By Karen Kefauver
October 18, 2012
Mud bogs, fallen logs, steep hills and heavy rain are beloved by fans of cyclocross, a type of bike racing that requires a combination of road and mountain biking skills. While there are no storms predicted for Santa Cruz County on Oct. 28, athletes and event organizers still expect fierce competition — and scary costumes — at Surf City Cyclocross’ Halloween race at Aptos High School.
Hundreds of racers and spectators are expected to attend this Halloween race, which has become a cherished tradition in the tight-knit cyclocross community. While fun-loving competitors will wear wild outfits during the 20-minute costume race, others will battle for victory in their age groups and race divisions while sporting normal cycling attire. This cyclocross race promises to be an exciting spectacle, regardless of the weather.
Santa Cruz has been a hotbed of cyclocross racing for more than 20 years and some of the nation’s most talented cyclocross racers live in the county. These dedicated athletes race nearly every weekend, from September through January, at several popular regional series, including the Surf City Cyclocross Series, the Central Coast Cyclocross and the Bay Area Super Prestige series.
At the helm of Surf City Cyclocross races is Mary Perez, who also launched and directs the women’s bicycling team Ciclista Bonita. For this Surf City Halloween race, Perez and members of Ciclista Bonita aim to attract more beginners to the sport by hosting a cyclocross skills clinic on the race course the day before the event.
Perez wants to spread the word about the sport commonly called “cross.”
Cyclocross has a devout following throughout the United States, but is even more popular in Europe, where it originated as a way for road bike racers to stay in shape during the “off-season” of fall and winter.
In addition to the all-out anaerobic effort, the unique challenge of cyclocross is to maintain momentum while dismounting and remounting the bike. Typically, a cross course is a one- to two-mile loop filled with obstacles — both natural (sand, mud, logs) and man-made (wooden, foot-high barriers). When experienced racers leap over the obstacles and on and off their bikes, it looks like a beautiful form of backwoods ballet.
Brock Dickie, 41, of Santa Cruz, has nearly two decades of cyclocross race experience under his belt. At the upcoming Surf City Series, Dickie, who rides for the Buy-Cell.com/Ibis team, will be less concerned about his costume and more focused on the cut-throat action during his grueling 45-minute race. Like any cross racer, his goal is to complete as many laps around the course as possible in the given time (beginners race 30 minutes, pros for 45 or 60 minutes).
“We’ve got the fastest masters field in the country,” Dickie said of his race category — the men’s Masters age 35+ in the A division. He reeled off names of his rivals, including past national cyclocross champions Justin Robinson and Todd Hoefer; Gannon Myall, who captured fourth place at the 2012 national championships; and current Masters Men 45-49 Cyclocross World Champion Don Myrah.
Though he hasn’t captured a national title yet, Dickie, who works full time as a structural engineer in Campbell and squeezes in training at lunch, says landing on the podium at each of his cross races so far this year in such a competitive field has been a hard-earned and sweet reward.
“I love the excitement of cross,” Dickie said. “In other races there are a lot of lulls. Cross never gets boring. There’s constant action. And because of length of the race, it’s easy to train and be competitive even with a full-time job. You can train smart but not as much. We have masters guys who have families and full-time jobs but can fit in enough time to train and be incredibly talented.”
And training comes in handy for cyclocross since it’s the only form of bicycling that 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 sprint pace. One misstep can mean crashing into a barricade, being trampled by fellow riders or getting a flat tire.
“The joy of cyclocross is watching people suffer — it’s true!” joked David Gill, a long time bike racer, cycling event organizer and former director of the Surf City Cyclocross Series. Having raced cyclocross for years, Gill knows firsthand how hard the sport is.
“For me, the fun in being a spectator is watching how people handle different obstacles. You can watch racers from different parts of the same course to see how different people handle the same obstacles.”
Alongside race veterans Dickie and Gill, relative newcomers like Chance Tiner, 16, also have fallen under the spell of cyclocross.
A junior at Harbor High and a member of the Santa Cruz Junior Cycling Composite Team, Tiner started racing cross three years ago thanks to his dad, Robin Tiner, introducing him to the sport. Now he trains six days a week, about half on his cyclocross bike and half on his road bike. The disciplined workouts are paying off. As a competitor in the junior division, Tiner has won three races so far this season. In one race, he experienced the sweet satisfaction of edging out a rival in the final stretch.
“I beat him by two seconds,” Tiner said. “It was a really close race and I caught him in the last tenth of a mile!”
Tiner is hooked on cross and races almost every weekend. Of his favorite fall sport, he says, “I like cross because it’s a really short race, you go a lot harder, it’s a lot faster and it’s lot funner.”
Karen Kefauver (www.karenkefauver.com) is a freelance writer who covers sports and travel and is based in Santa Cruz. She also contributes to the Out and About Sentinel blog.
IF YOU GO
Cyclocross Skills Clinic hosted by Team Ciclista Bonita
When: 8 a.m., Oct. 27
Where: Aptos High
Instructors: Ben Jacques-Maynes, Sheila Moon, Scott Chapin, Courtney Dimpel and Shauna Potocky
Cost: Juniors $15, Adults $40, (discount for first-time racers)
Surf City Cyclocross Halloween Cross Race
When: 9 a.m.-2 p.m., Oct. 28
Halloween Costume Race: 11 a.m. (kids’ race), 11:30 a.m. (adults)
Where: Aptos High
Cost: Free for kids 9 and under, $5 costume race, $30 adult races
For more information on cyclocross series:
Central Coast Cyclocross Series: www.cccxcycling.com
Bay Area Super Prestige Series: www.bayareacx.com
Surf City Cyclocross Series: www.cyclo-x.com