of the brand new El Toro High School team — and hundreds of others —
were ready for the new SoCal season to start. -Photo by Phil Beckman
Fast Times at SoCal High School League Kickoff
2013 SoCal High School Mountain Bike Racing Series ROUND ONE
Vail Lake Challenge, Temecula, CA
By Phil Beckman, PB Creative
Contact: Matt Gunnell, firstname.lastname@example.org, (818) 415-1133, www.socaldirt.org
High School was one of the founding members of the SoCal High School
Cycling League in 2009, and scored its first Division 1 team win at the
Vail Lake Challenge in 2013. -Photo by Phil Beckman
— The 2013 SoCal High School Cycling League season opener was like a
copy of Michael Jackson’s best selling album thrown under an 18-wheeler:
It was a thriller; it was record breaking.
High school mountain bike racing continues to register phenomenal
growth throughout the country. On this last Sunday of February in
California alone there were more than 900 student-athletes competing in
three National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) sanctioned
events. Two took place in the original NorCal League, which has expanded
into two conferences this season due to its phenomenal participation
numbers. In addition, leagues in Colorado, Texas, Minnesota and Utah now
have active race schedules, while New York, Tennessee and Arizona
enthusiasts will be getting their opportunity to hit the track this year
Closer to home, the SoCal High School Cycling League began its fifth
season with a record-breaking 349 riders, up from 279 registered at last
year’s opener. A total of 36 teams were represented, ten more than in
2012. And this comes despite a significant number of riders graduating
at the end of last season. A total of 140 brand new student-athletes
made the Vail Lake Challenge their first high school mountain bike
Not only are the attendance numbers up, so is the level of
competition. It was plainly visible not only on Vail Lake’s dry,
rolling, 5-mile-long course, but in the statistics as well. Following
the day’s action, the Executive Director of the SoCal League, Matt
Gunnell, stated, “There is going to be some incredible racing going on
this season. In six of 11 fields there was less than a minute between
the top three finishers. One of the most exciting categories — in terms
of both performance and the future of the sport — was Freshman Girls.
The top five were all within 56 seconds of each other. It’s very
exciting to note that six of the top ten Varsity Girls and seven of the
top ten Varsity Boys are only juniors in high school, meaning they still
have a lot of time left in the league.”
A good example of the parity and competitiveness being witnessed in the
SoCal League this season came in the Division 1 team results. Yucaipa
High School ended up on top of an extremely tight points fight to claim
its first overall team victory after four years of trying.
What made the difference? According to Head Coach Mike Bagg, “We
weren’t training properly. This past off-season we studied some data,
put some numbers to paper, read a lot and looked at what other
successful teams were doing. You know, imitation is the greatest form of
flattery. We’ve adapted, and we’re really proud and happy that our hard
work has paid off.”
Second and third on the day in D1 were Murrieta Valley High School
and multi-time and defending champion Hemet High School, respectively.
This story was eerily similar to the Division 2 contest, where
Crescenta Valley also claimed its first team win. Head Coach Jim Rowton,
himself a former national-level MTB racer, told us, “I’ve been trying
to change the culture of our program for a couple of years. We started
out with a club mentality, but now we’re asking for more of a
competitive commitment. Now we’ve finally established a winning
attitude; this phenomenal group of kids has bought into that mentality.
If we work hard and do our best, the results will be there. We had eight
kids on the podium today. I couldn’t be more thrilled.”
South Orange County Composite and defending champion Redlands Composite went 2-3 in D2 at Vail Lake.
World-class rider Shane Skelton (038, Independent) was unstoppable in Varsity Boys. -Photo by Phil Beckman
The front of this four-lap race could have been mistaken for a Pro
National, such was the torrid pace being set. A group of five broke
clear of the 26-rider field on the first lap, consisting of early leader
Jarred Jordan (Murrieta Valley), Kyle Skeen (Ramona), Lucas Rowton
(Crescenta Valley), Sammy Bello (Independent) and international
competitor Shane Skelton (Independent). Just after the halfway point,
Skelton put in a hard effort that resulted in the fastest lap of the day
— a searing 18:38. Only Jordan was able to hang on, but not for long.
Skelton was by himself for the fourth and final lap, crossing the finish
line with a half-minute lead. Jordan fought off leg cramps for a secure
second, followed by Skeen, Rowton and a tenacious Alex Bagg (Yucaipa).
“We were just playing cat-and-mouse the first two laps,” explained
Skelton, “then I figured I might as well attack and get the race
started. Everyone was riding good, but that was it.”
