California High School MTB State Championships at the Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway, Salinas, CA 5/11/14
The past weekend I competed in the race of the year. The one race I was determined to completely destroy myself on and see how I was ranked against the top guys in the state. It finally came, the race I had put countless hours of training into to prepare myself for, the California High School State Championships. At the beginning of the season I was racing in the junior varsity class and never could have seen myself being competitive in Varsity by the end of the year…but here I was. It showed me how far some sweat, dedication, and hundreds of miles on the saddle could actually take me. I had come so far since the start of the season and the pressure I had on myself to succeed was tremendous.
All this and more surged through my head and throughout my body as I lined up at the start. My hands clenched the bars and I closed my eyes for a second and ran the course just one more time through my head. I seemed to play the race out in my mind…I would pass on that turn and push hard on that climb, and oh I must take my Gu at that point. I could feel the pre race energy bouncing around inside me, and after what seemed like ages the countdown finally began… 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, GO!! I jumped off the line and focused in on the task ahead. Half way up the first climb the legs felt amazing and I kicked it into power mode. I had started at around 40th place and definitely had some work to do if I wanted to catch the tail end of the front group before they broke away.
My first lap was a combination of insanely sketchy passes and throwing down some crazy power on the climbs. Half way through the lap I had passed nearly 30 racers from my class and caught the eye of the front pack of about 10 guys…they were movvvinn! On the last climb I was determined to catch on before the long decent. The gap began to close and I hammered down on the pedals. I forced myself not to look down at my heart rate monitor…knowing it would most likely be maxed. I closed the gap with about a half mile to go and hopped onto the train of riders. Finally the legs had a chance to rest.
The first lap went by and I was feeling pretty good about myself. I had caught up and was in the race ready to rock-n-roll. The group of about 10 riders I was in stayed together until the end of the 2nd lap. I knew the attack was coming and thought I was prepared. Sean Bell from the SoCal league jumped out front on one of the last climbs of the lap and nobody chased him. I knew there was a long decent ahead and so I sat on the group figuring Sean wouldn’t be able to hold the pace. I was very wrong. Not only could he hold the pace..I began struggling to hold on the the front group and slowly dropped off the back. What was wrong with me?! Finally my legs had come to reality and began to burn. I had pushed them a little too hard on the first lap and they were fighting back. I pounded a Gu and tried my best to keep the guys in my sight.
About half way through my third lap they started to come back to life. The dead achy feeling left and I felt power again. I pushed like a mad man and began to catch back up. The front group had split up and I began passing kids who had dropped off. I raced the fourth lap with Aptos rider and friend Soren Andersen. We both took turns pulling and began making up time. Finally we caught sight of 2nd and 3rd. I jumped in front of Soren on a downhill and let it rip. When I reached the bottom I glanced over my shoulder and saw I dropped him. The last climb burned the legs but it was worth it..I had finally caught back up. I came around the turn and began lap five with Bryce Lewis and Alec Pasqualina hot on my tail.
First was no where to be seen and I figured he must have held his crazy pace and catching him would be a task. I passed my coach at the end of the 4th lap and heard him yelling, “This is it Tof, you gotta go now!” He was right, this was the last lap. I had to make my move. The first single track climb on the last lap was a zoo. There must have been 20 kids from other classes walking the hill. This was it, I threw down some crazy hard pedal strokes and weaved in and out of the crowd. When I crested the hill I looked back to see Bryce stuck in the crowd. Unfortunately Alec had the same idea as me and he jumped in front of me right before the decent. We pushed crazy hard and were able to hold our gap for about half the lap before Bryce reeled us back in. This was okay, I knew it was a good attack and the race was far from over. We hung together until the last super steep climb. The whole lap we had traded off attacking and finally it was my turn. It was now or never. This was it, the moment I had been training and building up for the whole season. It all came down to this last mile of course. Right before the steepest part of thew climb I jumped in front of the guys and hammered the hill. I looked back at the top and was pleased to see it wasn’t a futile attack, Alec had dropped off. It was just me, Bryce, and about a quarter mile of fire road to the finish line. Bryce attacked and I pedaled like a mad man to catch up. He had created a tiny gap but I was closing it. I gave it absolutely everything I had and blew myself to pieces but came up about a wheel too short. I finished and began to black out…everything started to swirl in my head and I grabbed a hold of my coach. I was shelled, but what a race. I finished in 3rd place and about 30 seconds from 1st.
