Race #1 | North Tahoe Challenge

North Tahoe High School, Tahoe City, CA
August 25th, 2019

The air was still chilly, but I could smell the undercurrents of heat as I was tightening my shoes. I couldn’t stop the nerves I had been fighting since our pre-ride the day before, tightness in my chest and anxiety whenever someone directed a question towards me. I knew I could make the podium, but in what place? Would my epic new Stumpjumper give me the advantage I needed up the hill? Stressing out before the race leads to rash decisions out on the trails, so I hopped on my bike to pedal it out.

As the new course differed from years prior, I was excited to see how the layout might impact my performance.

Having arrived early to get my mom to her volunteer position in the timing tent, I had plenty of time to get organized and scope out the course one more time. As the new course differed from years prior, I was excited to see how the layout might impact my performance. I would have to trust my new bike on the quick left turns toward the beginning of the course and really push it on that first downhill to stay ahead on the ensuing climb. I hoped that my confidence going over rocks might give me an advantage over the little rocky sections. As I slowly rolled up the hill, listening to the soft hum of tires on loose dirt, I tried to imprint the length of the hill on my mind. How long it was it, and how would the steep climb impact how hard I could push myself during the race? I cruised back down the hill to the finish, eager to start the race. 40 minutes to start time!

Smooth is fast, fast is smooth, and I felt like I was gliding along the curving trails. One girl squeezed by before the second hard left turn, but I had made careful note and knew her to be a Varsity rider. How those girls go that hard for four laps is beyond me. Bumping over the rocks, then right up the start of the climb, and I risked a glance behind me. Nobody? How could that be? I knew Emma to be a decent descender and Abby to be a great sprinter, so one of them should be right on my tail. I was sure they would be there before I knew it, so I put my head down and pushed my pedals as hard as I dared. There were still two more laps to go up that hill after all.  Anything could happen!

I love racing for the opportunity to test how far I can push myself. Competition, cheering, and enthusiastic friends and teammates motivate me to go harder than I ever could in practice. It’s so much fun to challenge myself out on the course with other student athletes from all over the Nevada League.

I spoke to other racers later in the day to hear their stories, and they all had a great time no matter what their race results. Most everyone I spoke to were big fans of the new route this year’s course had to take to avoid some logging. An added rocky section and expanded downhill single-track made the course more challenging and fun.

It was really amazing to see how many people are out there for the love of bikes, from racers to parents to volunteers. These races couldn’t happen without volunteers setting up the course, keeping the course safe, and getting the riders out on the trails on their bikes.

After collapsing on the ground upon crossing the finish line, I got my breath back just in time to rush out onto the course and cheer on the middle school racers. Most of the middle schoolers do one lap except advanced riders do two.

“Roll on up, no overlapping wheels, three riders across.” A loud cheer erupted for all the raised hands of first time racers. Then the countdown began. I stood only a little past the start, so I could watch the tornado rushing toward me as the advanced boys flew out of the starting corral. The air was so thick with dust I could not make out any of my teammates. Imagine having to start a race while breathing all that!

A minute later the middle school girls were off with another cloud of dust swirling about their serious, focused expressions. Finally, before the dust could completely settle, the rest of the middle school boys set off in the biggest wave yet. They spread out pretty quickly, but every one of them leaned over the bars, eager to test their limits on the race course.

It is tons of fun cheering on all the riders as they race around the course. Even though some of them have just started sixth grade, many of the middle school riders have great bike handling skills and are determined to finish. One rider with a flat put a new tube in his tubeless tires after learning how to change a flat just the day before. Another amazing rider finished the race with an escort; he raced the same course I did, but he is legally blind!  His story is so incredibly inspiring.

Another amazing rider finished the race with an escort; he raced the same course I did, but he is legally blind!

The high school boys were the last to go. Before anybody even finished saying “here they come”, Varsity was gone and up the hill for their five laps. The crowd united in another rising cheer as the next speeding ball of dust, the JV boys, neared the spectators and entered the bottleneck left turn all at the same time. You could really see how looking ahead and bike balance were key requirements for this race.

The boys were looking good until suddenly wham! One swerve led to a painful crash involving three boys. The pileup clogged up one side of the mass start, but the tangle finally got sorted out and back on course. That was definitely the most exciting start of the day. The freshmen boys space out quickly after the start but still summon yet another dusty blizzard.

While cheering my freshman friends, I really noticed that the speed of the lead Varsity riders.  They completed five laps, 20 miles!, at the same time as most of the freshmen completed their three laps. Watching this demonstration of extreme speed, I can understand how some of the NICA riders continue to race and even become pros after graduation.

Racing and cheering on my friends makes for a memorable day, and this course was an excellent start to the 2019 NICA Nevada League Race Series! I cannot wait for the next race in Reno, a different world in race strategies and heat tolerance. After a much needed swimming stop to cool down and rinse off the race dust in the Truckee River, of course.

Ciara Wing – League Racer and Race Reporter

Complete event results of all the amazing athletes who participated in the “Challenge” can be found at https://my2.raceresult.com/134779/
Complete photo documentation of the event provided by student photographer Owen Swall can be found here – Race / Podium