Skelton then revealed that he had ridden the entire 20-mile race with
a partially collapsed front fork. “It happened during warmup and I only
had about 70mm of travel. It was hard trying to go fast down the hills.
I had to run it the way it was, but no worries.” The rest of the class
may be relieved to hear that Skelton will be missing several SoCal
League events due to overseas racing commitments.
Are you listening, Jarred Jordan? “I stayed with Shane as long as I
could and that made a gap between the two of us and third place,” he
said. “I knew at that point I had first or second locked. Then halfway
through the last lap both my calves and one of my hamstrings totally
cramped. No idea why, but we’ll get it figured out.”
more can you say about Hannah Rae Finchamp (001, Maranatha)? The humble
cyclocross/triathlon/high school MTB star won yet again. -Photo by Phil
A pileup at the start of the deepest Varsity Girls race in SoCal League
history put a damper on several contenders’ days. This incident could
have a lasting impact on the season. Emerging safely from the melee was
Maddie Melcher (Redlands) with a massive holeshot, but she had spent the
previous evening at an urgent care center with flu-like symptoms and
would soon be passed by reigning series champion Hannah Rae Finchamp
Fresh off a cyclocross season in which she captured two titles,
Finchamp was once again in a world of her own, winning by more than five
minutes. “I was fortunate enough to have a very smooth race,” she said.
“I am convinced that every MTB race I do, my passion for the sport only
grows and I am so thankful that God has given me so many opportunities.
It was a fantastic high school race as always and it was so fun to see
Finchamp had won a triathlon the day before and will be focusing on
that sport for much of the upcoming year. She may miss one or two SoCal
events, but says she will make it to the State Championships this year.
Finishing runner-up at Vail Lake was Hemet’s Emma Klingaman, who
enjoyed a good battle with Morgan Zurborg (Woodcrest) for much of their
three laps. Klingaman eventually moved ahead of Zurborg, as did last
year’s runaway Sophomore Girls champion Morgan Bradley (Rim of the
World). Bradley’s teammate Nicole Jewell rounded out the top five, while
early leader Melcher persevered for sixth.
Klingaman revealed that she was recovering from a broken right hand.
“I’ve only been back on the bike for about two weeks,” she stated. “I
wasn’t expecting that good of a finish. There are a lot of girls moving
up this year and the competition just keeps getting stronger and
Bicycles has come onboard with the SoCal League for 2013. Stop by and
say hi to Zak Duerhring (left) and Eddie McDonald at the next race.
-Photo by Phil Beckman
JV Boys Division 1
Imeh Nsek (Independent) grabbed his first win in his first try at this
level, working in the wind with Michael Lansing (Woodcrest) to build a
comfortable gap. As Nsek explained, “I got away from Michael on the last
hill on the second lap. After I broke away he was trying to keep up but
in the feed zone someone cut him off and he went down. I looked back
and saw him on the floor and was like, ‘aw, man.’ I’m glad he kept his
second place. I’m very happy.”
Lansing had to sprint against Woodcrest teammate Brian Messner to secure the position by just three seconds.
JV Boys Division 2
James Pflughaupt (Corona del Mar) was undefeated in the Freshman D2
class last season, and he kept his win streak alive in his first JV
event. It did not come without plenty of drama, however. He chased back
from a first-lap fall and then withstood considerable pressure from Sean
Bell (El Toro) to secure the win by only two seconds.
“In my mind — and I’m sure Sean was thinking the same thing — whoever
went first into the singletrack on the last lap was going to win the
race,” recalled Pflughaupt. “Luckily I got there first and ended up with
the win, with Sean breathing down my neck. Overall I had a fantastic
day and am looking forward to the next race.”
Daniel Johnson (South Orange County) was able to watch most of this
action from a fairly close third place in the largest class of the day
with 61 starters.
In her first high school mountain bike race, Independent rider Ema
Suarez surprised many with a convincing JV Girls victory. “I’ve been
doing road cycling,” she said. “This is my first year racing mountain
bikes. I like it a lot, and here I am. It was hard but fun. The scene
here is exciting and all well organized and safe. I am planning on doing
the whole series; we’ll see how it goes. Thank you to my parents and
coach and the league for making all this happen.”
