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October 9, 2003

Santa Cruz County Sentinel


Goldiberry Skeel was not discouraged by falling off her bike and losing a shoe at her first cyclo-cross race. The Santa Cruz native took the mishaps in stride as part of her debut in the Surf City Cyclo-Cross series last year at the Watsonville Fairgrounds.

After years of cheering from the sidelines and with nearly no race experience, Skeel plunged into cyclo-cross.

“It’s such a supportive environment, I decided it was time to try it,” said Skeel, 24.

Skeel and scores of others will return to cyclo-cross racing this weekend when Santa Cruz’s Surf City Series kicks off with a clinic Saturday and a race Sunday, both held at Aptos High.

Surf City directors Jenny Robinson and Nicole Amaral, now in their fifth season of organizing the series, are expecting a big turnout at the five races, which take place Sundays from October through December at various county locations and Fort Ord in Monterey. Growing attendance is part of a national trend in cyclo-cross, as participation increases and more series are launched.

Santa Cruz County has a few less races this year, due to the cancellation of the Central Coast Cyclo-Cross series. However, a new, larger series called Bay Area Super Prestige, with six races, has debuted this year in San Mateo County. With the addition of the Super Prestige, at least one cyclo-cross series race will take place every weekend through December and into January in Northern California. (See www.ncnca.org for full race calendar.)

Commonly called “cross,” the sport blends both road cycling techniques and offroad mountain biking skills. Generally, a cross race is characterized by a 1.5-mile circuit course which features both man-made obstacles, like 18- inch wooden barriers, and natural obstacles, like mud bogs, sand pits and logs.

The rider is forced to negotiate the barriers by leaping on and off the bike, running up hills carrying the bike and jumping back on, all at breakneck speed. Power, technique and momentum are keys to smooth performance. The rider who completes the most number of laps in a set period of time (30-60 minutes depending on skill level) wins.

Surf City offers a prize list worth $25,000 for top riders in each group. Riders earn points for placement in each race, which are then tallied at the end of the series to determine overall standings.

Hugely popular in Northern California, the Pacific Northwest and the Northeast, cross has a homegrown feel that attracts both novices, like Skeel, and veterans who compete at the world level in Europe.

Santa Cruz is home to top talents in cyclo-cross, including Skeel’s fiancé and 2002 collegiate cyclo-cross champion Ben Jacques-Maynes, a 25-year-old former Santa Cruz resident. Also from the area are 2002 masters 35+ national champion Todd Hoefer, and Justin Robinson, 28, of Bonny Doon, who has claimed a national title and competed internationally during the past decade. One of the best cross racers in the country, Carmen D’Aluisio, 36, of Watsonville, raced at last year’s world championships.

These athletes will be among those competing at the Surf City series this fall. The pros make it look easy, but spectators appreciate the bellyflops of the beginners as much as the grace of the champions. Cross courses are ideally suited for spectators, who can station themselves only inches from the action and who don’t have far to walk around the short course.

New developments for the series include a category for single speed bicycles, a discount for students on the first race, and free entry at every race for juniors (ages 12-18).

“Juniors are fun to watch and are amazingly strong,”said Robinson.

“We want to make it a really good experience for racers,” said organizer Amaral, a former pro mountain bike racer. “We especially want to encourage juniors with the free race entry.”

Both Amaral and Robinson have added a fifth race to the series this year, and both have added motherhood to their list of accomplishments.

“It’s been challenging,” said Jenny Robinson.

“We must be nuts,” joked Amaral. But it’s a labor of love. “Everyone is so supportive of us and racers are so enthusiastic to have the series here in their backyard,” she added.

Justin Robinson has raced all over the world and noted, “It’s the best bicycling because of our community. It has that rootsy feeling.”

While organizers aim to attract more junior racers this year, they also hope to see a continued surge in attendance by women, especially first-timers.

“Last year, we added a women’s category of 30-minute races and that worked really well,” said Robinson.

Skeel agreed.

“I knew I could race 30 minutes,” said the Soquel High graduate who will race this season despite a busy graduate school schedule. In the wacky spirit of wearing costumes in cyclo-cross races, she will attach her signature pair of butterfly wings to her back, a salute to the monarch butterfly and a tribute to the hometown races in Santa Cruz.

Surf City Cyclo-X Series:
Oct. 12, Aptos High School; Oct. 26, Fort Ord, Monterey; Nov. 9, 23, Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds, Watsonville; Dec 7, San Lorenzo Valley, Felton.

Registration: 8 a.m, races 9 a.m.-1:30 p.m. $20-$25 per race, Juniors (ages 12-18) free entry, $5 discount for students with ID at first race, NCNCA license is not required.

Details: www.cyclo-x.com

Training Clinics: Surf City Cyclo-X Series, noon, Saturdays, Oct. 12 (Aptos H.S.) and 26 (Fort Ord, Monterey). Taught by experts Justin Robinson, Todd Hoefer and Hillary Daniels. Include tips, coaching and practice on the course. $15 per clinic.

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