
The only aspect of this event that was more dramatic than the weather was the Division 1 teams competition. Multi-time and defending champion Hemet High posted a decisive victory at the Dirt Club, while the points leader coming into the final event, Yucaipa High, suffered a number of critical mechanical malfunctions. When the calculators stopped whirring, sparking and ultimately smoking, Yucaipa had emerged with the season title by just two points: 19405 to 19403. Let that sink in for a sec.
It was a nail-biting day for Yucaipa Head Coach Mike Bagg. “We had an 88-point lead when we got here,” he explained, “but then our top Varsity and JV boys had flats, a broken chain and a brake failure. I am humbled by how quick you can lose a decent spread. We had talked about those possibilities. It was like God was telling us, ‘Don’t get too cocky.’ I am so proud of this team.”
Pete Kirkham, Hemet’s Head Coach, was as sporting as ever. “Sunday morning I told the team we have nothing to lose and everything to gain, so go race like champs, have fun and kick some butt. Hey, I think we gave YHS a real scare and hopefully earned some admiration for not giving up and fighting to the end. What a great season.”
Rounding out the top three in Division 1 was Murrieta Valley for the day and Woodcrest Christian for the season.
In Division 2 (for teams with 11 or fewer riders), Crescenta Valley completed an impressive season with the day’s win and the crown. Head Coach Jim Rowton commented, “The kids totally invested in the program and they believed in themselves. Our goal wasn’t so much to win the championship but to have a special team. I couldn’t be happier about the way it turned out and to see all their hard work rewarded.”
Redlands Composite (Public) had a great day for second in D2, followed by El Toro High. South Orange County Composite and El Toro finished second and third for 2013, respectively.
Jarred Jordan of Murrieta Valley HS won the race and the season in Varsity Boys. His third season overall victory in three years. Freshman, JV, and Varsity. --- Photo by Phil Beckman, PB Creative
Jarred Jordan (Murrieta Valley) put a final stamp of authority on this class, capturing his second consecutive victory as well as the Varsity Boys championship. Jordan, Sammy Bello (Independent) and Lucas Rowton (Crescenta Valley) had escaped the 21-rider field early and by the end of the first lap had together built a minute’s lead. Jordan made a bold move on a downhill on lap three of four and then soloed in to win by more than two minutes. Bello recorded his best finish yet in this class for a comfortable second place. Garrett Gaither (Ramona) overtook Rowton on the last lap for third.
This was the third SoCal League title for Jordan, as he had previously earned Freshman and JV championships. “This race came down to a lot of tactics due to the wind,” he said. “On the top singletrack we were riding about five feet wide because of how hard the wind was pushing. This was my best high school season by far because everything went right. Next up is the State Championship. I’d like to win; we’ll see what my training and hard work can do.”
Bello was very pleased to secure runner-up on the day and for the season. “I didn’t expect this. I’m super happy with it,” he stated. “This race was the toughest in the series. The climbs were harder and the wind was just horrible. I tried my best to keep second in the standings and I did. Thank you to my coach, Alex Estrada, my friends and my family.”
Alex Bagg (Yucaipa) had a mechanical but, due to consistency, ended up third overall for the season. Gaither wound up with third on the day and fourth in the final Varsity Boys standings. Sean Bird (St. Francis) finished sixth on the day and fifth overall.
Emma Kingaman of Hemet HS won her first Varsity Girls race of the season by breaking away near the end of lap 2 and soloing to victory. --- Photo by Phil Beckman, PB Creative
The Varsity Girls race was wide open due to the absence of Hannah Rae Finchamp (Maranatha), who was competing at a triathlon in Virginia. That guaranteed a first-time winner for the season. The distinction went to Emma Klingaman (Hemet). She reeled in and then passed fast-starter Maddie Melcher (Redlands) on the second of three laps and crossed the line with more than a minute’s cushion. Morgan Zurborg (Woodcrest) captured a hard fought third place ahead of a phalanx of Rim of the World High School chargers.
