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December 11, 2003

Santa Cruz County Sentinel


Larry Hibbard has a handsome collection of silver and bronze medals from racing cyclo-cross at the national level, but the gold has been elusive. The 45-year-old Santa Cruz resident is determined to pedal to victory this weekend at the National Cyclo-Cross Championships in Portland, Ore.

“I’m shooting for the gold,” said Hibbard, who will compete in the 45-49-year-old master’s division. Known as “the animal” for his ferocious talent on two wheels, Hibbard confessed, “All my focus is on the nationals. I am really committed and just obsessed.”

More than a dozen county residents plan to travel to Portland for the National Championships, which feature both elite and amateur bicycle races Friday-Sunday at the Portland International Raceway.

Commonly called “cross,” cyclo-cross races generally last 30-60 minutes, depending on the skill level. The racer who completes the most laps around the course in the set period of time is the winner.

The hallmark of cyclo-cross is that the rider must dismount and remount the bike multiple times each lap in order to negotiate a variety of obstacles. A course typically contains short, steep hills, 16-inch high barricades, and other sections of mud or sand which will force a rider to get off the bike and run with it. Technique and aerobic endurance are crucial to maintaining momentum and speed.

“It is my favorite of all the cycling disciplines,” said Carmen D’Aluisio, 36, of Watsonville. One of the top women cyclo-cross racers in the country, she has raced with the United States national road racing team and was the 1996 national criterium champion. D’Aluisio will compete Sunday in the professional women’s division.

“I want to go out and race really hard and compete well,” said D’Aluisio, who has raced cross since 1997. “Obviously, I would love to win the race, but there’s a lot of competition.”

Competition will be fierce since the winners of U.S. national titles could then proceed to the invitiation-only World Championships, held in France the last weekend in January. That competion will include Alison Dunlap, a five-time cross nationals champion.

Sarah Kerlin, 29, will race in the elite women’s division alongside D’Aluisio. The professional mountain biker has improved her cycling technique this year and said that “a top 10 finish at nationals would be my ultimate goal.”

Santa Cruz’s Kerlin anticipates that the weather conditions in Portland could be challenging for locals accustomed to balmy fall races. She made special preparations like buying rain pants and searching for a massage cream to warm her skin. “My game plan is to keep a smile on my face no matter what the weather is. Everything will fall into place.”

Justin Robinson, making his 11th trip to the national cyclo-cross championships in the elite men’s race, believes weather will play a factor. But he isn’t worried.

“Cyclo-cross is in my blood,” said Robinson, who has raced cyclo-cross for a decade. He has competed in the World Championships twice and was the junior national cyclo-cross champion. Last week, he won the local series of Surf City which his wife Jenny Robinson coordinates with Nicole Amaral.

“Cross is the best cycling event because it is so intense but it is also a great spectator sport,” said Robinson,.

More than 8,000 spectators will watch as 800-plus racers vie for national titles. Due to the short duration of the races (it takes about 8 minutes for a top male competitor to complete a circuit), the obstacles on the course, and the fact the riders go in laps (fans can watch from one spot), cyclo-cross is an ideal spectator event. Visitors can also roam the course and watch the action from only inches away.

The last time the cross nationals were on the West Coast was in 1999 at the Presidio in San Francisco.

“Cyclo-cross is fun and different,” D’Aluisio said, adding that the fans are some of the most lively. “The people that come out are so into it. It really gives cross a special kind of energy.”

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