Arizona, you have made me proud. Across the nation NICA is spreading from state to state. So far Utah has the record for the most athletes in the inaugural race with over 200. Arizona is now number 2 on the list with 170 athletes. Just for a second, imagine how incredible that is. Imagine how great it will be. Tell you friends with high school aged kids there’s a new game in town and it is fast and fun.
I must admit that I had concerns coming into this race. There was some frustration that Tucson did not have the first race as planned. I understand that the logistics just did not come together, but it created some lingering concerns about how the race was going to run. A three hour drive to the race with a lot of that in Phoenix traffic did not set a great tone. Finally, when I arrived and discovered that an athlete on our team forgot his bike(not saying who-he’s already miserable enough about it), I was really questioning what I was doing there. It did not get any better when it became clear that the layout of the campground was not going to lead to much interaction between teams.
An easy registration of our teams, a great dinner and a comfortable nighttime camping temperature and the anticipation of the first high school mountain bike race in the history of Arizona had me off to a good start on race day. At the coaches meeting hearing how many details were taken care it was clear that this was just another race, something NICA has been doing for a long time and not just some thrown together ride in the desert. As team after team started to populate the staging area and I saw hundreds of bike enthusiasts the energy started to flow.
This course was really well designed for the el grupo riders. It was not that technical and the temperature was hot, not unlike our normal practice conditions. The trail was wide with plenty of room for passing. We had only 2 girls racing from El Grupo They finished in 1st and 4th places. In the freshman race we just missed the podium and 1st-6th place were separated by under a minute. In the sophomore race we cleaned up with a 1,2,4 finish. We had a large group of sophomores and juniors who raced in the varsity race and we had a third place podium. In the all around Tucson High/El Grupo finished in 3rd place. That excluded the points from a 1st, 3rd and 4th place finish that we’re the regular ElGrupo team( we are two teams in one….or is it the other way)
My favorite finishers are often those who don’t win the race or even come close to the podium, but show a character in finishing the race. There were two racers in particular who caught my attention. One of the athletes was on the course when two recreational riders came around a corner and crashed into her. The riders just left her and continued on their way. She tweaked her hand, but finished with one hand. My favorite was racer 600. He finished the race with a broken chain, using his bike like a scooter. He had every opportunity to pack it in early, but choose to cross the finish line. This is the type of character that I feel is the truest winner in life. The persistence to stick with it when it’s hot, miserable, things are breaking. 600, get a huge ATTABOY!!!
It was great to see so many people who read this blog, follow me on Facebook and have my shared passion for cycling. Thanks to all who came up and introduced and reintroduced yourself. It made me feel like this is a real community that we are growing together. If there was one thing I would have done to improve the event and league would be to introduce everyone and see how we can get the teams to interact more. Please accept this as my invitation to come to Tucson and ride with our team. I have this vision where these kids have a chance to show each other the best trails in each other’s backyards all across Arizona.
It’s well after 9 on Sunday night as I’m finishing up this post. Samuel, my son, is exhausted, but still has homework to do and is plugging away. These are student athletes and NICA is just like any other school sport( except better because they get to use a bike). The dedication both on the bike and off is very commendable and my helmet is off to everyone who raced this weekend.
Finally, thank you to all the staff and volunteers who made this run so smooth this weekend and who made the league a possibility. Also, to all the financial sponsors. Unfortunately, this is not a cheap sport and can’t happen without the all mighty buck. Thanks to those who choose to invest your money in something that will make the community, State and all of us better off.