2016 NICA Race 5 at Laguna Seca
Sunday, May 8th
by Joey Rempe, Senior @ Novato HS
May 8th was a bittersweet day for me, it was the day of one of my favorite races at Laguna Seca, but it also marked the day of my final High School race (I call this race the “Mother’s Day Challenge” as it is a true test of a mother’s temper and patience). Although I qualified for the final race in Los Olivos, my school scheduled Senior Prom on the same weekend. So this was it. With just weeks left of High School, the pressure of college and class projects had been slowly squeezing both the sanity and sleep out of me. So going into this last training week and race weekend, I was feeling exhausted. Just envisioning my 15th place call up position followed by the steep terrain at Laguna Seca made me nervous. I also couldn’t get over the fact that after 3 years in the league, this was the end for me. Ah but, hey enough about me being sad and emotional and stuff! What about the race?
We traveled down to Monterey on the day before the race to pre-ride the course, it had been more than a year since I had ridden it last and I wanted to see if Hurl Hill had gotten any steeper since I had climbed it last. Right before I arrived to pre-ride the course on Saturday, the course had been blessed with a healthy sprinkle of rain and cloud cover that provided perfect, cool pre-ride weather and optimal track conditions too. Just taking a slow pre-ride lap with fellow teammates Harrison, Sebastian, and Connor; I was recalling last year’s blisteringly hot and windy race and hoping tomorrow’s race wouldn’t feel as if I was riding inside a convection oven. As I re-learned all the flats, climbs, recovery spots, and good passing areas; I found myself chasing after Harrison, trying to catch him on the descents and the climbs… I see what you did there Harrison! Trying to wear me down before race day, eh? Pre-ride assessment: Fast and fun!
Wake up in a hotel, take a hotel shower, eat hotel oatmeal, awkwardly walk my bike out of my hotel room and through the hotel, and then off to the coveted Laguna Seca course. When we arrived around 8:00, the weather was great: Overcast, cool, and dead still. Laguna Seca in the past has been notorious for strong winds and dusty conditions, but with El Niño weather comes tacky conditions! My race started at 1:30 in the afternoon, which felt like years away for me as I roamed around the course with my teammates, looking for a good spot to cheer on the riders. Feeling content with the course and the weather, I had settled into a fairly relaxed mindset, thinking: “Hey it’s my last race, I’m just gonna have fun and not get too competitive.” Then someone cranked the thermostat up to 80° and burned off all the clouds.
Flash forward to 1:20 at the start line: I’m gulping down water and feeling a little queasy rolling into my 15th place call up position. I wasn’t sure if the weak stomach feeling was from hotel oatmeal or from being nervous. The race began before I knew it and a pack of 60 boys went charging up the hill. The course itself is a short 4.3 miles, but it begins and ends with steep climbs. All the downhill, fun, twisty bits are in the middle. 4 laps? No problem! At first, it was hard to settle into a grove but after the first dash up Hurl Hill, the field thinned out a little bit. I found myself in the middle of a spread out field, with no clue what position I was in. I did find myself in the company of my Novato teammate, Chris Sanford whose strength has really shone through late this season. In Petaluma, we worked cooperatively to get each other across the line and Laguna Seca looked like a similar story. Chris rode my rear wheel while we bombed the descents as hard as we could and cruised up the climbs with ease, waiting for the final lap.
The deeper into the race we got, the more I found myself in the “Pain Cave” part of the riding spectrum versus the “I’m just gonna have fun” part. Chris and I crushed hard for the next two laps, overtaking a few from our division along the way. As we entered lap 4, Chris had begun his attack. It was picture perfect and went exactly like it did two weeks prior in Petaluma. Working together, with me in front pushing the most air, Chris had remained behind me, conserving energy for the final lap. Once he saw the opportunity, he left me in the dust, and I knew he still had the energy to catch the next rider ahead of him. I had done my job, and it was his turn to attack. As my legs began to cry and as Chris became a small speck in the distant hills, I just put my head down and tucked as best I could to make it through the last half lap. I then found myself back in front of aptly-named “Hurl Hill” for the final uphill crush to the finish. JV category races, having some of the latest start times, usually mean most of the spectators have packed up and gone home by the final lap. This time, Hurl Hill was still covered in teenagers and adults alike, screaming at the racers to keep climbing. After the peak, I tucked in behind a Varsity rider to pull me to the finish. It had become very windy and I had become very depleted. An amazing thing happened towards the finish though, maybe it was adrenaline, maybe it was numbness. A brief lapse in pain, I felt great as I crossed the finish line for the last time in 13th place.
But then I tried to pull a wheelie and my legs seized in a horribly painful cramp! What a fitting ending! I rolled over and hugged my parents, chatted between gulping breaths with friends, posed for pictures, then found some chocolate milk back at team HQ. Overall, super happy with this race. I felt great, and I put up lap times that got faster and faster each lap.
I want to thank all the volunteers that make these races happen, every single course marshal, every single sweeper (SWEEP SWEEEEP!), every single medic, and every single clipboard-wielding traffic director. You guys are the best! Thank you to all the moms who instead of having a nice relaxing Mother’s Day at home with their family, came all the way down to Monterey to cheer on their son or daughter. Thank you coaches for always pushing our limits and asking the best of us. Thank you to all the racers for being such good sports on and off the trails. Thank you to my sponsor, Bicycle Brustop and the owners Carolyn and Aaron for being huge contributors and positive promoters of the sport. Finally, thank you to the Norcal league for providing this opportunity for riders of any skill level and age. You have impacted so many young lives in a positive way. Keep riding, keep learning, and keep giving. *mic drop*