Petaluma front and center for high school cycling this weekend

El Molino competitor Ethan Auch is greeted at the finish line by Anna Belli at the Granite Bay Grinder race last month. (NORCAL HIGH SCHOOL CYCLING LEAGUE)

El Molino cyclist Ethan Auch is greeted at the finish line by Anna Belli at the Granite Bay Grinder race last month.
(NORCAL HIGH SCHOOL CYCLING LEAGUE)

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By PETER FOURNIER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Cycling fans in the Redwood Empire won’t get to see the Tour of California this year, but that hasn’t turned off other racing organizations from bringing races to Wine Country.

The NorCal High School Cycling League is hosting the Farm Round Up Weekend Racing Series at Five Springs Farm in Petaluma on Saturday and Sunday.

The mountain biking series’ fourth event of the league season is also racing in Sonoma County for the first time in its history. The north conference (where Sonoma County kids will be competing) of teams and individuals race Saturday and the south conference races on Sunday. Events start at 10 a.m. both days.

Schools compete for points in two separate divisions, with smaller schools competing in Division 2 and larger schools in Division 1. Competitors are placed in categories ranging from freshman to varsity boys and girls. Races vary in length from 12 to 26 miles depending on the division and age of the entrants. The course has 850 feet of climbing. Freshman and sophomores will be race 5.75 miles per lap and JV and varsity contestants 6.5 per lap.

Casa Grande coach Scot Wigert said the course should be a big challenge compared to what competitors have already seen this year.

“Anytime you get to open a new venue is nice because there are different challenges in the courses,” he said. “It’s going to be tough.”

Wigert is pleased he won’t have to travel too far this weekend, as previous races had him taking his team as far south as Monterey and returning late at night the day before school.

“Sonoma County just has a huge cycling community,” Wigert said. “It’s perfect to have something in Sonoma County and the North Bay in general.”

Casa Grande junior Nick Tribble will race in the JV Division 1 race, and had a chance to see the course last week while participating in trail work day last weekend. He said the course has been changing a lot due to the weather, and that was before a series of storms dumped more rain on the area early this week.

“I’m looking forward to it because it’s going to be grueling,” he said. “Most of the dirt is hard packed. It’s very fresh. … It feels like your tires are super glued to the ground. It almost feels like you have a flat.”

Tribble, who’s finished in the top 10 of every race he’s competed in this season, said there was a bit of mud in the in the second race of the year, but nothing like this will be.

“It’s just going to be a lot of mud, a lot of thick adobe and it’s just going to be really difficult,” he said.

Tribble isn’t complaing about the race’s proximity to his home.

“It’s really nice,” he said. “The course is only 10 minutes from my house, so I basically get to wake up whenever I want to because my race is in the afternoon.”

The race organization was started in 2001 to provide competitive mountain biking programs to high school kids in Northern California.

Teams from Sonoma County include Annadel Composite, Casa Grande, Healdsburg, Maria Carrillo, Petaluma and West County Composite.

Executive director Vanessa Hauswald said there’s optimism for the organization’s first race in Sonoma County.

“It’s really exciting,” she said. “We feel like high school cycling has reached a tipping point in NorCal where it’s no longer an analogy, but it’s becoming more of our mainstream sports culture. As a Sonoma County resident, it’s really nice to see teams growing in the county.”

Hauswald said the league has seen participants increase by 20 percent over the past three years. It also has more than doubled the number of annual events it usually holds, from five to 11. This is also the first season the league is holding all of its events over two days to accommodate all of the participants safely. The organization started doing two-day races last year at a few events.

This weekend’s race marks the first time the organization was approached by a private landowner to host an event.

Hauswald said the farm approached the organization to see if it was interested in holding an event on its property.

“It doesn’t happen very often for us, and it’s very exciting for us when it does,” she said.

“In the past five years, we’ve never had a private landowner approach us (before the farm did).”

In addition to the farm’s contribution, the organization recently signed its largest sponsor contract in history, agreeing to a three-year contract to be a beneficiary of Levi Leipheimer’s King Ridge GranFondo race, which is held every October in Sonoma County.

“To have the support of our own community …is really powerful and allows us to expand even more than we’re already doing,” Hauswald said. “They’re local, but the money they’re giving is going to be supporting kids throughout all of Northern California.”

For those wishing to participate in future races, visit the organization’s website — www.norcalmtb.org — or contact vanessa@norcalmtb.org.

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