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March 2022 Newsletter

After 2 years of abnormal NorCal NICA races, we had our first normal race at the Exchequer Opener. The race was at the Exchequer Mountain Bike Park in La Grange, California. This course had been several years in the making having been scheduled for a debut race during the 2020 season, sadly canceled due to lockdown. This time we had 22 riders. For many it was their first NorCal race. For some it was their first race ever.  I'm so proud of how everyone did. 

Most exciting was watching the race experience bring the team together, like one big extended family. 

Doug Diego, Head Coach

Race Report: Exchequer Extravaganza

February 26, 2022

Congratulations to ECHS MTB Riders on a successful first race and a 3rd place team finish in D1! We are so proud of the hard work the riders and coaches put in to prepare for the first NORCAL race.

Riders can check their times and how other teams did at the NORCAL site, but here are places for our team:
Varsity Boys: FINN KASTE (16), WILL DIEGO (17)
Varsity Girls: CATHERINE FLOWERS (9)

A special thanks to all the parents who volunteered to help make this weekend happen.  It takes a village to pull off a race.  Thanks to those who also volunteered with NorCal as course marshals, parking assistants, etc…  And a special shout out to Cesar and Trudi for keeping the team fed!

ECHS MTB Team Store Open Again

Whether you need  second jersey or you want to show your ECHS MTB team spirit by donning a hat to cheer on our riders, you can purchase gear from our team store: 

It will be open until March 11th.  Don't delay if you want to order something.

Note: the hats this time are black with a dark charcoal mesh back.

