When Sophia Evans approaches the start of today’s race in Fontana, N.C., the final race of the South Eastern Regional Championship series, her victory lap will be under way.
Regardless of where she ends up at the finish line, Evans’ first-place lead — one she has held for the entirety of the 10-race series — has allowed some distance between her closest competitor.
“I could come in last [place], I could come in first. It’s locked up so unless I die, I have the series,” said the 13-year-old Cartersville Middle School student.
“I’m pretty excited,” Evans continued. “It’s the finals. Everything I worked for is going to be rewarded at this race, so I’m looking forward to it. … It’s definitely been very lucky. I didn’t know what to expect at the first race at Gainesville, [Fla.], and now that we’ve been through the whole series with the lead … it’s actually been very shocking, but I’m thrilled to have it.
“Having the lead calms me down because I know if I mess up in this race it’s OK because I can recover. … It doesn’t make it less nerve-wracking on the finish line, but it’s definitely helpful.”
Evans, who has been racing competitively since March 2010, learned to deal with the highs and lows last year. She said she learned “how to handle a mess up in a race [and] how to really deal with being nervous because last year the races were nothing like this year.”
Though she noted the competition last year was a tad better, Evans has not had to search for motivation, often aiming for the top times of mountain bikers in other divisions.
“That’s always my top goal — to always do my best no matter what the conditions are,” she said. “Some people will actually place bets on people’s times — not necessarily the people they’re competing against.
“There are other people in other [divisions] that I’d like to catch up to. … I’m compared to junior boys 11-14 … sometimes 14-17.”
Evans’ quest this spring and summer has taken her across the region from Bryson City, N.C., and Spartanburg, S.C., to Winder and Ducktown, Tenn. She’s also had races in Jackson, Chattanooga, Clemson, S.C., and Huntsville, Ala.
“My favorite course has been Huntsville, Ala.,” Evans revealed. “It’s a technical track and I love technical tracks. But, my favorite city has been Gainesville, Fla. I love the city.”
With aspirations to go further in mountain biking, the travel required of the sport is something Evans welcomes, even if her peers don’t quite grasp what it is she is doing.
“A lot of kids don’t really understand what I’m doing. They don’t think it’s a sport. It’s just not their thing,” she said. “If they’re not athletic, that’s what they want to do, but I would definitely encourage other kids to try [mountain biking]. … Mountain biking is a great sport; it works you hard.”
Evans, who goes running around her Cartersville neighborhood and trains three times a week, would like to go onto college and eventually turn pro one day.
“I’m hoping [to get a] scholarship to Colorado. I definitely [want to be a] gold medalist in the Olympics world series championship,” she said. “I really expect to be a sport racer by the age of 14, expert by 16-17 … I hope to be a pro racer before I turn 20.”
Until then, Evans — ranked No. 2 in the nation by U.S. Cycling — will bask in her current moment of glory — a magnificent feat in under two years on the competitive circuit.
“It definitely means a lot. It’s the first Southeast regional I’ve ever competed in,” said the Cartersville teenager. “It’s nice to say that I won my first Southeast regional championship. It’s a lot of fun to say.”