April 12, 2011
Santa Cruz County Sentinel
By KAREN KEFAUVER
Megan Zemny embraces danger. She’s not afraid of bombing down treacherous mountain slopes, wearing a full-face helmet and body armor and risking broken bones — it’s all part of the sport she loves: downhill mountain biking.
It’s fast, furious and extremely demanding. A downhill race may take less than five minutes total, depending on the course, but it requires disciplined training and intense focus.
“I love going fast, going down technical trails and doing jumps,” said Zemny, 33, a Santa Cruz native, who recently upgraded to the status of professional racer. “It’s an amazing feeling when you get into the rhythm and when you have to maneuver tough sections. There are moments when it scares the heck out of you, but you have to push yourself toward doing something that scares you in order to take the next step.”
For Zemny, the next step is racing at Sea Otter Classic, one of the world’s largest bicycling festivals, held Thursday-Sunday at Laguna Seca Recreation Area in Monterey. Though no stranger to tough Sea Otter racing, this will be her first year competing there as a pro.
“I’ll be up against some extremely talented women,” said Zemny, a member of Team Santa Cruz Alliance, named for one of its main sponsors, Santa Cruz Bicycles. Zemny’s gearing up for two big races at Sea Otter this weekend: the mountain bike downhill and the mountain bike dual slalom.
She will be among hundreds of Santa Cruz County residents headed to the Sea Otter to participate in both competitive and recreational rides in mountain biking cross country, dual slalom, short track and downhill and road biking. The variety of events is designed to attract riders of all skill levels, ranging from first-time riders to professional cyclists.
For many Santa Cruz athletes, like Mary Moncorgé, 29, of La Selva Beach, the focus in Monterey is on racing. At the Sea Otter, Moncorgé will race the dual slalom and downhill events, competing for the first time in the pro category, just like her friend and teammate Zemny on Team Santa Cruz Alliance.
Moncorgé has raced bikes for just a year and half, but has experience with speed.
“I’m an adrenaline junkie. I used to race snowboard-cross back in France and compete in horse-show jumping,” she said. “Riding a bike reminds me of both but your fitness has to be even better.”
It was an ex-boyfriend who first got Moncorgé into downhill riding, but it was a group of women who encouraged her to join a downhill series of races that kept her going.
“I tried it and got addicted,” Moncorgé said. “But it wasn’t until last year that I rode my first big bike.'”
Zemny and Moncorgé agree that they are lucky to have a strong women’s downhill scene right in their own backyard. Zemny names a handful of talented riders who make their home in Santa Cruz County, including Kathy Pruitt, Annemarie Hennes, Rosie Bernard, among others.
“We all are good friends,” said Zemny. “We ride together — epic cross country rides, downhill rides and training.”
John Brown, owner of Family Cycling Center in Capitola, has observed the growing interest in downhill mountain biking for women.
“There’s definitely momentum in women’s downhill with more women getting into it,” Brown said, “Women come into the store to talk about it with downhillers Pruitt and Hennes, who work there. Plus I see more videos and hear more talk about women racing. We love seeing the growth. It seems so overdue so it’s great to see the enthusiasm.”
Karen Kefauver, www.karenkefauver.com, is a freelance writer specializing in sports and travel stories. She writes a monthly cycling column, Spin City, for the Sentinel. At the Sea Otter, she will test her legs at the 20.2-mile Gran Fondo Mountain Bike Ride.
Sea Otter Classic
Sea Otter Classic is considered a veritable “who’s who” of cycling and a
good chance to spot current and former Olympic, world and national
champions in many cycling disciplines. Event organizers estimate 5,000
athletes will register for events and expect 50,000 spectators during the four-day festival.
big attraction of the Sea Otter is the vendor expo, featuring many
bicycling industries based in or with ties to Santa Cruz County. John
Brown, owner of Family Cycling Center in Capitola, said, in addition to
racing, “I go to Sea Otter to feel the pulse of the industry and keep my
ear to the ground.”
New this year is the Gran Fondo Mountain Bike
Ride on Saturday and Ladies Activities Day on Sunday. The festival takes
place Thursday-Sunday Laguna Seca Recreation Area in Monterey. For
details and registration information, visit: www.seaotterclassic.com.
IF YOU GO
SEA OTTER CLASSIC
WHAT: One of the world’s largest bicycle festivals featuring an equipment expo and mountain and road cycling events.
WHERE: Laguna Seca Recreation Area in Monterey
COST: $10 per day pre-purchased or $12 on site. $30 for four-day pass. Free for 12-and-under and registered athletes.