Round one of the 2009 NorCal High School Mountain Bike Racing Series saw 415 high school mountain bikers from 33 schools race undeterred by grey skies and rain at the Central Coast Invitational in Fort Ord, Monterey, on March 1, 2009.
As a testament to the surging popularity of high school mountain bike racing in the state where mountain biking was born, the turnout for this race amounted to an increase of 15 percent over the 360 riders who showed up for Round One of the 2008 series.
“There were so many people," said League director Matt Fritzinger. "It was like being at a state championship soccer game, this was by far the most commotion we’ve ever had at a League race; it was awesome to see!”
With winter and pre-season training over, this was a great opportunity for some riders to find out how effective all that patient off-season training work had been. According to Fritzinger, it was also a great opportunity to renew acquaintances and revel in the particular team spirit that makes mountain biking unique.
“If we have a similar increase in numbers for next year’s season, we might have to start using school buses to get people to this race!" Fritzinger added. "The parking lot looked just about full today.” The League founder also expressed admiration for the way the coaches and team directors had organized the team areas, and for the number of them who had put together new teams.
As the first waves of riders set off, the air was alive with the sound of cowbells as students, parents and coaches lining the course jangled and roared in support of the riders.
The name on everybody’s lips was John Bennett (El Cerrito), the rider who in 2008 made League history by earning selection to the USA world championship mountain bike team. In the Varsity Boys race, Bennett took the lead early in the race and rode to a solo victory with a time of 1:22:33. A group of three had been together, including Bennett, Christian Fernandez (Los Gatos) and Niko Kaplanis (San Rafael).
Reportedly, Fernandez and Will Curtis were involved in a crash that enabled Bennett and Kaplanis to escape. Fernandez chased the whole way and was the fastest rider in the race on two of the laps. In the end, though, he crossed the line :1:18 behind the speeding Bennett. Kaplanis took third, with a time of 1:24:48. The quality of the field went deep, with the top ten riders separated by less than five minutes.
In the shake-up of the day, freshman Shayna Powless (Independent) vindicated her petition up to the Varsity Girls field by taking a convincing win over 2008 champion Christine Weir (Nevada Union). Powless recorded 1:14:36, which was 1:35 ahead of Weir. Lauren Catlin (Drake) claimed third place, in 1:17:30, only 14 seconds clear of Karli Haugen (Folsom).