Key Peninsula bike race brings in teenage athletes from around state

 

The Peninsula Gateway

The first Sunday in May was a scorcher with temperatures in the low 80s. But the heat didn’t dissuade 117 high school mountain terrain bike racers from throughout the state who gathered at the Key Peninsula’s 360 Park as part of the Evergreen Washington Student League mountain bike race series.

HUGH MCMILLAN; SPECIAL TO THE GATEWAY
Published: 05/29/13 12:05 am | Updated: 05/30/13 1:14 pm

The first Sunday in May was a scorcher with temperatures in the low 80s. But the heat didn’t dissuade 117 high school mountain terrain bike racers from throughout the state who gathered at the Key Peninsula’s 360 Park as part of the Evergreen Washington Student League mountain bike race series.

The students were from all high school classes. They rode off in a cloud of dust and came back covered in sweat and a thin layer of mud. Some had bumps and bruises. They all had smiles.

The third race in the four-race series, 360 Park, at 10905 144th St. NW, has a challenging 4 1/2-mile loop. Rides took one to four laps, depending on their age and skill level.

Erik Pitkanen, who lived in Lakebay for almost 10 years and now lives in Gig Harbor, was the only racer from the Gig Harbor or Key Peninsula area. A freshman at Gig Harbor High, Pitkanen placed first in his division. Lisa Miller, the director of the Evergreen Washington Students’ League, said Pitkanen was tied for first in the series.

Pitkanen started racing Cyclocross in 2010, and he completed the 200-mile Seattle-to-Portland ride in a single day that same year. He now trains and rides with the junior cycling team Rad Racing.

“The course was a blast,” Pitkanen said after the 360 Trails race. “Great turnout, good competition. I’m already looking forward to next year.”

Miller’s favorite moment demonstrated the spirit of camaraderie among the racers.

“Camille Ottaway of the Olympic Composite Team showed signs of exertion at the end of her race,” Miller said. “Grimacing, face flush and crimson as she crossed the finish line, she coasted to a stop and bent over her bike to catch her breath. Before she could finish that first breath, teammate Annalise Rubida’s name was called over the loudspeaker.

“Camille dropped her bike and sprinted the 30 yards back to the finish line, yelling support for her friend and competitor. The two hugged before Annalise could even unclip from her left pedal.”

KeyPen Parks Board Commissioner Mark Michel, one of the event organizers, hopes to promote that kind of activity among Peninsula School District students.

“I believe this can have a very positive effect on kids on the KP and in Gig Harbor,” he said.

Susannah and Sharon Hart finished second and third in the varsity class, while 10-year-old Brian Hart placed fourth in the intermediate boys class. The Harts were drawn to cycling two years ago when a bike shop owner talked Brian into riding in an event.

“I loved the single track here,” Susannah Hart said of the Key Peninsula course. “It was hard, but I do well on a more technical single track.”

First-time rider Alena Tuttle, 17, from Tyee High in Seatac, was a bit more critical.

“It was dusty and challenging, but definitely worth it,” she said.

After she posted a first-lap time of 39 minutes, Tuttle succumbed to the heat and dust and did not complete her second lap in the intermediate class. She was disappointed she had to withdraw, but she was proud of her effort.

“We are really a family program, hugely successful in building community,” Miller said. “Many parents were not cyclists before their child joined our program. Now, parents take up cycling as well.

“Mountain biking is easy for a family to do together, very social. Coaches, riders, parents and volunteers camp and ride together. Although ‘race day’ is only one day, it really is a weekend of fun.”

Miller said the races require about 50 volunteers for each race.

“Many are ‘active’ positions, so volunteers get exercise and a day in the great outdoors,” she said.

The final race of the series in Washougal also will be the state-championship race and a qualifier for the USA Cycling cross-country Mountain Bike National Championships, which will be held in July in Pennsylvania. For more information, visit www.usacycling.org/2013/cross-country-mountain-bike.

KeyPen Parks members hope the 360 Park will become an annual stop on the Student League’s series. For more information, call Michel at 253-691-8841.

“The event exceeded my expectations,” Michel said. “With the exception of local participation, I believe it was successful from everyone’s perspective. I look forward to having more events like this in the future, and having more local kids ride.”

Hugh McMillan is a longtime freelance writer for the Peninsula Gateway. He can be reached at 253-884-3319 or by email at hmcmnp1000@centurytel.net.