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By Karen Kefauver – Sentinel correspondent
September 11, 2009
Link to the Sentinel article

Veterans and New CyclistsLivia Peras plans to take the plunge this fall and
try a sport that has intrigued her for years. She now has the bicycle,
the fitness and the desire to try cyclocross, a type of bicycle racing
that combines skills used by road and mountain bike riders.

A hallmark of the sport is jumping on and off the
bicycle at high speed in order to clear obstacles ­– both manmade and
natural — like logs and sand pits. Add to that challenge a gut-busting
workout, inclement weather and the camaraderie of shared suffering, and
you have a sense of sport of cyclocross, often just called “cross.”

Peras, 43, said she is not intimidated by the
prospect of being covered in mud during rainy races, crashing while
jumping over obstacles, or running up short, steep heels — while
carrying her bike.

“I like sports that are anaerobic,” said the Santa
Cruz resident, who has recently competed in duathlon and running races.
“I want to improve my cycling skills and it will be fun to be in more of
a cycling crowd. It’s a good winter sport.”

Cyclocross is enjoying a growing following in the
United States and an even bigger fan base in Europe, where it originated
as a way for road racers to stay fit during their fall and winter
“off-season.” Santa Cruz County and the Bay Area, like the Pacific
Northwest and New England, are considered hot spots for the sport. Races
are held in this region nearly every weekend, September through
February, within various race series.

One series that takes place entirely in Santa Cruz
County is Surf City Cyclocross. It has six races scheduled this season,
including the popular Halloween race, which features riders in costume.
Another circuit popular with local racers is the six-race Central Coast
Cyclocross series, which begins Sept. 20 at Manzanita Park. In either
series, cyclists can participate in a single race or in multiple races
within the series, accumulating points based on individual results.

“This season is shaping up to have more races in
Santa Cruz and in Northern California than last year,” said David Gill
of Bonny Doon, who has raced cross since 1996 and serves as the director
of Team Santa Cruz, the racing component of the Santa Cruz County
Cycling Club.

“My goal is to finish the season healthy and in one
piece.”¦To last the whole season without injury is a victory in itself,”
Gill said. He also plans to drive to Bend, Ore., in December to race at
the cyclocross national championships, which have returned to the West
Coast after a two-year stint in Kansas.

Cross races are intense for riders and fun for
spectators. Racers must learn special techniques for mounting and
dismounting their bikes and running while balancing their bikes under
their arms. [For this, the women’s race team Velo Bella will host a
skills clinic on Oct. 10.] The events are short, ranging from 30 to 60
minutes, depending on skill level, and take place on both paved and
unpaved surfaces. The compact race course, always a loop, is typically
easy to walk around, so fans can watch the drama unfold from many
vantage points. The rider who completes the most laps of the circuit
within the specified time is the winner.

“I went to a race a few years ago and it looked really exciting,” Peras said. “It will be a good challenge.”

Peras predicted running up the hills will be fun, but she is not so keen on the sharp turns.

“I am going into it without the intention of breaking a world record,” she joked.

And as for the inevitable foul weather she will encounter at some point this winter?

“It’s not a problem,” she said. “That’s what a shower’s for at the end!”

Karen Kefauver, karenkefauver.com, is a freelance
journalist who started reporting on cyclocross in 1994 and then got
hooked and raced it for many years. Maybe this will be her comeback

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