The Tehachapi mountain bike team set up camp in Keyesville for their fourth race of the season the weekend of April 27-28. Thirty Tehachapi riders ranging from middle school to varsity level went head-to-head against 840 other competitors and brought back a fifth-place and a fourth-place medal along with five top 10 finishers.
Keyesville sits at an elevation of 2,848 feet and is 2 miles west of Kern River Valley and Lake Isabella. Its small valley is known for hosting the famous Keyesville Classics, which is one of the longest-running mountain bike races in the nation, attracting professionals and beginners alike.
This weekend, because of its unforgivable environment, many would say it was the toughest race of the SoCal season. Heavy rains from weeks before brought deep ruts and sandy washed-out trails. Large rocks hid below the river crossings, and 90 degree mountain sun beat on the backs of the afternoon riders. DNFs (did not finish) were in high count due to busted bikes, heat exhaustion and injuries.
Saturday once again kicked off the weekend with our middle school riders. Their course was seven miles of rugged, mountainous landscape. Occasional clouds and a breeze helped them along the way. Our top 10 riders of the day were eighth-grader Nolan Wood coming in 10th and seventh-grader Ryann Saltzman standing once again on the podium in fourth place.
This is Saltzman’s first year of racing and second time standing in fourth place on the podium. On his second lap, Saltzman held second place until he crashed and was passed up by two riders.
“It was really hot, really dusty and sandy and really hard, but it was a fun course to ride. There was a downhill turn that was sandy and I washed out on that,” he said. Saltzman finished just seconds behind third and second place. He has one race left in the season, and while he is happy with this year’s results, he hopes to take a couple more steps up on the podium next week.
High school raced on Sunday. Their course is 11 miles to 22 miles based on their level. The clouds cleared and the sun was in full force. Tehachapi’s top finishers for the day were freshman Grace Garrett finishing in 10th, junior varsity level 2 Sophia Schaeffer in ninth place, junior varsity level 2 Josiah Hopkins in seventh and junior varsity level 2 Caleb Owens bringing home a fifth place medal.
This is Owens' last year of racing with NICA. His friends from church talked him into joining the Tehachapi Mountain Bike team three years ago during his sophomore year.
“I never looked back. It has been fantastic. One thing that I love about riding with NICA is the opportunities that it represents, because it’s not just marketed towards the racers, it’s for the kids that want to come out and have fun. I like the diversity," he said. Before joining the team, Owens was an average kid on a bike, riding around the block for fun, but now it’s common for him to ride hundreds of miles a week as part of his training.
This weekend Owens had everything against him. During the pre-ride a broken frame, bad brakes and a spoke that tore through the rim left him without a bike. A friend of a friend let Owens use an older bike he had in his garage.
“We drove to Bakersfield and frantically worked on the other bike to get it fixed and make it more comfortable for me. It was also a full suspension bike. I never rode a full suspension before," Owens said. Regardless of the adversities it all came together and Owens was able to compete.
This weekend he pushed across a cheering crowd of friends and family in fifth place, earning him his first spot on the podium.
This weekend, May 11-12, will wrap up the final SoCal race of the season and will be held in our own backyard at the Lehigh trails. This is a sport you will want to watch and an experience you will want to have.
An estimated 900-plus competitors and their families will roll into our small town for two days of hard-core battling on the mountains, high energy cheering on the sidelines and family camping in the fields. All spectators are welcome. Food and coffee vendors will be on site. Bring water, sunblock and a snack.
To get to the event, take Tehachapi Boulevard toward the Lehigh Cement plant. Look for signs to direct you over the train tracks and into the venue. There is a $10 entry fee that covers parking for Saturday and Sunday. To help you navigate through a busy day, the following is a list of divisions and start times.
Saturday, May 11, Middle School Races
Wave, Stage, Time, Start Time, Laps, Plate Number
Girls Level 2 Grade 6-8 1:45 2:04 2 2000s
Girls Level 1 Grade 6-8 1:45 2:08 2 3000s
Boys Level 3 Grade 7-8 2:45 3:00 3 4000s
Boys Level 2 Grade 8 2:45 3:04 2 5000s
Boys level 2 Grade 6-7 2:45 3:08 2 6000s
Boys Level 1 Grade 7 3:45 4:03 2 8000s
Boys Level 1 Grade 6 3:45 4:09 2 9000s
Sunday May 12, High School Races
Wave, Stage, Time Start, Time, Laps, Plate Number
JV Boys Conf A 9:00 9:15 2 1000s
Freshman Boys 10:15 10:30 2 4000s
Varsity Girls 11:30 11:45 3 100s
JV2 Girls 11:30 11:49 2 200s
Freshman Girls 11:30 11:53 2 300s
JV 1 Girls 11:30 11:57 2 300s
Varsity Boys 1:15 1:30 4 500s
JV 2 Boys Conf A 1:15 1:34 3 700s
We hope to see you on the mountain. For more information, visit SoCaldirt.org