By George Gore Browne, Special to the Independent
“The final 20 miles of the Leadville 100 are the hardest miles in the race. At this point in the race all the riders looked like they were on a death march in survival mode,” recounts Shawn D’Aurelio, a four-time veteran of the notorious Colorado race.
D’Aurelio finished what cyclists consider one of the most grueling endurance feats – a 100-mile mountain bike race at an elevation of 10,125 feet high – under eight hours in 2014. The next year he returned with his 63-year-old father, coming in five minutes before the cut off time for finishers.
“I learned where that ‘I can endure the pain’ mindset comes from: my Dad,” said D’Aurelio, whose determination and ambition can be seen mirrored in his current role as coach of the Laguna Beach interscholastic mountain bike team.
“I’m really enjoying working with the kids and I’ve got ambitions to grow the team year after year,” he said. The team currently trains three times a week from December through May and follows a program designed by D’Aurelio that ensures safety, proper technique and fitness.
“We spend the first month or so doing drills to develop their ability to brake properly, corner properly, and ride off and over rocks efficiently and safely. After the skills are mastered we begin working on fitness.”
D’Aurelio explains the training rides are broken down into two groups, allowing more advanced riders to flourish while giving more elementary riders something to aim for. “It’s really neat to see the kids progress from the B group to the A group,” he said.
The team was founded in 2014 by Laguna Beach resident and passionate mountain biker, Tony Zentil, who wanted to share the sport with his daughter. Zentil, a 20-year rider, works in the action sports industry, currently at Oakley.
The National Interscholastic Cycling Association permits participation beginning in sixth-grade.
“My daughter rides and was entering sixth grade middle school here in Laguna Beach. Except Laguna had no team, so I started one,” Zentil said.
Affiliation with the association helps ensure the team is insured and has properly qualified coaching staff. The team consists of 30 students from Laguna, ranging in age from sixth-grade to 12th. Fees range from $500 to $300 for high school and middle school students, respectively. Older kids race more.
And the young team has an impressive list of sponsors that include action sports
companies Troy Lee Designs, Oakley and Laguna Beach Cyclery as well as La Sirena Grill. Finally, the team benefits from money it raised at its inaugural Dirt Fondo, a charity long-distance ride through Aliso and Wood Canyon and Laguna Coast Wilderness Parks. Almost 100 riders completed the two courses and were awarded finishers trophies handmade by team members. The Dirt Fondo event gave riders the chance to enjoy the exhilaration that comes with mountain biking, the chance to take on a physical challenge and enjoy the outdoors. The team plans to make their Dirt Fondo an annual event.
The Laguna team competes in the five-race SoCal league, established in 2008 to provide competitive cross-country mountain biking for high school students. A middle school league began in 2014 and has four races each season.
Laguna’s middle school riders are currently preparing for their first race of the season on Saturday, March 12, held at Vail Lake, Temecula, where they will compete against youth from Los Angeles and San Diego. “The past couple weeks we’ve been talking race strategy and race specific skills, like drafting other riders,” explained D’Aurelio, who continues to race professional road cycling with team KHS-Maxxis, competing at the highest level of USA cycling last year.
As the team continues to progress, Zentil hopes to add more coaching staff and expects the riders will move up the results sheet.
The team’s growth trajectory drops off among high school students because mountain biking remains unsanctioned by the California Interscholastic Federation, the sanctioning body for high school sports.
High school students are required to take physical education as part of the required curriculum necessary to graduate unless they participate in a school-sanctioned sport, said high school athletic director Ted Clarke.
Upper classmen who take PE seventh period find it nearly impossible to participate in the practice, said Zentil.
For the Laguna team and others like it to retain high school riders, organizers must work towards turning this Olympic sport into a CIF sanctioned one, a process that must be initiated by one of the 93 voting members of the federation.
George Gore Browne is a journalism student and Laguna Beach Independent intern.