Rider Story: Finn Kaste

When I first saw the 2022 NICA race schedule I saw the very first race happened to fall on my birthday. Because of this I was a little hesitant to register but I realized it had been almost two years since my last NICA race. My most valuable high school memories have been from the mountain bike races. Going into my last year of NICA I want to make the most out of the season, especially after missing two years. I also saw that the race was at an exciting, new venue. I had heard a lot of interesting things about Exchequer Bike Park and I’ve been wanting to check it out for a while. Between my deprivation of high school racing and my curiosity with this new venue, without a doubt, I had made up my mind. 
As the race approached I was super stoked, but there were also a few unknowns. This was my first varsity race and it's a notoriously intense and exclusive category. I remember watching the varsity races as a spectator and they looked so intimidating. I felt almost certain I would get dropped. I also wasn’t a fan of the 8:00 start time and I was unsure about camping the night before a race. At Sea Otter I raced Cat 1 and I bonked hard. I wound up finishing dead last, ten minutes behind the pack. I had camped there the night before and it was an 8 o’clock race so there were a lot of parallels. It made me worried that Exchequer would have a similar outcome.
I drove up with my parents on Friday. We had planned on bringing a second tent for Jalen to use but when we pulled in we realized we had left it at home. Luckily DJ was kind enough to lend us his brand new tent (shoutout to DJ). At 4:30 after setting up camp we set out for the pre-ride. Rumor had it that apparently there was 1,200 feet of climbing per lap so I was surprised when it was just the standard amount of NICA race climbing. I was also surprised because almost all of the track was either doubletrack or dirt roads. I do like my single-track but when it comes to passing, this course was ideal. The course also had a fair share of fun singletrack descents to spice things up. Having a feel for the course boosted my confidence for the race. 
After a fun, tasty dinner and a hilariously catastrophic dish washing session, we had our evening team meeting where we shared our race goals. My main goal was simply to pace myself. I had zero expectations and all I wanted was to not burn out like I did at Sea Otter. After the meeting I went straight to bed trying to get the most sleep possible. 
On Saturday, the morning of my 18th birthday, I woke up at 5:30 to the sound of crackling and I saw a flickering orange glow at the foot of the tent. It was a very strange surreal way to start the day. I poked my head out of the tent and sure enough, my parents had got up and made me a surprise birthday fire. They even had oatmeal and hot chocolate set up for me. I stationed myself next to the fire. The heat gave me energy in the frigid predawn air. My original intent was to get up, wolf down breakfast, and start warming up early to wake myself up as much as possible before the race. I was so caught up enjoying the fire and my warm breakfast that I didn’t start my warmup until 7:20 but by then it didn’t matter. The fire and breakfast made me energized and somehow I knew it was going to be a good day. 
Fifteen minutes before race start I lined up in the B callup row, but there were enough no shows that I ended up right behind Will and the front row. I was starting my gopro when I heard Coco ask if anyone knew someone by the name of Finn. This took me by surprise. Had I done something wrong? There’s another Finn on varsity, could he be talking about him? Then he said, “it’s his 18th birthday today” and then I remembered. Who could have told him? (Will…) All of a sudden literally everyone started singing Happy Birthday. After what felt like minutes of utter humiliation the singing ceased and the crowd's attention shifted back to Coco as he started talking about sponsors (whew). 
Before I knew it Coco was counting down and we took off. I held back a bit not wanting to burn out on the first sprint and a lot of people from the rows behind me passed. By the time we entered the doubletrack I was pretty far back in the pack. We were drafting in a nice long line snaking through the hills. I stayed put for a bit but eventually there were some nice passing opportunities that I took advantage of. I most certainly wasn’t in the bottom pack and I didn’t feel like I was dying so that was a plus. 
By the time we got to the first fire road section after the switchbacks things had started to spread out a bit. Shortly after the fire road stretch was a fast loose turn and a Berkeley kid had wiped out. I got around him easily enough shouting the obligatory “you good?” He said yes. I sprinted ahead and suddenly I saw a kid in an El Cerrito jersey ahead of me. It was Will! I sprinted to catch up to him and I let him pull me a good distance. On the second fire road stretch he took a sip of water and I passed him to return the favor. A ways ahead of us was a kid in an orange jersey and I shouted “let’s catch that guy.” I pushed up the final, moderately steep hill at a healthy pace, reeling in the orange jersey kid but when I got to the top I realized I had dropped Will. 
I continued to push trying to catch the orange jersey kid. I caught him at the awkward uphill switchback entering the fire road. He seemed to be losing steam but I had worked hard trying to catch him and I was in no mood to pass him. I shouted “c’mon let's push” just to let him know I was there hoping it would give him the boost he needed to speed up. It worked, maybe a bit too well because he quickly dropped me on the final single-track downhill. I quickly caught him though on the climb at the beginning of the second lap. He had really slowed down and I went right past him on the wide doubletrack. 
The rest of the race was pretty uneventful. Without anyone around me it was very hard to gauge my speed and really push but I tried my best. By the end of my second lap the word had made it to the British announcer and as I crossed the finish line he said “here comes Finn Kaste, the BIRTHDAY BOY!” That's when it seemed to really catch on and for the rest of the day I could not escape the Happy Birthdays. I was the only racer with a backpack and a GoPro so that combined with my bright red helmet made it all the easier for people to single me out. For the whole third lap whenever I rode by someone I would hear, “hey it’s the birthday boy, happy birthday!” It was a bit embarrassing but it was also pretty cool, certainly an experience I’ll never forget.
I felt strong on the last leg of the race. I saw Doug and he told me I was 30 seconds ahead of Will. This gave me an extra adrenaline boost and not letting him catch me became my new objective. Most of the third lap went pretty smoothly until the awkward uphill switchback. I took it a bit fast and slid out. I didn’t fall but it slowed me down and suddenly two kids passed me out of the blue. The first was wearing a red jersey. I tried to stay on him but he was really fast and he quickly dropped me. The second was a Salinas kid. I was able to keep up. We sprinted up the fire road climb and caught up to the red jersey kid. I tried to hold them on the last descent but I had a bit of an awkward turn and they dropped me. I saw the Salinas kid’s Strava post and apparently he dropped his chain 6 times explaining why it took him so long to pass me. I also recognized his name as one of the really fast kids from last year. I tried my best to “sprint” the last paved stretch and I finished feeling not too wiped and capable of another lap. Will finished about 20 seconds behind me and I congratulated him as he rolled up. 
After a bit of spectating and cheering as the Freshman girls raced, I had to satiate my curiosity and I did a lap down Flying Squirrel, one of the Exchequer Bike Park trails. It was a nice blend of tech and flow. There were also some sketchy jumps and features that I would never dare hit on my hardtail with my lack of skills. Even going into it blind and solo, it was pretty fun and I think it’s worth going back to explore the other trails. I hear they are all built by volunteer mountain bike and trail building enthusiasts like me making it all the more intriguing. The trail dropped me right on the course and I was able to watch the sophomore and freshman boys race by. It turned out the only way back to the main camping area was to go on course on the fire road climb so I waited for a relative gap in the traffic and went for it. I rounded a corner to find the whole Berkeley team stationed spectating at the top. I was on the course with no easy escape so obviously they were focused right on me. I heard Axel yell something like, “it’s the birthday boy, racing again!” And the whole team started singing happy birthday. I frantically escaped as quickly as possible. 
After cheering on the JV boys I discovered podium wasn’t until after the middle school races which meant we had to wait another two hours at least. I had already eaten so I went back to my campsite to hang out. I was looking at the results when my dad came up frantically telling me to hurry back to the tent. A bit confused, I coasted down and I saw a cake brightly lit with candles. The team sang happy birthday and everyone had signed a nice card. A bit bewildered but pleasantly surprised, I unsuccessfully tried blowing out all 18 candles and we all passed the time with delicious cake.
All in all it was a very unique but fun and memorable birthday that I wouldn’t have wanted to spend any other way. The race was also a great success. All my lap times were within 40 seconds of each other so I definitely did a good job pacing myself. Not only that but after being so sure I would finish dead last, I was pleasantly surprised to find I placed 16th in a heat of 25. I can rest assured that I am varsity worthy. I even felt I could have pushed for another lap so I’m excited for the four lap races. I’m looking forward to the season and I’m curious to see what the future races will bring.