What an amazing season. I have learned so much and couldn’t be happier with my results. Time to take a little break and have some fun this summer. I plan to compete in a few enduro races over the summer as well as Downieville in August and then back to training. I can’t thank my parents, coaches, and Folsom Bike enough for all their help this season. I love you all and wouldn’t have come close to where I am now without you.
The Ashland Mountain Spring Thaw Festival has been a “must go” event for me since 2010, always a favorite and always drawing a very tough field of competition. The event has evolved slightly with a few different courses for the XC and now changing the DH day into a two run “enduro” style format. Also adding an additional King of the Mountain competition, mimicking that of the Downieville All Mountain format of running the same bike unchanged for both days and taking a combined points tally from both days of racing to settle the winner. Last year was the first year of this and I am quite pleased to say that I took the overall! With a little help admittedly from the organizers who on the first year favored the XC results which is uncommon, in any case…i won last year having won the XC event.
Moving forward to 2014 and things are much, much different. I now find myself without a mountain bike of my own. Haven’t had one since December or so…Picking up a stressful workload on the road bike with a new team I have been kept busy and off the dirt. Not having much of any of a winter in Norcal, I was never hugely tempted to get out onto fresh tacky dirt, we never had any…so this not having a bike dilemma hadn’t presented much of an issue. I did however race one time, back in January on a borrowed bike only having ridden it 15 minutes from the shop to the start line before the race. Now traveling up to Ashland for a big boy’s mountain bike race with some fierce competition had me a little nervous as I drove up with yet another borrowed bike in tow that I had not yet ridden.
Not even knowing if this trip could be pulled off until the Wednesday before the weekend it was all a bit jumbled and last minute, held together tightly however by the glue that is my wonderful girlfriend and better half, Shasta McMillen. She prepared a meal plan for us, cooked in advance and shopped for the weekend so that I could concentrate on the task at hand. Thank you! Friday morning we hit the road and enjoyed a flow of great music as we made our way up the I5. In an effort to repay her in some way for her efforts, upon her request to stop for us to make our lunch I decided I would take a small detour and drive out to the Base of her namesake and prepare our lunch at the bottom of Mt. Shasta and have a picnic in the afternoon sun! After lunch we finished the drive and made it to town with time to spare, quickly meeting up with my good friend and more than likely closest competition Billy “The Champ” Damon. Shasta shuttled us up for a run on the DH courses where we arranged a rendezvous with the legendary Kenny Burt of WTB/Ibis. It was there, on that first run, on an unfamiliar bike, on unforgivingly dry trails I thought “wow! i’m out of my league” and figured I had might as well just go home! Although stubborn as I am I went up for another crack at it and sure enough that old familiar feeling came right back as I got a very slight bit of confidence. This journey took me into the early hours of the evening when Shasta and I needed to meet up with our gracious hosts for the weekend of which we had only met a few weeks prior through a random circumstance that led to us living together in the woods for 9 days through a natural home building workshop.
That evening was magical! They invited us to hang out with them and some friends on a private vineyard up in the hills overlooking the valley below, absolutely awesome and very much centering for my weary mind that was fighting itself and many thoughts of doubt concerning my fight to hold onto the XC pro title from last year. Moving into race morning I just let the pressure roll off as best as possible and aimed to just have some fun with it and see what happened. Rolling up to the start line was refreshing, or at least as refreshing as that situation could be. Being greeted by many old friends that I used to see regularly throughout the season and haven’t for some time now feeling like I have abandoned them for someone else that is road racing. With that…boom! we are off and running! As usual I stayed near the front but not on it, letting others set the pace for the first few minutes. Mountain Bikers are not a patient breed of individuals, everyone wants to go hard now! Letting my now roadie brain hold me back for a few minutes I just relaxed until there was a bit of a lull in the pace right after the first steep pitch. Pretty sure I didn’t even go harder, more just held the same pace we were previously doing and that was enough to open a gap. Sure enough Billy came with me as we motored away from the group, trailing still behind one guy who made a huge effort previously and was riding just seconds in front of us for the first 20 minutes of the hour long climb. Not too concerned with this as i knew how relentless the climb could be I was content to just ride tempo for awhile behind this guy and sure enough, he blew up and we easily pedaled past him. Approaching the halfway point of the climb Billy and I had established a big enough gap that nobody was in sight and we took turns pacing each other up the rest of the climb to the summit.
Not knowing exactly where the top was at this point I perhaps got lucky that my last pull led us straight to the last bit of the climb funneling into single track and allowing me a clean line of sight for the long decent back into town. Billy seemed almost content to just be there at the top and let me ride away on the decent, we both rode smooth and a bit restrained but still I was able to hold him off and grab the win for a second year in a row!! Very happy to have somehow pulled that off it was time to celebrate and go ride some more trails for the afternoon.
