NICA is the governing body for high school cycling. Utah is working with NICA to become an Emerging League this fall and a Project League starting January 2012. As a League, NICA invests in Utah to get our League up and running. They provide coaching education and licensing.
Partnered with THE POSITIVE COACHING ALLIANCE, they will train coaches, assistants, rider leaders, etc. Bringing to Utah a Leader's Summit which will teach coaches everything from how to teach mountain biking skills to running the school program, all with a focus on how to treat kids with respect and build their self esteem through positive coaching. NICA will aid in skills clinics for kids and in getting our races up and running. We are planning on a fall race schedule and late summer training. NICA races follow a 4-6 mile lap format, making them very spectator friendly so parents, families, and friends can watch their athlete race and cheer them on!

-FUN! FUN! FUN! We want to meet needs of those kids not in mainstream sports, and do so in a positive way that builds the self esteem of kids. Cycling is a life-long sport, you can be 40 or 60 years old and still out riding or racing, providing health and fitness for life!

Monday, May 16, 2011

California High School MTB State Championships 2011 Trip

Dave Harward post on the California High School MTB State Championships 2011 Trip -- more photos and video inserts to come, I'm too tired right now.

Lori and I had a great trip this week. For those who don’t know, Lori has been working on putting together a bid for a high school mountain biking league in Utah. NICA, the National Interscholastic Cycling Association, is the governing body for high school cycling and they approve new league bids. This weekend was the California High School Mountain Biking State Championships. There are two leagues in California, so this weekend was the culmination of both league’s seasons. We decided this would be the best time to see the longest running high school leagues in action. This is likely going to be a long post and I’m sure will be well worth your time. It’s going to have pictures and video!

We met some amazing people this weekend. Between the never-resting NorCal and SoCal league staff, NICA officials, and the supportive and excited parents, Lori and I were welcomed as friends and coworkers. We really had no idea how things were going to go and if we would be able to get involved in the action or not. I figured we would be able to at least observe how they did things but didn’t know for sure.

The best part of the drive out was our trip up the 101 from the Los Angeles area to Los Olivos. We did take a bit of a detour from Santa Barbara up over the mountains to Lake Cachuma and it was beautiful. Looks like the entire area would be an amazing place to do a lot of both MTB and road riding. Just a few miles north of Los Olivos is a large area of private property that is home to a large herd of cows most of the time but this past weekend was home to over 400 high school mtb racers and their family and friends. A fun part of the high school mtb race scene is the on-site camping. The kids get a chance to make and maintain friendships with kids from all over the league. The parents also get to do some note comparing on how to run the teams and discuss their kid’s training.

So we pulled off into the race venue and the first person we met was Matt Gunnell, the director of the SoCal High School MTB League. This guy has some serious energy and keeps people organized and on task. He lined us up with a prime parking spot right close to one of the principals involved with starting the NorCal league, Mark Kintz. Mark and his wife Patty are from Monterrey, CA. They currently have a daughter racing in the NorCal league. Mark has been involved with NorCal for 13 years and is one of the league’s Board of Directors members. He has a great interest in making sure all of the kids are safe out on the course and is super conscientious about course design and how the kids will “see” the race course.

Our other neighbors were John and Claudia from Corona, CA. John has been a cyclist for quite a while and thought that his son and some friends could have a great time with mountain biking. They formed a composite team so that the boys who are friends could ride together. Talk about some enthusiasm about looking for ways for the boys to have fun as well as become more experienced riders and racers. John is also having a lot of fun getting out as the boy’s coach and working them over on road bikes. He said that they school him on the MTB climbs but when he gets them out on road rides on the Huntington Beach bike path they are no match!

There were many other friendly parents that made us feel welcome and were very excited to hear about the efforts being made towards a Utah League. A big part of making it out was so we could get in the mix of helping to put the race together so we could have an idea of what it takes on race weekend. Race day was Sunday and we arrived on Friday afternoon just in time to roll out with Matt Gunnell, Mark Kintz, and Sean McCoy, Mountain Bike Action’s Managing Editor, who is SoCal’s course setter. Turns out that the course setter job is on the very important side for high school mountain biking. We did a “slow roll” of the course to make sure it was to NICA specification as well as decide what needed to be worked on for the Saturday set up. We were looking for places that needed clean-up, fill-in, course marshal positioning, and signage. The signage wouldn’t go up until Saturday morning.

After the “slow roll” lap I did a hot lap and while not super technical it was a really hard course. The first climb came just under a mile into the lap. The beginning of the lap was steep with some tough switchbacks that would definitely be selective. A long, winding descent with a few technical corners followed leading into a more moderate and steady climb. Again, the descent was winding and the lap finished with a fairly long straightaway leading into the winding infield and finish line. The course measured 5.65 miles total with a fair amount of elevation gain.