Rider Story: Gabbie Walmsley

This was my first race ever. I was nervous, but also excited to see everyone and cheer people on. Despite leaving at 11:45am, there was a huge line to get in, and although we were no more than a half mile from the check-in, it took almost thirty minutes to check in. When we finally drove up to our campsite, most of the team was already there and about to begin the pre-ride. I went to the bathroom to get changed since my tent wasn’t already set up, and when I got back, they were gone. I ended up missing the pre-ride, so I stayed back and set up my tent. When the group that had gone on the pre-ride returned, I played cards with Cate, Annika, and Sylvie. It was lots of fun, but we had to cut it short because it was time for dinner. We had spaghetti and meatballs, and honestly it was some of the best spaghetti and meatballs I’ve ever had. Kudos to the food prep team!
After dinner, we had a team meeting and talked about team goals. As this was my first race, and I knew nothing about the course, I set two goals: have an average speed of over eight miles per hour, and finish under an hour and a half. Then, we had to wash dishes. This is where the chaos began. We started out by dividing jobs. For some odd reason, I thought it was a great idea to be in the line of fire and hold out dishes to be sprayed. Keep in mind that at this point, temperatures were starting to drop, and it was probably no more than forty-five degrees. That was probably a mistake, because after a few minutes, I managed to lose  feeling in my fingers. Excellent job, Gabbie. Really brilliant. It took us twenty minutes, many people swapping positions, and a few accidental squirts from someone manning the hose, lots of yelling at Neel, a couple of numb fingers, and washing a few dishes multiple times to wash all the dishes (there were around fifteen). However, it was really fun, and the whole team was laughing. After that, Yoann, Edda, and I took to fixing some bikes. Well, mostly Yoann and Edda. I was holding a lantern for them because I do not know anything about fixing bikes. Either way, that was also very delightful, and I learned a bit about how bikes work. It was fun chatting with them. 
After a chilly night camping, I woke up around 6:45. It was still very cold, but I quickly warmed up once I began moving around. I pulled on my race kit and headed down to the food tent. I had a bagel and some hot chocolate for breakfast.
Then, it was time to warm up. I put the rest of my gear on and did a couple up-and-downs on the hill our campsites were on. Luckily, now that the sun was up, it was beginning to warm up, and I’d say it was a solid 55 degrees. Not too bad. After a few laps around the campsites, Edda, Annika, and myself rode down to the start line so we could be in the front, since there were no call-ups. We saw other teams doing similar things. Around the start line, we kept warming up, and joined the people lining up once the front spots started getting full. That was when the sick, anxious feeling hit. 
I had missed the pre-ride, so I didn’t really know what the course was like. I overheard another team saying that “the course is really rocky” and that didn’t quell my already-increasing anxiety. I knew that once that race began, I would be fine, but in the time leading up to it, I was starting to feel sick. I also didn’t know how much climbing it would be, but I had heard that each lap was about 1,200 feet of climbing, totalling to about 2,400 feet after the two laps I would be doing. 

