I was very excited for this race in the days leading up. I have some very fond memories of last year’s league races and I was excited to race with my old competitors. I wasn’t too nervous because I didn’t know really what to expect. I did however have some wicked poison oak from the Sunday before and on the drive up my mind was mostly focused on resisting the temptation to scratch it. Pre-riding the course however got my mind back on the race. I rode with Tristan, Maddie, and Joaquin. It was cold and drizzly but I had a raincoat and rain pants on so I was warm and dry. I noticed there weren’t many passing spots but the trail was so smooth and flowy it almost felt like we were floating (practicing in tilden we don’t get to encounter many trails like this). It was honestly quite relaxing. I really got to enjoy the trail which is why I love pre-rides so much. It was quite beautiful and scenic as well. We were done in no time. I heard that the trail was quick but I had no idea it was that quick. I decided not to do a second lap and to just head to the hotel. After a tasty dinner and a quick meeting, I went right to bed. I need a lot of sleep and I’m really not a morning person, especially with the time change, I got up as late as possible and had breakfast at the course feeling well rested.
After cheering on the earlier race categories, we started to warm up around 11. I was ready to go. I knew the race would be over in no time and it would basically be a sprint. We headed over to the start and got into the correct spots based on our call ups. I recognized a few people from last year. I saw Henry from BHS and Nico from SRV. Before I knew it we were being called up and in no time the announcer was counting down. We took off at a full sprint. I was sprinting like mad but Henry managed to pull ahead and started leading the pack. I saw Nico unclip and fall back out of the corner of my eye which meant at least for the time being I didn’t have to worry about him (he finished 12th). Two big Berkeley kids who I didn’t recognize passed me out of the blue. I smoothly entered the single track 4th in the pack.
On one of the climbs I managed to pass both the berkeley kids and I caught up to Henry. It seemed like we were not going too fast and on the first fire road stretch I saw my chance and passed him (Henry ended up finishing 14th). That meant I was in first. I had never been in this position before and I was a little nervous because there was a long line of kids behind me and I didn’t feel confident setting the pace. I felt pretty strong on the climbs so on the loose hill before the hairpin turn I started to drop the pack. This boosted my confidence and I started to go faster. At the second road crossing I saw Joaquin cheering me on. It felt great. I looked behind me again and saw no one in sight. I couldn’t help but smile. I had completely dropped the pack. I kept going faster hoping to widen the gap. My newfound confidence seemed to numb any fatigue and I found myself being able to effortlessly speed along the course. When I entered the feed zone I heard people frantically yelling and suddenly the two new berkeley kids from earlier on passed me out of nowhere. I managed to get around one of them and I tried to draft off the other. I felt pretty awkward on the pump track and he started to drop me. I also started to hear the buzz of multiple bikes behind me.
At the start of the second lap I went through a puddle and a giant clod of mud flew into my eye obscuring my vision and causing me to briefly swerve off trail. I knew there were a bunch of kids piled up behind me and I have a really bad habit of feeling guilty in situations like this because I feel like I’m holding people up. I went off to the side to let them pass. 3 piedmont kids who I also didn’t recognize went zooming by at the speed of sound. I didn’t even bother trying to stay with them, they were going so fast. I felt my confidence leave me not just because I lost my chance at first but I had also lost my callup. I had no clue there would be so many fast new kids.
I was alone for the rest of the race. At one point I looked behind me and saw the other Berkeley kid. He was a good ways back but I didn’t want him to catch up because I would lose my podium spot. I picked up the pace hoping to widen the gap. I caught a few glimpses of the Piedmont kids ahead and saw that they had caught up to the berkeley kid and were drafting in a pack of 4. At the hairpin turn I heard someone call my name and to my surprise, it was Tristan! I was amazed he had made it all this way because he started in general and the course really wasn’t known for its passing opportunities. I knew he posed a threat to my podium placement as well but I thought to myself if anyone was going to pass me it had better be him. He had made it so far and not just in the race, but as a mountain biker. He deserved the podium spot. I continued to try and widen the gap between me and the people behind me. As I awkwardly struggled through the rollers I started to worry that someone would catch up but I heard no one behind me.
I finished fifth achieving my goal for podium plus I got a sub 40 minute time. This race came with a lot of surprises. My old competitors seemed completely out of my game and there seem to be so many new fast people. This just makes the season ahead more mysterious and I’m excited to see how things will turn out.