The Northern California High School Mountain Bike Racing Series is celebrating its 10th season this year with a five-race season for more than 500 high school mountain bikers from 40 schools across northern California. Students have been in training, and eagerly await the opening round on March 7 at East Garrison, Fort Ord, near Monterey.
Brand new executive director Vanessa Hauswald is as excited as anybody. "As expected, more than 530 riders have signed up for this series already, and we may get close to 600 by the time registration closes. This is a 20 percent jump over last year's membership."
"We're proud to be going into our tenth year with such a strong showing of teams, coaches, athletes and volunteers. Once again we have a challenging line up of courses that suit young riders, and we are really looking forward to watching our athletes enjoy themselves out there."
The 10th year of the series marks a turning point, necessitated by the popularity of the races. Hauswald said, "Now that we've grown beyond 500 riders, our venues and infrastructure are bursting at the seams. We are looking at options to accommodate the ever-increasing numbers and next year we will implement some changes."
"In the four years I've been with the League I have witnessed its growth, with each year getting even more fun and exciting than the last," said top ranked returning Varsity rider Will Curtis of San Rafael High School. "The lineup for the courses this year looks awesome! I think it will be a fun year for sure."
Curtis is confident of his form going into the season and says he hopes to perform to the best of his ability each race. "If that is good enough to win, that would be awesome. If not, I can be happy knowing that I gave it all I have. Can't wait for next weekend!"
The 2010 series opener is held on a course featuring singletrack through the rolling hills in mountain biking's classic Fort Ord venue. Riders will complete on a circuit of approximately five miles per lap. The series final and state championship race will be held in Grass Valley, a stone's throw from the opening stage of the Amgen Tour of California that same day in Nevada City.
In 2009 the Drake High School team won both series and state championships titles. Coach Paul Chourre is looking forward to another year, but with his team going from strength to strength he remains realistic. "Having graduated only three members of the 2009 squad, and picked up a record 23 new racers for a total of 49 this year, I would think that we are in good shape, but repeating as state champs is a very difficult task given the caliber of athletes that the League is producing," he said.
While the high school mountain bike events enjoy a relaxed, friendly, fun atmosphere that harks back to the early days of the sport, one feature that sets them apart from other mountain biking events is the number of course marshals. In addition to over a dozen trained stationary monitors, each wave of racers also has at least two "sweepers". Sweepers are course marshals that monitor riders' behavior and respond to emergencies should they occur. Parent and coach volunteers enjoy these active roles, carrying radios, first aid kits, and many are trained in wilderness first aid.
For 2010, the series has picked up a new sponsor, Santa Cruz Bicycles. The increase in sponsorship for high school cycling mirrors the national trend. NICA, the national-level organization for high school cycling recently picked up sponsorship from SRAM and Trek.
2010 Northern California High School Mountain Bike Racing League Series
March 7: Central Coast Invitational (Monterey)
March 21: Granite Bay Challenge (Folsom)
April 11: Boggs Mountain Classic (Cobb)
May 2: Mountain Goat Challenge (Monterey)
May 16: State Championships (Grass Valley)
For more information on the League's racing, visit www.norcalmtb.org.
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Sue George is an editor at Cyclingnews. She coordinates all of the site's mountain bike race coverage and assists with the road, 'cross and track coverage.