Sunday’s DH stages I knew were going to be much different than my experience on Saturday, with being so out of practice and still on a strange feeling bike and with such a competitive field for the DH stages I was just riding for fun at this point. The fun got less and less however as the rain came down and temperatures dropped, massively different from nearly 80 degrees the day before! Finding myself at the top of the mountain now with no glasses of goggles to protect my eyes from the gritty Ashland sandy soil I knew I was in for it…To no surprise I lost some time on the two runs, couldn’t see anything and am still currently flushing sand from my eyeballs. Unfortunately I did lose my shot at defending the overall title but I had a tremendous time in doing so and a truly magical weekend of traveling with my favorite person in the world! We met great people, ate fantastic food and I still did win a race out of the deal… I’ll take it!
NorCal #4 Varsity Boggs Race Report
This last Saturday was my last NorCal race before the state championships and one I’ve been looking forward to for a while. The location of this showdown…Boggs. Boggs is home to some of the most fun singletrack in the state and was the perfect location for a high school mountain bike race.
I came into this race with very high expectations. I felt strong, and knew exactly what I had to do in order to get on the box. However, when does a race ever go exactly as you plan it. There will always be challenges that come up that you weren’t expecting and have to face.
We lined up on the start at 1:30 PM, twenty minutes later than they originally had said, which meant that my warmup was wearing off. I quickly ate a Gu and settled in at the line. Then glancing around I began to realize how terrible my position really was. When I moved up from JV to Varsity earlier in the year all my points went away. This meant that I had to start in nearly dead last every race and fight my way through the field to catch the front pack. I knew it was going to be a rough start but there was nothing I could do, so I pushed it out of my head and tried to focus. The race started and as usual everyone blew their brains out in a complete sprint. I immediately saw an opening to my left and pushed for it. I got passed the kid in front of me only to get stuck behind the rest of the field. Frustrated I fought for the outside to try to pass the whole field but was cut off. I sat
down and began to push forward realizing that this was going to be a very tough race. When we got to the single track I was in about 25th place and in a terrible position. Slowly I picked guys off one by one and began to move up in the field. About half way through the single track I caught a group of about 8 guys that were pushing at a pretty decent pace. Jumping on to the back of the group I decided to let my heart rate lower a bit. I sat on this group until the first real fire road climb where I surged passed the whole group and really began gunning for the front pack. Finally, on the last single track climb on the first lap I spotted a couple of guys. I caught them at the crest of the hill and was able to squeeze by right before the decent. knowing this would be a perfect time to pull a slight gap I let my fingers off the breaks and let it rip. I reached the bottom of the hill and began my next lap in third place and about a minute behind first. The start had set me back more than I had thought and I knew I had to close the gap. About half way through my second lap I passed second place and kept my attack on full throttle. I rounded out the second lap and was still 45 seconds behind the leader. I kept my attack on strong and was slowly catching him according to the splits being yelled at me at different points of the course. By the beginning of the fourth lap I was only 30 seconds off the leader and was starting to catch glimpses of him on more open sections of the course. By the time I rounded the corner and began the long fire road climb I had him in my sites. He was only 15 seconds ahead however I could tell that I would not be able to hold the pace I had previously been pushing for that much longer. Midway through the climb, Bryce (first place) glanced over his shoulder and took off. I pushed to get on his wheel but there was nothing left. By the end of the fourth lap I had dropped back 30 seconds and did not have another attack in me. My pace quickly slowed and I could not figure out what was wrong with me. My legs began to cramp some on the hills, which I have never had problems with, and it was all I could do to push a decent pace. I realized the problem half way through my last lap when I glanced down at my Garmin. I was 1 hour 45 minutes into my race and had not had anything to eat the whole time. I could not believe it. How had I forgotten to eat? I finished the race in 2nd place and had dropped back a bit more from the leader since my last lap was more than a minute slower than my previous ones. At first I felt frustrated but quickly brushed this aside knowing that second in the Varsity field is no easy task.
Overall, Boggs was an amazing weekend. I had so much fun ripping the course and learned a ton. However, there is no way I could have raced as well as I did without all the support from my coaches, family, and Folsom Bike. I cant believe the season is already winding down. Wow, it went by fast. I have a week and a half left of training and preparation before the State Championships in Monterey. So excited to battle it out with the fastest kids around and give it my all. Lets Gooo!!!