By Karen Kefauver
August 15, 2014
Link to Sentinel Article
Stefano Profumo leads the peloton in the UC Santa Cruz Road Race in Category 4/5 in February. (Tesla Profumo — Contributed)
Stefano Profumo was an out-of-shape, sedentary smoker. His wife told him that before starting a family, he had to quit smoking and get in shape.
The native Italian stopped smoking cold turkey in 2008 and hasn’t had a cigarette since. Profumo, 36, joined the newly formed Santa Cruz Wheelmen/Spokesman Bicycles team, and has enjoyed a winning streak in regional road bike races.
This Sunday, Profumo, a physics professor at UC Santa Cruz, will compete in the 28th annual University Road Race. He’ll give it his all during the leg-burning, lung-busting 45 miles (15 laps) of mountain climbing at UC Santa Cruz. He’ll have the support of his wife, Tesla, and sons, ages 4 and 1 1/2.
Profumo, nicknamed “The Flying Physicist” by his teammates, heads into this weekend’s race with a strong track record. His road race wins include the Sea Otter Classic, Pescadero Road Race, Cantua Creek Road Race, San Bruno Mountain Hill Climb, UC Santa Cruz Road Race and, most recently, Northern California/Nevada State Championship Hill Climb at Mount Diablo.
“He’s remarkable,” said team manager and veteran racer Ed Price, who launched the 20-member Santa Cruz Wheelmen/Spokesman Bicycles team in January.
“I’ve never seen anybody do anything like that in one year,” Price, 59, said of Profumo’s rapid ascent from beginner rider to elite racer.
Through email, Profumo revealed more about his passion for cycling and his race team, which is sponsored by the Spokesman Bike Shop in Santa Cruz:
Q: How and when did you get into exercising?
A: I used to be a “pack-a-day” smoker until Christmas of 2008. Having grown up in a traditional Italian family, in northwestern Italy (near Turin), my diet and habits kept me in shape despite my complete lack of exercise.
I ran the Wharf to Wharf race for fun in 2008, finishing in about 55 minutes. I enjoyed it and went out for occasional runs on West Cliff Drive. The tipping point was the “precondition” my wife (a very successful athlete, 2012 NorCal open water champion, former state-level college swimmer) had given me: I would need to quit smoking if we were to have kids!
Q: How did you quit smoking?
A: Running played a huge role in helping me quit. I started running more and more and joined the Santa Cruz Track Club. The running environment gave me both a great social outlet (outside of academia) and showed me that I was actually rather good at something that had nothing to do with math and physics, which was a total surprise.
Q: What was your first running race?
A: My first running race was the Nisene Marks half marathon. I love Nisene Marks State Park and have come back three more times to that race. The last time I ran it, I actually came in first overall (2012).
Q: Why did you switch from running to cycling?
A: In addition to a nagging knee injury, I blame it on a dear friend of mine who works at Specialized and who made me try one of his bikes. As I started training on the bike, I instantly understood why my father and grandfather in Italy were so obsessed with biking (although never competitively). I loved it. I trained with and was mentored by local cyclists Mark Edwards and Jim Langley, and joined the Santa Cruz Wheelmen/Spokesman Bicycles team. It became increasingly clear that the sport I enjoyed the most and I was perhaps most talented at was cycling.
Q: Describe the appeal of bike racing.
A: The mental and strategic aspects of cycling always fascinated me. Starting as a kid, we would spend weekends watching the Giro or the Tour on TV back in Italy with my father and grandfather.
Talking with Mark Edwards and other accomplished riders made me increasingly curious about bicycle racing, and I decided to devote the 2014 season to biking exclusively. Bike racing is so different from running, where the fittest guy always wins. In biking, you need to be fit and smart. It’s a lot more multi-dimensional and fascinating.
Q: What do you enjoy about being on a bike team?
A: The moments I look forward to the most are the team workouts. Suffering together with a common purpose, racing for that pretend finish line, the sense of respect and joy in all of that is something that has enormous value to me.
Q: What are your goals in cycling?
A: There’s nothing like winning a bicycle race — possibly on a long breakaway, or steadily pulling away up the final climb. I am a competitive individual, and cycling gives me a safe environment to compete that does not interfere with my actual job. In other words, I manage to funnel my competitive side into cycling, and am a much happier physicist and professor. My goal for this season is to have the opportunity to win races with the team, as a team.
University Road Race
When: Sunday, 8 a.m.
Where: UC Santa Cruz campus
Course: A 3-mile mountain loop from Hagar Drive at the East Remote Parking Lot
Registration: Opens at 7 a.m. and closes 15 minutes before each event’s start
Info: 209-533-4996 or velopromo.com