CA State High School MTB Championships May 19th, 2019
Five Albany Cougars made the long trek down to Tehachapi for the NICA High School Mountain Bike Racing state championships. The 6-mile course was purpose built by TMTA, a local bike advocacy group, and features a mix of wide dirt roads and single-track totaling about 700 feet of elevation gain per lap. Tehachapi Pass marks the boundary of California’s Central Valley and Mojave Desert regions, and also the boundary of the Tehachapi and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges. The topography and climate mean it is almost always windy, and the region hosts one of the largest wind power generation areas in the country.
On Saturday the team did a pre-ride to familiarize themselves with the course. The riders gave the racecourse a big thumbs up, they liked the mix of technical terrain and fast sections, and the fact that there were more passing opportunities than most courses we raced on this year. Grey skies and gusty winds made staying warm a priority, and blowing dust soon coated everything. We watched a few intrepid people setup camping tents as the wind howled, it did not look like they were in for a peaceful night of rest.
The team went to bed after a big pasta dinner and everyone was happy to not be camping as rain started to fall and temperatures dropped. By morning about an inch of rain had fallen and a fresh coat of snow draped the nearby peaks. The dirt access road to the venue was covered by a thick layer of slick mud, causing countless spinouts and a huge backup. All race start times were pushed back an hour to allow time for everyone to get to the venue, and the organizers reduced the length of some races so everyone could get off the course before thunderstorms which were forecast to arrive in the late afternoon.
Cougar riders used the time to ride the course again to see what changes the deluge had made. Sophomore Lincoln Chapman stayed to watch the first wave of Freshman race into a headwind on a section with 2 huge puddles and passed along some intelligence to the team; stay left of both puddles to avoid deep mud. In the first wave, most racers rode between the puddles following the best line from when the course was dry, but Lincoln saw that a few riders who tried a new line on the left saved time and came out with less heavy mud stuck on their tires.
Lincoln was the first Cougar to race, he was in the JV-A field with many older riders and had to start back in 44th place, a disadvantage compared to the front-row starts he had earned in Sophomore races. Knowing he had to make up a lot of places, he took the new left line at the puddles to pass two dozen riders, then hopped on the back of a fast group for a strong headwind section. At the halfway mark he was just behind the top ten but, unfortunately, a chain drop caused him to lose touch with the group. Taking a trick from road racing, instead of battling the wind alone he sat up to wait for the next group and got on the back wheel of the last rider to draft behind them. At the base of the last big climb he accelerated away from the group and then rode hard to finish 10th in the JV-A category, with the second-fastest finishing time of any Sophomore category rider.
Cougar racers Allison Marten, Alexa Albert and Artemisia Matera, a Sophomore, featured in the next wave, racing all together for the first time in the JV Girls category. Conditions had worsened, but the girls lined up enthusiastically, seeming to shrug off the wind, rain, and cold and maintain a positive attitude and high spirits. Allison got a bad start but felt great and steadily improved her position throughout the race, finishing a very solid 16th in a field of over 80 competitors. Artemisia was challenged by the technical course, particularly the rain-slippery rocks, but rode well and finished 56th (11th among Sophomore racers). Alexa, riding her final high school race, discovered the hard way that she still wasn’t over a respiratory virus, and suffering from breathing problems had to withdraw at the end of the first lap. All three of the JV Girls racers bonded over their shared ordeal back in the comfort of the truck, with the heater on max to help thaw them out.
Varsity rider Anjelou Parafina did a long warmup on the stationary trainer before her final race as a Cougar. After dealing with car troubles just to get to the venue, and a mass pileup at the start of her race, Anjelou had a mechanical problem on her bike — the Cougars’ second thrown chain of the day — but calmly got her bike running again and pedaled on strongly to finish 32nd, a great performance in the elite Varsity category, earning vital points for the Albany team.
At the end of the day the Albany Cougars team placed 11th overall out of 87 high school teams in the state, beating out many much larger Division 1 teams. Albany finished in 2nd place among Division 2 teams (schools with fewer than 15 riders), a stellar result. Head coach Dana Albert did an amazing job communicating race tactics and keeping riders thinking positively on a cold, wet, windy day.
Cougar riders, coaches and parents send a special thank-you to team sponsors including Albany Subaru, Trek Bicycle Berkeley, Velocity Lock & Key, Mechanics Bank, Benchmark Pizzeria, Precision People’s Car Repair, Ice Chamber, Steve’s Auto Care, Bicycle Trails Council East Bay, RC Imports, Little Star Pizza, McNally Realty Advisors, and the Albany Rotary Club