It was a Hemet High train chugging down the track behind Suarez, with
Haleigh Kirkham claiming second place, Alexis Marques third and Arcelia
van Haaster (604, Corona) streaks under the Jeep arch on his way to a
great Sophomore Boys D2 finish. -Photo by Phil Beckman
Sophomore Boys Division 1
Hayden Ramsey and Dillon Gamache contributed a lot of points to
Yucaipa’s effort by going 1-2 in a very competitive Sophomore Boys D1
rumble. As Ramsey, a cross-country runner, put it, “After we got to the
top of the first fireroad I saw how everyone was riding and I knew that I
could do it. I took off ahead and that kind of worried my coaches
because it was still early, but I was able to hold everyone off. The
coaches are really pushing us this year in training, and it’s all paying
Rounding out the top three, just two seconds adrift of Gamache, was Evan-Christenson-Meyer (Independent).
Sophomore Boys Division 2
Crescenta Valley’s Alexander DeRoche admitted that he was more nervous
about being interviewed after the race than he was during the race
itself. He handled both extremely well. “I had a second row start but
sprinted at the beginning so I could get ahead,” he said after his first
league win. “I was able to just clear my mind of everything and became
focused; I was in the zone. I’ve gotten very committed to the sport and
the coaches have been very committed to us, helping all of us do well.
That commitment is paying off. It’s glorious to be able to go out and
race, to sweat and have fun.”
Parker Maccianti (Santa Ynez) and Ethan Shuler (Corona) finished second and third at Vail Lake.
Christina Mann (Yucaipa) recorded two astoundingly quick laps to win
Sophomore Girls by almost five minutes ahead of Kaitlin Washburn
(Eastlake) and Dee-Anna Lopez (Crescenta Valley).
How did she do it? “I’m training a lot harder than I did last year,
paying more attention to nutrition and definitely taking it more
seriously. I felt like I was flying right from the start.” Mann was
evidently not rattled by the fact that her chain and rear derailleur had
to be replaced only moments before her two-lap race.
Samantha Meader (406, Yucaipa) gets a well-earned hug after finishing 8th in Sophomore Girls. -Photo by Phil Beckman
Freshman Boys Division 1
Brother to Varsity Boys runner-up Jarred Jordan, first-time high school
racer Jacob Jordan (Murrieta Valley) led this race from start to finish.
Patrick Liddy (Independent) crossed the line in second place, with Kyle
Legge (Newbury Park) right on his heels.
According to Jordan, “I had a third-row start but took off to the
front right away. On the second lap a group of three guys were gaining
but I pulled away through Tunnel of Love (a swoopy, fun section of
single track). It all just worked out pretty good. Good job to the other
kids — second and third — because there were having a good race too.”
Freshman Boys Division 2
Jack Tucker (Corona del Mar) had a similar story, dominating the front
of his field from beginning to end to triumph by almost two minutes. “I
got the holeshot from the start and just kept it going,” he reported.
I’m a little sore but it went well; no problems.”
Nicolas Padilla (South Orange County) and Chris Taylor (Foothill) stood on the remaining podium steps.
Developing cyclocrosser Hannah Eckvahl (San Gabriel Valley) nabbed
Freshman Girls with two strong laps on a new bike, crossing the finish
line ahead of Rebecca Israel (Yucaipa) and Brenna Pratt (Crescenta
“I started about fourth but managed to get to the singletrack first
and led the rest of the way,” she stated. “Cyclocross helps with being
able to go faster for short periods of time. I felt really good and this
bike felt really fast.”
Upcoming series events:
March 10: Carving Canyons, Sycamore Canyon Park, Riverside
March 24: Beach to Boulders, Lake Perris State Recreation Area, Perris
April 14: Cruise the Keys, Keyesville Special Recreation Management Area, Lake Isabella
May 5: Cow Pie Classic, SG Dirt Club, Los Olivos
May 19: State Championships, Stafford Lake Park, Marin County
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 League sponsors
including Jeep, Felt Bicycles founding national sponsor Specialized Bicycle Components; as well as establishing sponsors Easton Foundations, SRAM, and Trek Bicycles; major sponsors Sho-Air,
JEEP, Clif Bar and Company, Primal Wear, QBP, Simplicity Bank, Kayo
Clothing, Rock N' Road Cyclery, Turner Bikes, Jax Bicycle Center,
CamelBak, GU Sports, Kinetic, Maxxis, Orange Seal Cycling, Feedback
Sports, Ft. Lewis College, Fox Racing Shox, and Ritchey Designs; and media partners Mountain Bike Action, Dirt Rag, and Cyclingnews. For more information on the League, visit www.socaldirt.org or contact Matt Gunnell at email@example.com or (818) 415-1133.