Klingaman has been involved with the SoCal League for four seasons, and following the State Championships in Northern California May 19 will be moving on to collegiate cycling at Lees-McRae. It was an emotional day for her and her family. As she put it, “It was in my head the whole race that it would be my last with SoCal. I really wanted it; I had to make it count. I can’t imagine what my life would be like without this League. I think it hit me today how everything has to come together to make an event like this happen.”
Melcher has been dealing with an injury for much of the season and was thrilled with second place at Los Olivos. “I’m definitely feeling better but it wasn’t easy. I went through the finish line and almost cried. These past two weeks I’ve been working so hard in practice and putting in so many miles and it just made me feel so good.”
Finchamp claimed the season championship (a competitor’s best four out of five scores count), while Klingaman and Zurborg completed the top three in the final standings.
Imeh Nsek was ecstatic to win the JV D1 race and series on such a challenging day. --- Photo by Phil Beckman, PB Creative
Ema Suarez (Independent) completed a season sweep at the Dirt Club, leaving no doubt about the JV Girls title. Her first lap of two was the fastest of the day among all the gals — a 29:11 — despite her feeling less than 100 percent. She stated, “Today was fun, but there was a lot of wind ¬— headwind, crosswind. It was so strong it almost pushed me off my bike. This whole week I’ve been sick, and I’m kind of sick today still. I thank my coach Alex Estrada, my family and friends, and to the League for making this happen.”
Arcelia Mercado (Hemet) had her best finish of the year in second place, with teammate Hayleigh Kirkham in third. In the final point standings, Suarez topped Kirkham and Alexis Marques (Hemet).
JV Boys Division 1
Imeh Nsek (Independent) put the wraps on JV D1 with a convincing performance in front of Micah Swinhart (Woodcrest) and Randy Graham (Murrieta). “It was hard,” Nsek emphasized. “We were literally getting blown off the trail. I attacked on the switchback climb on the last lap and got a gap but Micah caught back up. We worked together for a while and then I attacked again just before the big downhill and got away.”
The series closed with Nsek ahead of Graham and Michael Lansing (Woodcrest) in points.
JV Boys Division 2
El Toro’s Sean Bell made it two in a row, once again mixing it up with Daniel Johnson (South Orange County) and James Pflughaupt (Corona del Mar), who went 2-3 at the end of their three laps. Bell reported that, “On the last climb about a mile from the finish I just kind of powered it as fast as I could and got a gap that I managed to hold to the finish. It was really fun. It was one of the best courses but the wind made it super tough.”
Three straight early season wins and top-three finishes the rest of the way earned Pflughaupt the class championship just ahead of Bell and Johnson.
Five graduating seniors did EVERY race for four years! Matt Kubly (St. Francis), David Reeves (Woodcrest), Tyler Gilmore (San Marino), Lucas Rowton (Crescenta Valley), and Scott Marshall (St. Francis). - Photo by Phil Beckman, PB Creative
Christina Mann packed a broom for Los Olivos and then swept the series. It was another dominant ride for Mann, and the Yucaipa team in general — the top four positions went to the Thunderbirds. Second place fell to Lauren Small, Tia Moore grabbed third and Samantha Meader fourth.
Mann echoed most of discussion at this race: “Today was rather windy. As I was going up one of the hills I had to get off my bike and as I was struggling to walk up, my bike was horizontal to the side, trying to fly away. But I feel really good. I couldn’t have done it without my coaches, my team, my family, all the support.”
Following Mann in final points is Kaitlin Washburn (Eastlake) and Moore.
Sophomore Boys Division 1
Dillon Gamache (Yucaipa) had been consistently quick all season in Soph Boys D1, so steady that he had found himself in the Leader Jersey without winning any of the previous four events. He made a statement at Los Olivos, however, by tracking down Geoffrey Bartz (Independent) on the last lap and then outsprinting him through the finishing chute. It was the closest race of the day.
As Gamache explained, “I was catching him and thinking, ‘this is for the team,’ and was able to push it just that little bit extra. This team is such an inspiration. It feels great, like I finally earned the jersey.”
Rolling home alone in third was Hayden Ramsay (Yucaipa).
Gamache collared a compelling championship, with Bartz wearing silver and Ramsay bronze.
