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Feature Articles

Getting Serious

Velo News Cycling Journal Cover

The all-women's Velo Bella team tackles 2005 cross season with trademark style

October 2005

Velo News Cycling Journal

By Karen Kefauver

Velo Bella riders don't just want to win - they want to have fun and look good doing it. A huge all-women's cycling club headquartered in Santa Cruz, California, Velo Bella is ramping up for its biggest cyclo-cross season yet by expanding its elite racing squad and hosting round five of this year's Crank Brothers U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross.

Co-founded by team manager Sabine Dukes in 2001, Velo Bella includes female recreational riders and "racer chicks" who compete at all levels of road, mountain-bike and cyclo-cross events. Starting with a handful of riders in Monterey, California, the club has grown to nearly 200 women across the country and a handful of women internationally thanks to word of mouth, a stylish kit and a lively Web site.

During last year's cyclo-cross season, the six-woman elite squad of Christine Vardaros, Sarah Kerlin, Barbara Howe, Melodie Metzger, Erin Kassoy and Sami Fournier made a splash at UCI races as well as the national and world championships. The team demonstrated that pink-and-blue jerseys, silver face glitter and bright lipstick can go hand-in-hand with sloppy mud pits and serious competition. In addition to the team's impressive domestic presence last season, Kerlin and Howe finished 19th and 26th respectively at the world cyclo-cross championships in Germany last January.

"The Velo Bellas are going to be bigger and better than last year," predicted Vardaros, a 36-year-old veteran 'cross racer who was thwarted by health issues last season. "We will have eight powerhouse women working together."

New teammates Ann Fitzsimmons and Brenna Lopez-Otero are joining the six women who raced together last year. Fitzsimmons, 32, of Morgan Hill , California , raced expert downhill until she tired of repeated injuries. She started racing 'cross in 2002 and stepped up to the elite level in 2003, although a sprained ankle hampered her racing. She took last year off entirely to recover from health issues and injuries.

"This year my focus is "cross," said Fitzsimmons, who in March hired former U.S. cyclo-cross champion Clark Natwick to coach her "In preparation, Clark is having me do cross-country mountain-bike racing and road racing."

For Lopez-Otero of Palo Alto, a former expert class mountain biker turned criterium specialist, the spirit of Velo Bella was the big draw. "Sometimes I was taking it all too seriously," she admitted of her racing past. "The Bellas keep me smiling, even when we are working hard."

"We dye our hair pink and blue, we wear tassel bracelets, we have fuzzy dice hanging from our helmets and have pink flamingos dangling from the seatposts. We make it fun," said Vardaros.

But there is more to the team than wanting to cultivate a colorful look and have a great time. The team wants to take its game to the next level. "Team tactics are at the center of the Bellas' 'cross strategy this year It will make a big difference," said Vardaros. "We will work together for the common goal of getting a win for a Bella at each race. Our goal is to be at the level of team tactics similar to the Belgian men."

The 2005-06 U.S. women's field is relatively wide open with the recent departures of Gina Hall and Alison Dunlap following the exodus of other top women after the 2003-04 'cross season. However, Ann Knapp and Lyne Bessette remain threats. The Bellas will battle Knapp, Bessette and the rest of the women's elite field at various UCI events, the Crank Brothers Series and the nationals.

"We expect to pull out all the stops," said Vardaros, explaining that the Bellas will be riding Paul Sadoff's custom Rock Lobster bikes sporting blue and pink frames with fi'zi:k's pink and blue saddles and pink headsets from Chris King. "We will be spreading flair everywhere we go. We are a traveling party It's a hoot."

The party will be in Velo Bella territory when the Crank Brothers race takes place on November 19 in Watsonville, a 30-minute drive from downtown Santa Cruz. "The e-mails have been flying about that race," said Lopez-Otero. "We are collecting a ton of great prizes and it's going to be fabulous."

Velo Bella's goal for the season is having a bigger, better team with women willing to work hard for each other with a winning attitude, no matter the results.

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