Clear blue skies and jubilant crowds greeted the historic first race of the SoCal High School Mountain Bike Racing Series - a four-race series that is an expansion of the NorCal High School Mountain Bike League.
"I couldn't be any happier right now," said SoCal League President Quintin Easton. "Parents, coaches and kids left the venue today with a real sense of how magical it is to have a league of their own. Many came and thanked me personally for bringing the NorCal formula into our region, and it was clear they want more. There was a great deal of talent out there on the course today. Some of the kids in Varsity really know how to ride, and many of them are already champing at the bit to race against the NorCal League!"
Close to 100 riders competing on 14 teams - representing 16 schools - heralded this dawn of a new era for mountain biking in Southern California. It was fitting, then, that the race was held at one of SoCal's finest mountain biking venues, the picturesque Vail Lake Mountain Resort.
A six-mile course wound through Temecula chaparral contained a little of everything, and was described by Sophomore Ricky Riedl, "This is the most fun course ever! There's great singletrack, lots of drops and technical descents, good climbs, it's really great." All other riders asked agreed with him.
The Newport Beach Composite team set the early pace for the series, ahead of Channel Islands High School and Hemet High School. With three races remaining, and the expectation that many more riders will come to this party, there is the sense that much could still change.
Meanwhile, the NorCal League opened its season the previous weekend on March 1. Starting the season with a burst of energy and enthusiasm, 415 high school mountain bikers from 33 schools were undeterred by grey skies and rain at the Central Coast Invitational, Fort Ord, Monterey.
As a testament to the surging popularity of high school mountain bike racing, the turnout for this race amounted to an increase of 15% over the 360 riders who showed up for Round One of the 2008 series.
With winter and pre-season training over, this was a great opportunity for some riders to find out how effective all that patient off-season training work had been. For most, it was a great opportunity to renew acquaintances and revel in the particular team spirit that makes mountain biking unique.
As the first waves of riders set off, the air was alive with the sound of cowbells as students, parents and coaches lining the course jangled and roared in support of the riders. "There were so many people. It was like being at a state championship soccer game, this was by far the most commotion we've ever had at a League race," said League director Matt Fritzinger.
"If we have a similar increase in numbers for next year's season, we might have to start using school busses to get people to this race. The parking lot looked just about full today," said Fritzinger.
Team Talk The all-important teams competition got off to a close start in Division I with the Drake Pirates edging the Salinas High School MTB Team by 3880 points to 3847. The 2008 Div.1 champions, San Rafael Bulldogs, occupied third spot with 3783 points. Coach Paul Sourre of the Drake team said, "We know it will be a difficult season, the philosophy of the Drake team has always been to teach the sport of mountain biking for the love of the sport, as opposed to winning for its own sake. It's a challenge to find a good program that provides for both the highly competitive riders as well as those that are doing good work a little deeper down in the field."
In Division II, the new composite Monterey Bay Kingfishers team, composed of several members of the former Calvary Christian team, took a 39 point lead with 1980 points over the San Marin High School Cycling Club with1941. For San Marin this was the best team result to date. The Marin Catholic MTB Club ended the day not far back with 1899 points. Mark Kintz, head coach of the Monterey Bay team explained the formation of the new team, "The Calvary Chapel team had evolved into a home-schooled group, so we weren't really attached to the school anymore. We picked a name that everybody liked. It's a six-person team with two sets of brothers and sisters."
2009 SoCal racing program
March 8: Vail Lake Challenge, Vail Lake Resort, Temecula, California
March 22: Warner Ranch Roundup, Warner Springs, California
April 5: Arrowhead Challenge, Lake Arrowhead, California
May 17: Cow Pie Invitational, Santa Ynez, California
2009 NorCal racing program
March 1: Central Coast Invitational, East Garrison at Fort Ord, Monterey, California
March 15: Granite Bay, Folsom Lake, California
April 5: Central Coast Invitational II, East Garrison at Fort Ord, Monterrey, California
April 26: Brown's Ravine, El Dorado Hills
May 17: State Championship, Boggs Mountain, Cobb, California