A quick reminder is needed. There is a very large herd of cows on this property. I’m not a huge fan of large animals that make sudden moves when I’m riding a bike. For the first few hours of riding the cows would move off the trail well in advance of seeing us. After my fast lap I decided to roll another. I may have freaked myself out a bit about the cows but maybe not. Lori and I met up part way through the lap and enjoyed the comfortable temperatures just before the sun went down. As we were rolling along the long straight coming back towards the start/finish area I had to repeatedly holler ahead at the cows to move off. One decided he wasn’t too psyched to move at my request so I slowed up a bit. I was getting ready to stop with my fingers lightly pulling on the brakes when he made a lunge towards us resulting in me grabbing a handful of brake lever and launching over the front of the bars. Ouch! Fortunately for Sunday race day there were enough people around to motivate the cows to move to a more remote area of the property.

Saturday morning it got moving! Lori got connected with the infield set up crew. I rolled out with the course set up crew. There’s nothing like rolling a lap in jeans with a shovel across the handlebars. Sean from MTB Action was on his motorcycle making decisions on how to mark the course. As I mentioned earlier, there is a big focus on keeping things safe. Freshman through Seniors, beginners through soon-to-be-Pros, compete on the same course. Sean said he wanted to “over mark” the course since there are many tight turns on fast descents. While he dropped stakes written with directional arrows or double and triple down arrows to signify caution points on the course, I was on the lookout for areas that needed to be smoothed out. It was informative to get a great idea on how a NICA approved course should be set.

Once the course was dialed in, Lori rolled out with Chris from NICA to do a lap on the race course. I pulled the road bike off the rack and took advantage of the quiet backroads between Los Olivos and Santa Maria. It was vineyard after vineyard for 25 of the 35 miles on the out along Foxen Canyon Road. The last 10 miles towards Santa Maria included plenty of strawberry fields and other produce. It was very quiet and relaxing and best of all I felt great riding at a few hundred feet above sea level. I wanted to make a loop to the west of the 101 back from Santa Maria but my phone died and I wasn’t sure of directions. However, going back the same way was a new experience as well. I love riding somewhere I’ve never been and it was even better that there was hardly any traffic.

We had another great evening visiting with other parents from the SoCal league and enjoying their excitement that we are trying to get the league rolling in Utah. A lot of the parents mentioned how much of a positive experience it is to be part of a team and how much fun they have as parents out at the races. It sure seems like everyone pitches in to make it all happen. There were lots of volunteers to go out on the course set up and a lot of other parents worked on their kid’s bikes.

Saturday night into Sunday morning brought 5 or 6 downpours. Fortunately our tent kept the water out but I expected a mudfest Sunday morning. The ground must have been dry enough because all it did was hold down the dust for the morning. Lori found her way to the course marshal meeting and I met up with Chris from NICA and got to be part of the set up crew for the staging area and the opening straightaway. They have very specific set up rules for NICA races. Needless to say, I did a lot of hammering rebar with a hefty hammer. Watch out when I flex the guns! Lori came back over to do some course taping and I was able to get Felipe from Ventura to give me a hand with some of the hammering.

We hurried and grabbed some lunch and I got a look at how immense the compound had become. There is a large pit area set aside for the teams to set up. They got something like an area of 18’x25’ to put up tents and trainers to get themselves ready for their races. The kids had been riding the race course all morning. It looked like everyone was having a ton of fun so far.

After lunch we went back over to see what else we could get involved with. There were going to be 3 waves of racers. The girls fields raced first, followed by the Freshman and Sophomore boys. The final wave was Varsity boys and the two divisions of Junior Varsity. I was able to get in the mix of racer staging. First off, all of the student athletes were very considerate and responsive. Again for safety, NICA rules have the kids line up 5 to a row with no overlapping. Since it was a championship race for California the top-10 from each league were called up. It was a lot of fun organizing the racers and seeing their excitement to get out on the course.

Between the race waves I got to view some of the racing closer to the staging area and visit with Lori while she was observing at the scoring table. Talk about a great system! NorCal’s original official is still with them and he has put together a web-based scoring system that provides real time results to anyone with a device that can pick up WiFi. Yes people, real time results on your smart phone while you walk around watching the race. During the Varsity race we hiked up on one of the hills to watch the kids rally the descent. We got to see a lot of good sportsmanship and encouragement.

After a long day and weekend I felt like we had really benefited a lot by making the trip to have a good understanding on what it takes to make one of these races happen. It was great to meet the driving forces behind NICA and high school mountain biking. Very inspiring to see how hard the crews work and the commitment they put in to make such a positive experience for youth. Lori has been motivated and inspired to put in the work it takes, but I’ve not seen her more excited or motivated than yesterday afternoon after seeing it all in action.

Video made by Katyann Kintz, a NorCal racer