Ander Bjork: NICA California State Championships

Ander Bjork, Piedmont High, Varsity

Ander Bjork, Piedmont High, Varsity

The last race. The very last high school race. This is what was going through my head as we drove north from Piedmont on a sunny Saturday afternoon. We managed to fill up two full trucks with the PHS team and our camping gear. Before too long in the car, we were driving through beautiful rolling hills of Northern California. It was wonderfully green. When we arrived at the preride there were not too many folks there. We drove our trucks up to the camping spot and parked, laying out our gear to claim a spot. Matt headed down to the OC pit to grab some stuff and my car group waited for Lyndon’s, who had stopped at In N Out. We got set up for the pre ride and were heading down the trail when Robert got unlucky on a turn and gashed his arm badly. We traded bikes and went to the finish, where he got professional assistance and eventually an ER trip. That put a bit of a damper on the mood for preride. The course was exactly how I remembered it, except more dusty. 

After the ride, we set up camp and were excited to hear that Robert had not needed stitches and would be coming back to camp the night with us - Yay! That lifted everybody’s spirits and let us have a blast at the BBQ. I ate way too much delicious ranch food and tried to stay warm outside (but eventually settled on the floor of the barn). Then it was team camping fun (including a poorly lit night hike, sparkly tent LEDs, doggie-bagged desert, and many laughs), and I stayed cozy in my Chewbacca onesie. We all gave in to my dad’s pleas and the cold wind, turning in just before 10:00.

Put-pupupupuppu. Put-pupupuppuupupupppupuppuupupuppuupu! The noisy generator of some lameo got turned on at 4:45, and I was woken up. Nathan and I had shared a tent and both had to be somewhere at 8:00: he at volunteering, me at Stanford bike fit. For that reason we got up around 7:00 and packed up real quick. I then grabbed a disappointingly cold breakfast at the OC pit. It turns out that most people had not camped, and the scrambled eggs and bacon of last race were replaced with bagels and shmeers. Luckily one of the parents had peeled some hard boiled eggs so I had two. In retrospect, I wish I had been more diligent about my pre-race nutrition.

Stanford bike fit was fun and they told me my fit was near-perfect. Good. Then it was the usual morning of heckling, with lots of team cheers. I was excited to find the NorCal flag displayed prominently on a dune-buggy. It had been missing for a long, long, time.

I got chewed out for cutting across the course near the finish. I hadn’t really been paying attention to the crossing guard and saw the coast was clear, obliviously hopping under the red tape and getting across. This was not a good choice. I tried to run away but he was really angry so I went and talked him down about it (making sure to cover my Oakland Comp hat in case the schmoozing went badly). Nice guy, actually. I learned to cross just before the feed and avoid the big crossing (and his yelling) entirely.

Julien, Conor, Robert, Aaron, and I got very ambitious with our heckling and hiked all the way to the big switchbacks. We got to see some super fast Sophomore boys rippen through and one of them even dusted Julien on the berm. My first time at Petaluma there had been a couple of gorillas over there cheering. Unfortunately, my Dad wanted us to “rest in the shade” so we headed back pretty soon. I didn’t grab any more food, but I got all ready for my race. 

Warm up was good (maybe a little too hard), and I hopped off the trainer feeling calm - until I heard that they had already staged Varsity boys. I fumbled my precious strawberry-banana GU and ran to the bathroom, then got up the hill in time to squeeze into the last row of general staging. Ouch. Once again I got weirdly lucky and Ezra moved me up one precious row to fill a hole. Now there were 60 Varsity boys in front of me. States definitely felt more intimidating this year because I’ve gotten the “cushy varsity” experience from being in a smaller category. This race I had to face a bigger crowd!

Despite being in the 2nd to last row the start was ridiculously fast and disorganized. I probably made up a couple of spots, but nothing too major. Then came the first climb. Remembering my previous race result of 10th place, I decided I would try to get to around 30th place. This meant I should pass around 30 people. I proceeded to up the pace whenever possible for that first climb - I probably passed about 10 guys. Luckily the track was pretty wide and we had it to ourselves so the going was smooth. After spotting Kai and Liam from SF Comp I decided I would catch them up. I got up to Kai about ⅔ of the way through the climb and was happy when he couldn’t hold my wheel. Liam continued to elude me for the rest of the lap. I had beat him at Six Sigma, so I thought if I got up to him I could stay there and do well. However, I never caught him up. He was the tantalizing candy around the corner for the first three laps, then disappeared. I am still glad I tried to catch up because I knew I wanted to push myself as hard as possible this last race.

When I started feeling tired at the beginning of lap 2 I slammed a GU and drank plenty of water. Same for lap 3. It felt like a blur, except the descent, which I rallied. On one of the dustiest corners I slid out and ate some fine grade dust. But my bike and I were both  totally OK and I was honestly quite happy that I was pinning it - usually I am not gutsy enough to go too fast. I was riding with a nice Sam Varsity dude who had a big cheer squad. And I was sad to pass Emmet near the top of the hill. He reminded me that I needed to save my energy for later, but I was still pursuing Liam at that point. Lap 3 I passed a few more people on the climb, even though NorCal reports this was my slowest lap. Before starting the climb for the last time ever I was feeling pretty beat. A group of 5 or so riders started to catch me up, and I lost a place for the first time in the race. I pushed harder than I ever have and managed to stay around 10 seconds ahead of the group. On the flatter parts I put down energy and built up a decent gap. But somehow they caught back up just before the campsite, and I caught up to 2 more who maybe hadn’t realized it was the end of the race. So then I was leading a group of 6 or 7 Varsity boys into the last leg of the race. As I was working hard to keep them off my tail I saw a red blur speed by. Berto turned around in his saddle and urged me to hold his wheel. Ouch! I tried to and he did help me a lot to keep up my speed. I managed to stay ahead of the group until Sam passed me on the new tight switchback section before the steep descent. That was disappointing, but I shrugged it off because I was too exhausted anyway. 

Coming into the finish I tried to catch Sam in front, not realizing there was another guy right behind me until it was too late. He slipped by as I tried frantically to get up my speed over the gravel and bumps. As I smashed my pedal down, my calf cramped up and I could see him sail away. It was frustrating (I grunted “NO!” through my clenched teeth), because I felt like I could have beat him if I’d known he was there and had been in a better gear. I also think that my mindset was responsible for my inability to beat him; as I saw him I felt it was already too late. It was a disappointing way to end, but I was consoled by the fact that I’d had a ridiculously strong race. From my starting position, I had passed 31 Varsity Boys, earning myself a spot as 29th in the state. And more than I have in any past race (which is actually saying something if you know me) I left every ounce of strength, endurance, and grit on that dusty 1.5 track.

Thank you all for an amazing season, an amazing 4 years! I am honored to have been part of such a fantastic team.

Much Love, Anders

Anders Bjork, Varsity Boys, Piedmont, 29 / 65