By Luke Ramseth
On Wednesday night, the four of us stayed the night at my house, about an hour from the race. My mom’s fresh cooked pasta, chicken and salad put us in the right mindset for the Thursday pre-ride of the XC. Despite missing classes, we decided it was crucial to pre-ride this one. It is nationals, after all, and we wanted to see what the jump from sea-level Arcata, to 6,000′ Sierras would feel like. So Thursday, we scoped out the course after checking into our very swanky, five star condo. I recall feeling like a professional cyclist.
The XC had everything. The start in the Northstar village, a taxing, technical climb halfway up the mountain, and some swoopy, berm-laden downhill that sent into rock garden galore to finish it all off. 7.5 miles, and the head ref said we’d do 4 laps. It was the hardest mountain bike race of my life.
Akin to our riding styles, Matt started in his methodical way, not going over the redline, while I passed him and gassed it pretty hard. But sure enough by the end of the opening climb, he had passed me back and dropped me. Matt Schiff is truly Mr. Consistency. I swear I’m going to learn something from him. I kept him in sight for another lap, and then I was all on my own, passing and being passed. The last lap I was trying to hold on, in more ways than one. My legs started cramping, which I somehow managed to control so they didn’t totally lock. And my arms and fingers were so tired from the descent I could barely shift my gears.
I ended up in 12th, knowing I really left it all out there. I was totally spent, and somehow Matt still managed to beat me by 10 minutes, for 7th. Props, Matt. Winston rolled through 10 minutes after me, equally cooked. That’s when you know you’ve got a great XC race; three fast racers are spaced 20 minutes apart in 30 miles.
On Saturday, we took to the short track course. I got called up to the front line, which I don’t think has ever happened to me before. It was the most sharp pain I can remember for a while, doing a long gravel climb each lap, with no recovery on the technical descent through some trees and berms. I slipped outside the top-5, and ended up in 8th. Matt drilled it hard despite starting at the back of the pack, and almost caught me for 13th. Winston had another quality ride for 23rd. My parents were there too, which was nice.
Saturday afternoon, and it was the JUSTIN GRAVES show. Mountain Cross was a blast to watch, and Justin showed the rest of the D2 nation how he does it. He easily continued to move on until the championship qualifier. Some dude weaseled his way around Justin on a shady berm in the first corner, and his hopes for the national championship were over. But he still snagged 5th by winning the consolation round.
A classy awards ceremony and party took place that night at mid mountain. Collegiate Nationals is pretty damn cool.
In downhill, Matt and Justin took to chairlift-fed trails of Northstar. Winston and I hiked up to watch the boys come down through the trees, with granite rocks strewn all over the trail, and a huge jump off a log. Justin once again represented Humboldt with a third place. No wonder the announcer was so blown away about our “new” cycling program. Matt followed with a 22nd.
We ended up in 6th place overall in Division II, not bad for four guys coming from sea-level.