Sophomore Boys Division 2
There was no such theatre in D2, as Alexander Deroche (Crescenta) rode away with his fourth victory in five tries. Nico Neuville (El Toro) enjoyed his best finish of the season in second, trailed closely by Michael Sanchez (San Gabriel Valley).
“Today went well,” stated Deroche. “It was a really windy day, just like the last race. It was such a problem that many people were walking. As usual it was a tough course, but it’s something we need to get through to finish. That’s what mountain biking is about — getting through these conditions. I’d like to say that I respect everyone else who was out there racing today. We all know what It takes to do well…dedication, sweat, support. I am blessed with the support of my coaches, my parents and Montrose Bike Shop.”
The final standings show Deroche on top of Caden Gruber (Corona del Mar) and Parker Maccianti (Santa Ynez).
Regardless of where you finish, SoCal League coaches have your back. - Photo by Phil Beckman, PB Creative
Hannah Eckvahl (San Gabriel Valley) notched another wire-to-wire win with two lap times that once again would have put her well up in the other Girls class results. Following the theme: “It was really windy — bad. I got forced off my bike once. But yeah, I’m pretty happy,” said the quiet teen.
Karina Fuentes (Redlands) and Brenna Pratt (Crescenta) rounded out the top three. The final podium for this class has Eckvahl at the top, Pratt in second and Rebecca Israel (Yucaipa) finishing the season in third.
We’ll wrap this up by noting that every single one of the girls competing at the SoCal Finals — 60 total — was able to finish. That’s tenacity, and bodes well for 2014 and beyond.
Freshman Boys Division 1
After dropping his water bottle on the first climb, early leader Patrick Liddy put in one of the more impressive comeback performances of the day. At the end of lap one he had clawed his way into second place, but was still 33 seconds off the lead. A strong second lap put him on top of the podium for the third time in a row. Birthday boys Kyle and Jake Legge (Newbury Park) finished second and third.
“I knew it was going to be a tough race because some of the girls on our team came in from their races and said it was just absurdly windy,” Liddy recalled. “On the top of the ridge we were going about one mile an hour. Trying to push through on the second lap I ended up opening a pretty big gap. This is an awesome venue; I really like it. Thanks to my sponsors, MBS, parents and coach.”
Liddy captured the championship, trailed by Jacob Jordan (Murrieta) and Kyle Legge.
Freshman Boys Division 2
Despite competing in the state road criterium championships the day before, Jack Tucker (Corona del Mar) was still tough enough to complete a SoCal Series sweep at the Dirt Club. “The legs weren’t that fresh today,” he admitted, “so I just stayed with the group till the last little rise on the last lap. I got blown off my bike once and then the chain got locked up. I was able to put it right back on though.”
Evander Hughes (Great Oak) kept Tucker honest for second place by only nine seconds, with Evan Williams (Big Bear) rolling in just six seconds later.
In final points, Tucker wears the crown over Hughes and Williams.
About the SoCal High School Cycling League
The SoCal High School Cycling League was organized to provide a well-defined race season for youth racers and to promote the formation of teams at public and private high schools. With the cooperation of local race promoters and our sponsors, the League organizes a first class series of races designed for high school aged riders and is the easiest way for youth to get involved in the challenging and exciting world of competitive cycling. The League exists by virtue of a range of fundraising activities, as well as generous donors, and sponsors including Felt Bicycles, Jeep, founding national sponsor Specialized Bicycle Components; as well as establishing sponsors Easton Foundations, SRAM, and Trek Bicycles; major sponsors Sho-Air, Clif Bar and Company, Primal Wear, Quality Bicycle Products, Kayo Clothing, Rock N' Road Cyclery, Simplicity Bank, Turner Bikes, CamelBak, GU Sports, Kinetic, Maxxis, Orange Seal Cycling, Ryder’s Eyewear, Feedback Sports, Fort Lewis College, Fox Racing Shox, Ritchey Designs, and Cannondale; media partners Cyclingnews, Dirt Rag, Mountain Bike Action, MTBR, and Switchback. For more information on the League, visit http://www.socaldirt.org or contact Matt Gunnell at firstname.lastname@example.org or (818) 415-1133.