Daniel Johnson, Varsity Rider for the South Orange County Composite team, talks about his experiences in the SoCal league, the highly competitive race series this past year, and what it took to win the state champs jersey.
Q: This past season, in comical fashion, you three (James Pflughaupt, Corona del Mar High School, Sean Bell, El Toro High School, and Daniel Johnson, South OC Composite) were always neck and neck at the finish line in every race, with James winning the first three races in the SoCal Series, Sean winning the last two series races, and Daniel holding off Sean to win the State Champs Jersey. How was that experience?
A: [Daniel] It was super fun racing Sean and James all season. Coming in 2nd and 3rd all the time made me hungry to win a race. So by State Champs I knew I needed to win, and it was my last chance to be on top of the podium for my freshman year. Sean and James were always supportive and encouraging after every race. We all knew how hard each of us were working…there is a respect we have for each other because of that
Q: How do you prepare for a race?
A: [Daniel] I work with a private coach, Craig Hopps. He helped me know exactly how to train and how to be ready for each race each weekend. One thing I learned about is recovery…you have to let you body recover when you are training hard. I get enough sleep and drink lots of water and I made sure before every race I detailed my bike to be sure it was perfect.
Q: The three of you often ride together—do you find that the three of you push each other when you ride or practice together?
A: [Daniel] Before the season started I rode with Sean once a week and we pushed each other. It is always good to ride with fast or faster riders so you get stronger. But before the season started our teams changed and we didn’t ride together after that.
Q: By riding together, have you found that it has made you more supportive of your teammates and other riders?
A: [Daniel] Yes, because you get to know these people and you want the best for them too. My coaches referred to the three of us as “the three amigos”. I was happy to be one of them.
Q: What has been your greatest memory from this past season?
A: [Daniel] When I was able to out sprint Sean and James, (they are tough competitors) and being able to win one was the highlight of the season for me. I made another friend (Nick Padilla) who races on my team and we stayed together in hotels at the different races…we had a lot of fun. It was cool to go to different parts of CA and see different trails. My favorite course was Los Olivos. Despite the gnarly winds, it was super flowie and had good climbs.
Q: How has being involved in NICA sponsored events changed you?
A: [Daniel] It showed me there are a lot of kids who like to ride bikes. I stopped doing the team sport thing by 4th grade, and discovered how much I liked bikes. I started racing BMX but had a bad crash and was in the hospital for two weeks. After that I decided to switch to mountain bikes and my 8th grade year my Mom found out about the NICA league. It was so exciting to know I would be able to ride, race and be hanging out with people my own age. Before that I felt like I was the only person I knew who liked to ride bikes.
Q: What are you looking forward to the most next year?
A: [Daniel] I’m looking forward to racing varsity as a sophomore, I like longer races and I’m hoping the courses will be more technical. It’s going to be tough against the older riders but I know it will make me a faster rider. We are going to miss James next season, as his family moved to another state.