Santa Cruz Sentinel
By Karen Kefauver
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For road cyclists who enjoy lung-busting, leg-burning workouts, the Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge is a must-do.
Designed to include the steepest, longest climbs in Santa Cruz County, the 14th annual event promises to test both the willpower and muscle power of riders who choose one of the three routes offered Saturday.
The primary fundraiser for the Santa Cruz County Cycling Club, the ride [not race] includes three options: a 65-mile route [also called a metric century or 100k], a 100-mile route and a 124-mile [200k] route. All courses start and end at Scotts Valley High.
"We just added the 200k route last year," said event director David Giannini of Santa Cruz. "It's back by popular demand."
An avid cyclist himself, Giannini noted that last year nearly a quarter of the 480 registered riders chose the longest and hardest route.
"The kind of riders that do this ride are people who are hardcore cyclists -- it's not for everyone. The climbing component makes it really tough. The 200k route is probably as difficult as the Death Ride, when measured by the number of feet of elevation gain," he said, mentioning the better known name of the notoriously brutal Tour of the California Alps, which starts in Markleeville and climbs through five mountain passes.
As for the climbs in the Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge [SCMC], Giannini estimated elevation gains of approximately 6,000 feet for the 100k, 10,000 feet for the 100 miles and 1,600 feet for 200k route.
"In anybody's book, it's a tough ride," said Giannini, who has ridden the SCMC metric century.
Jeanie Vogelzang, a veteran of 200-mile rides, plans to tackle the 124-mile route by herself, unless she can persuade some friends to join her.
"It's hard to find ride partners, especially women, who like to go these distances," said Vogelzang, 46, a former Category 2 road bike racer. "I'm more able to do endurance now rather than racing," she said, mentioning she holds the California Triple Crown, signifying she has completed three 200-mile rides within a year.
Despite all those miles under her belt, the Aptos mom said of the upcoming SCMC ride, "That much climbing will be challenging. The route is really beautiful and I am using it more as training for upcoming rides. It's going to be a hard day's workout but that's exactly what I need."
In addition to the grueling hills, racers assume some risks inherent to the sport. Among the safety concerns are cars, fast descents and mechanical problems. Organizers work hard to keep cyclists safe, including limiting potential profits.
"The back roads of Santa Cruz are incredibly scenic, but those roads are also tight and small, so we are at the right number of cyclists," Giannini said.
The 500-rider limit for this year's event has not yet been met and registration is still open.
"We want to keep it a small event. We are not planning on growing it this year," Giannini said. "This ride is supported 100 percent by volunteers -- 107 of them this year. They are coordinated by Grace Voss, a member and officer of the Santa Cruz County Cycling Club. She's got a big job."
In his first time as race director, Giannini said he stepped up because last year's event raised $9,000 dollars for the club and he wanted to make sure the ride would happen.
"The Santa Cruz County Cycling Club is very generous in terms of making donations to charitable organizations," Giannini said, citing a number of local programs that have received funding.
The rewards of the SCMC, he said, are "all the positive comments we get from participants on being supported during the ride with great water stops, rest stops and a great meal afterwards. People really like the way we feed them and take care of them -- they especially love our homemade zucchini bread we serve at the rest stops."
In the end, it all boils down to the superior riding.
"A lot of people don't have mountains like we have," Giannini said. "The Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge attracts people from all over Northern California and beyond because it's a beautiful place to ride."
Karen Kefauver www.karenkefauver.com is a freelance writer who covers sports and travel and is based in Santa Cruz. Read more of her stories at the Out and About blog: outandaboutscs.wordpress.com.