This year’s event took place close to Nothing, Arizona just outside of nowhere in Yarnell, Arizona’s back yard about 2 hours north of Wickenburg. The course was incredibly hard and very worthy for a State Champ race. El Grupo was able to bring its biggest team ever to a state race. 16 Junior riders participated. We had a rider in every Junior field except 10-12 boys.
As there was no campground truly close to the event we, El Grupo, for the first time ever stayed in a hotel. Well, it was a motel that was part of an RV park, but we slept on mattresses and had AC. We lived it up for sure. We had 6 of the 7 rooms that you could possibly rent in Yarnell, and then still had bean burros for dinner.
The junior races started late at 9:20 and 9:25am respectively, which at first seemed great. (That was until the temperatures soared to 111 degrees!) We could almost sleep in and get ready calmly before the 1 hour drive to the start in Hillside, AZ. After our breakfast of oatmeal we loaded up the trailers and were at the start line with plenty of time and were actually able to see Richard and Alex off.
The boys’ race started first with all of them (10 to 18 years old) leaving at the same time.
The 13-14 boys race was 25 miles. Tyler and Connor were our racers in this group. Essentially their race went like this: roll over some big hills up and down then down a really big one to the turn around then come back up. Since the whole group of junior boys left at the same time Connor and Tyler were able to hide a bit. The group of 13-14’s was 6 deep. Once I caught up to the group just before the turn around Tyler was at the front of his race with the other leading 3 and Connor not far back. The older boys on the team had made sure Tyler was protected in the big group and were able to get him to the turn around having not done much. The turn around would be cruel though. The climb coming out from it was super hard, and Tyler paid for all his hard work at the start of the race. Both he and Connor wanted so bad to compete with the super fast kids of their group and Tyler had gone out too hard in search of his glory, so once the super climbs started he just blew up in the heat, at times he even had to stop. He put everything out there and just bonked. Dad was able to encourage him to the finish though and an angel named Thom Collins paced him to the top. He eventually would get 5th place. Connor was able to finish 4th having found his pace and what he could do. Both boys were 100% spent at the end.
The 15-16 boys race was the “real” race of the day in the boys division. Logan, Max, Ben, Keenan, and Daniel, were racing another 6 boys most of which are impressively good riders. We knew this was to be a tough race and since they started with the 17-18 boys the two groups could race each other. So the 15- 16’s had the support of Nathan, Donovan and Jesse. The job of these three boys was to make the race as hard as possible on everyone while not cooking Logan or Max, the leaders of the 15-16s. Their race was to be 44 miles long. They had the same out course as the 13- 14’s but then had a series of really tough climbs to their turn around.
I caught the group at the turn around for the 25 mile group. I was able to cheer on Tyler and Connor and then I was off in full support of the boys. They were all together at the turn around and looking good. Another 10 miles up the road would be the turn around, but of course I did not drive straight there. I periodically stopped on the side of the road to cheer the boys on. Nathan was doing a huge majority of pace setting at the front of the race trying to keep everyone tired. Had he, Donovan, or Jesse gone off the front no one would have chased them as they were in different age groups, so all they could do was ride a tempo that would wear everyone out. It started to work at approx. mile 20 on the last big climb before the turn around. Many had people had already fallen off the pack. Daniel was next along with two other kids in the 15-16 race, then just before the turn around Donovan and Jesse got dropped and then even closer still to the turn Max got dropped. I was at the feed zone handing out water and just at the turn around there were 5 left Logan, Nathan, Kenny, Taylor, and Azeal and just then Nathan flatted. He was able to catch on quickly but it still was exciting. As the boys came around and through the turn you knew it was down to those 5.
Logan and Nathan were 22 miles in and the hardest hottest climbs of the day were on tap. Around mile 30 the up hill started in earnest again and once I realized really how hot it was and that the kids were running out of water, well I went to work. I went through 6 gallons of water dumping it on the kids, all five. I was giving them water as I could, the kids were cooking. I was splashing them every 2 minutes and they loved it. Nathan as still at the front doing all the pace setting and right around mile 36 Azeal popped. Our plan was still working, now it was down to Logan and 2 others and Logan had a teammate to help. It was not to be though. Around mile 38 Logan started to falter and cramp and Taylor and Kenny pounced. They went off together and ever so slowly pulled away from Logan. Nathan was cooked and had a hard time helping Logan, but the poor kid was cooked, hot, and cramping. He very bravely rode into the finish never getting caught from behind and finishing in 3rd place. It was a fine showing in a very hard race. I am sure he has thanked all this teammates and especially Nathan for all the work they put in for him.
The rest of the boys would cross the line totally over heated and exhausted. It was a proud showing for the team. A shout goes to Ben and Keenan. They road together most the race and at one point on the last deadly climb of the day I asked them if they wanted to stop and get in the truck. Their response was almost one of disgust, suggesting “Are you crazy?!” They showed true champions’ desire, even when the race was long gone. We can all learn from that.
The ladies also had a very exciting weekend, bringing home 3 state champs. The only age group we had a race in was the 17-18 girls where Jade and Emily had a competitor. All the ladies were doing the 25 mile course and since they started together they were all able to race with each other. Lizzy was the strongest and most experienced of the group so she right away took control of things. She dictated pace and got the whole group of girls working together. They all arrived at the turn around together where just then Sabina got a flat. The girls decided to wait up a minute to let here catch back on, but it was not to be. The little lady just got beat up by the sun. Once the girls figured she was not coming the race started back up the hill. Stephanie was the first to fall off the pace that Lizzy was setting. So then it was down to four. Lizzy, Jade, Emily, and Francis (the “competitor”). As Lizzy kept up the pace, Jade was the next to drop. As Jade started to drop off Lizzy noticed that Francis was never in the pace line and must be getting tired, but then all of a sudden she surged and opened a gap on Emily. Since Lizzy had no one to race against in her group other than Stephanie who was already back a ways she dedicated herself to help Emily. They had Francis in sight so it must have been easy to motivate Emily. Little by little they started to catch her and in a few minutes they had surpassed her. Emily was now in the lead with Lizzy as her helper. They eventually rode to the finish with Emily taking the win and Lizzy having most of her water and food left because she was so nervous that Emily might need it. Well done ladies.
Olivia in her first race ever in an El Grupo jersey finished as well winning the 10-12 girls age group ahead of the other young lady. What a fine way to start her time on the team.
It was a very fun, yet overly hot day (did I mention it was 111 degrees?!) at the races.