And then we were off. I started off in the wrong gear and fell behind immediately. But, on the turn up to the track, there was a bit of a traffic jam and people were crashing into each other. I managed to narrowly avoid this, and pulled ahead of a good amount of people. Once I got out of the more crowded parts of the track, I could go faster more easily, which is exactly what I did. Beforehand, Edda had told me that “Races are like practices, but just the sprinting part,” so I set a decent pace that I anticipated that I could keep at most times. Spoiler alert: There were definitely times that I did not keep this pace. However, most of the time, I did, which I was proud of. The first lap went by pretty uneventfully, but there was a steep downhill switchback. Not a fan of those. Throughout the trail, there were adults cheering you on, and towards the end, some kids from the other schools. It was really nice to see people lifting each other up, even if they were on different teams. I passed the Feed Zone, but didn’t stop, because I thought it would take too much time, and there was someone about a minute behind me. Once again, this was probably a mistake, because I did stop and take out my water bottle about a mile into the second lap, and she passed me. The rest of the second lap was similar to the first, but I never caught up to the person who had passed me. Then again, I did take an outrageous three minute water break, so she did finish a minute or two before me. When I finished, it was really great to be greeted by some of my teammates, who congratulated me on finishing the race. Even though I didn’t place well, I met both of my goals, which was enough for me when I had never raced before and where I didn’t know the course. 
The remainder of the afternoon was spent cheering on my teammates as I watched the freshman boys, sophomore boys, and JV boys take off. I did have to leave early and wasn’t able to see the JV boys finish or the podium, but we did very well in both events, so congratulations to all of my teammates who participated! Wish I could have been there!

SPOTLIGHT: Coach Jamie Tipton

How long have you been coaching with the team?
I started riding with the team 5 seasons ago when my son Eli joined the team as a freshman. Now he is riding on the UC Santa Cruz team.
What do you do when you're not riding?
When I'm not riding, I like to play soccer. I play twice a week. I'm on an outdoor team that plays at Gilman on Sunday afternoons and I also play pickup futsal in Oakland on Thursday nights. I also like to ski and play tennis.
What was your first bike?
My first "real" mountain bike was a 1991 Specialized Stumpjumper M2. I bought it right after I graduated from college. I remember it like it was just yesterday.
What do you currently ride?
I just treated myself to the new 2022 Santa Cruz Heckler. It's super fancy.
Where is your favorite place to ride?
Can you share a memory of riding with the team?
One interesting memory I have of riding with the team is the final day of the 2019 State Finals race in Tehachapi. The pre-ride the day before was great and the course was super fun. The night before the race it rained really hard and the next morning the dirt road leading to the venue was a muddy mess. Trailers, campers, and cars were spinning out and getting stuck. Those of us who eventually made it to the venue were treated to a lovely day of drizzle and cold. The course was in rough condition and there were plenty of crashes, broken bikes, and general race mayhem. Amazingly, ECHS came in second place! Second place in the state! I was really proud of the team, and I still am.
Do you have a training hack or strategy?
Just keep pedaling. That's my favorite bit of advice.
What do you love most about riding?
I love the fact that going for a ride always puts me in a good mood.
What do you hate most about riding?
I hate flat tires and broken chains.

Upcoming Events - March - April

March 20: NORCAL Race at Fort Ord, Seaside, CA
April 9: NORCAL Race in Modesto
April 30-May 1: NORCAL Regional Semi-finals at Six Sigma, Clearlake, CA

How to Get Involved

Become a coach
Without coaches, our team could not exist. NICA coaches are role models and teachers who are open to learning the best practices of youth mountain bike coaching and actively work to hone their leadership skills on and off the bike. Learn More:

Become a sponsor
Consider sponsoring the ECHS Mountain Bike Team! Sponsors partner with our team to provide much-needed financial support. Our team receives no funding from the school. In exchange for your support, our team will make every effort to support and acknowledge your business. Your sponsorship will help increase the visibility and awareness of your business amongst our team and the NorCal league community, while helping to contribute to the success of our student riders. For more info on how to join our community of sponsors go to

Donate your bike or gear
Donations to the ECHS Mountain Biking Team are always accepted and always appreciated. Please click on the PayPal link below to send payment with a credit card or your personal PayPal account. You may also make checks payable to Friends of ECHS Mountain Biking Club, Mailing address: c/o Dennis Cody, Sponsorship/Fundraising, 2721 Del Monte Ave., El Cerrito, CA, 94530

All donations and contributions are tax deductible for income tax purposes. We are a sponsored group of the El Cerrito Student Activity Fund, 501 (c) (3) Tax ID #911935426.

For more info on donations go to

Thanks to our Sponsors

Copyright © 2021 ECHS MTB Racing Team, All rights reserved.

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ECHS MTB Racing Team
540 Ashbury Ave,
El Cerrito, CA 94530

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ECHS MTB · 540 Ashbury Ave · El Cerrito, CA 94530-3221 · USA

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