Xander Sugarman has a long memory.
The Santa Rosa High senior hasn’t forgotten the final mountain bike race of his sophomore year, when he was nipped by 10 seconds for first place in the state in the Division 2 sophomore category.
All season long two years ago, Sugarman had traded the points lead with a rider from the Lake Tahoe area. Sugarman won the NorCal Conference title, but lost at the state championship race.
In his senior campaign, Sugarman left no room for doubt. He won every varsity race in the NorCal Mountain Bike League season to take the conference championship at Six Sigma Ranch and Winery on April 29.
But despite his momentum coming in, Sunday’s state championship race at Petaluma’s Five Springs Farm was a different kettle of fish all together.
In the varsity race, there is no differentiation between big schools and small schools, or big teams or those teams, like Sugarman’s, that are so small they pull riders from multiple schools to compete under one banner.
The varsity race features the very fastest riders in California, all funneled into one race.
And Sugarman beat them all — handily.
“It was pretty definitive,” said Sugarman’s A-Team Composite squad coach Nick Nesbitt. “It was very, very dominant.”
“He was completely alone on the last lap.”
Sugarman said he went into the race with a pretty solid strategy. He pulled it off even better than he planned.
He and another rider pulled away from the lead group on the second of the race’s four laps and no other rider went with them. Then near the start of the third lap, Sugarman attacked and pulled away and the other rider couldn’t hold his wheel.
“I calmed down a little bit on the fourth lap and was looking back to make sure,” he said. “I thought if I kept up a solid pace I’d probably win.”
Sugarman finished the four-lap course in one hour, 43 minutes and 28 seconds. The second place rider, Dylan Villafane of Drake High in San Anselmo, finished in one hour, 44 minutes and 23 seconds.
It’s been that way all season.
“It was quite a season to show what he’s got,” Nesbitt said. “There was murmuring from teammates that this year is the year he’s going to blow everyone’s doors off and sure enough.”
The results were years in the making for Sugarman — in both desire and work rate.
“I have been wanting that state champion jersey for a long time. It definitely has been a big goal,” he said. “Everyone wants it really bad. Varsity is an extremely competitive category. Everyone out there is really fast, they are the fastest guys in the state.”
Sugarman started laying the groundwork for Sunday’s performance two years ago when he decided as a sophomore that he wanted to take mountain biking a little more seriously.
So strong was his season that he leapfrogged the JV category entirely and raced varsity his junior year.
The wins did not pile up, but Sugarman was getting stronger.
“He worked his ass off,” Nesbitt said. “He got top 10 all season but he had to work super, super hard.”