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October 10, 2002

Santa Cruz County Sentinel


Mud bogs, sand pits, fallen logs and even torrential downpours are assets in a cyclo-cross race.

Cyclo-cross is the only form of bicycling which requires the rider to leap on and off the bike, carry it up steep hills, lift it over barricades, then jump back on — all at breakneck speed.

One misstep can mean a painful mistake: crashing into a barricade, being trampled by fellow riders or getting a flat tire.

Cyclo-cross, also known as “cross,” is growing in the United States and Santa Cruz County is home to a handful of the best cyclo-cross riders in the country — some of whom will compete at the cyclo-cross nationals, held this year in Napa, Dec. 14-15.

These top-notch riders are among the hundreds who attend two local race series: Surf City Cyclo-X and Central Coast Cyclo-cross.

Races kick off this month and continue through December in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties.

“It is the purest form of cycling I have found so far,” said Ben Jacques-Maynes, 24, a professional road and mountain bike cyclist, who has placed in the top 15 in national cyclo-cross races three times. “Each time you have to put out maximum effort in order to achieve success at cyclo-cross. You learn quickly whether you have it or you don’t.”

Jacques-Maynes, a member of the Spokesman and UCSC cycling teams, aims to win the collegiate national cyclo-cross title this season. He plans to race in both local series. Points are accumulated in each race and tallied at the end of the series. Cash and prizes are awarded to top point-winners.

Technique, speed and aerobic endurance are crucial in this sport, which originated in Europe as a way for road racers to stay fit during the fall and winter off-season.

“Cyclo-cross is huge in Europe, but it is getting bigger here,” said Justin Robinson, 27, who has raced cyclo-cross for a decade. The Bonny Doon resident has competed in the world national cross championships twice and was the junior national cyclo-cross champion. He added, “I think Lance Armstrong’s Tour de France victories have helped raise awareness of cycling in general in the United States.”

The goal in cyclo-cross is to ride as many laps around the loop course as possible during the allotted time, which ranges from 30 to 60 minutes, depending on skill level. The challenge is to maintain momentum while dismounting and remounting the bike. The 1-2-mile course is filled with obstacles, both natural (sand, mud and logs) and man-made (wooden, foot-high barriers.)

Cyclists use specialized cyclo-cross bikes, which resemble road bikes, or mountain bikes.

Due to the short duration of the races and the size of the course, cyclo-cross is an ideal spectator event. Visitors can roam the course and watch the action from only inches away.

“The sport has definitely grown,” said Surf City Cyclo-X organizer Jenny Robinson, who partners with Nicole Amaral and Jeff Clark to produce four races in Santa Cruz County. They expect about 350 riders at the first race Sunday at San Lorenzo Valley High in Felton.

“People are looking for something that is more adventurous,” said Robinson. “It is a community-focused event, very social. It is short enough that it’s very intense, a great workout. The crowd around you is screaming and cheering you on. It’s a really exciting feeling.”

“I love the camaraderie,” said Shauna Potocky, 31, entering her fourth year of cross competition. “It is an individual event, but you depend on many people to get you through.”

In order to encourage more female participation, Surf City has added a new race class “C” for women, which allows them to race for 30 minutes, instead of the more grueling 45.

“I am excited about it,” said Flo Queen Stover, 48, who relishes the idea of splattering through the mud at her first cyclo-cross race. She will attend the Surf City cyclo-cross clinic on Saturday, the day before the first race. The three-hour clinic will give her a chance to learn tips from pros and practice on the race course.

“I haven’t been racing this year, so it might be a good way to kickstart my cycling and get back in shape,” said Queen Stover, a triathlete.

The two series are coordinated to happen on alternate Sundays. The Central Coast Cyclo-cross Series, produced by David Gill, Rod Hernandez and Keith Defiebre opened on Oct. 6, with 180 riders in Prunedale’s Manzanita Park.

The remaining five races will take place in Santa Cruz County, Manzanita Park and Fort Ord.

“It easy to come out and watch,” said organizer Gill. “Unlike other bike races where you don’t see the riders for hours, at cross it is very exciting and you can see lots of actions on a short course.”

If you go
Central Coast Cyclo-Cross Series: Sundays, Oct. 20, Nov. 3, 17, Dec. 1, 22
Registration: 8 a.m.; races 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
Cost: $20 per race, Juniors (18 and under) free, NCNCA license required
Details: www.cccx.org

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