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By Karen Kefauver
October 14, 2011
Link to Sentinel article

Velo Cruz RideRiding my bike through China was a wonderful and sometimes harrowing adventure. During my three weeks exploring the southwest part of the country and Tibet, I learned how to dodge an urban maze of cargo bikes, motor scooters, cars and trucks, all while staying upright on my bicycle.

But I also realized, yet again, how lucky I am to live in Santa Cruz — a cyclist’s paradise.

At the recent Bike to Work Day locally, I devoured my free breakfast and talked with cyclists to get the latest scoop in the two-wheeled world.

Cyclocross racing season is well under way and the Peak Season cross series dates will be announced soon, while the Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz plan to stage the Santa Cruz Mountain Bike Festival again next April. Meanwhile, many of us are hoping the Amgen Tour of California will return to Santa Cruz County in 2012 for one of its stages, thanks to the local volunteer efforts by Maura Noel.

In reviewing the Santa Cruz fall cycling scene, one event in particular caught my eye because it is new and grassroots-driven. The Swanton Loop Challenge and Field Dinner is designed to raise money for the Homeless Garden Project, a nonprofit, Santa Cruz-based organization that helps the homeless obtain employment. The event, scheduled for Oct. 23, is the inaugural event of Velo Cruz, a cycling team launched in 2007 by Sean Holman.

The 50-mile group ride starts and ends at Kelly’s French Bakery and covers one of the county’s most scenic stretches of Highway 1 as well as Swanton Road, a favorite spot for cyclists. Later that same day, riders are invited to attend a three-course farm dinner — paired with local wines — prepared by Chef Sebastian Nobile of Oak Tree Ristorante in Felton. The menu features vegetables from the Homeless Garden Projects’ Natural Bridges Farm.

“The idea is to provide an experience for cyclists who want to give back,” said Holman, 37, who lives in Santa Cruz.

A former UC Santa Cruz water polo player and long-time triathlete who has completed in two Ironmans, Holman believes bicycling is a great way to bring people together.

“Ultimately,” Holman added. “I want to create a variety of cycling events to help local businesses and local causes. That way, you can donate your dollars directly to local businesses and groups, even small ones.”

Holman’s goal is to raise $10,000 to donate to the Homeless Garden Project and he hopes to register 50 riders, each donating $300. So far, 25 have registered.

“Our goal with the fundraising is to help get 15 people out of homelessness and back on their feet in 2012,” Holman said.

The idea has caught on with other local businesses, which are supporting the event and contributing to the raffle. Those who meet the fundraising goal of $300 are eligible for the raffle drawing. The prize list includes bike fittings and tune-ups from the Spokesman, helmets from Bell Sports, shoes from Giro, monthly passes from the Bike Dojo and massage packages from Bella Dawna, among others.

“This all started when I went to the Homeless Garden Project’s first farm dinner in the field in July. I went to that dinner because I support organic gardening and sustainable energy projects,” said Holman, who works on wind energy and wind farm projects for a company based in San Diego.

Talking to organizers at the Homeless Garden Project, Holman realized the cycling community could lend a hand in raising money for the organization.

Holman said word of mouth and his website have been the main way to spread the news about his first event and about Velo Cruz, which is slowly and steadily growing. Velo Cruz has more than 100 cyclists from all over the West Coast, including a handful in Ireland and Canada. Four members of Velo Cruz rode the Levi Leipheimer Grand Fondo on Sept. 29, and Holman is committed to bringing a grand fondo to Santa Cruz in the near future.

“It will be called the Green Fondo and will be a zero waste, century bicycle ride,” said Holman, who also plans to organize training camps for cyclists.

Racing triathlon on and off for the past decade, Holman said he is fond of all three sports. But when he was riding in a training camp through the Pyrenees in Spain in 2004, Holman thought, “We should have something like this in Santa Cruz.”

Velo Cruz stemmed from this vision.

“Velo Cruz is about community events based around local social causes,” Holman said, adding that he also customizes rides for private groups. “Velo Cruz embraces men and women and riders of all different abilities; it’s all-inclusive.”

“Cycling really gets you out there, away from the day-to-day,” Holman added. “It’s such a healthy lifestyle and it’s a great way for a lot of people to make a big impact.”

Karen Kefauver, www.karenkefauver.com, is a freelance sports and travel journalist based in Santa Cruz and an avid cyclist. She blogs about cycling for the Sentinel at www.santacruzlive.com/blogs/outside.

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