Ed Note: Part of our mission is to cover elite racing in Northern California as if it were the minor leagues of the pro’s for both Women and Men. The weather, industry presence, and great topography contribute to a first class environment for cultivating world reknown products, teams, and cyclists. Several months ago I asked Bec “Wombat” Werner, with her outsiders perspective, to write about what she liked about racing here instead of Europe. Next week when the US is watching riders go up Mt Diablo or Bonny Doon they will not likely realize the legendary routes these pro’s are traversing. When your friends make fun of you for living in California send them this.
By Bec “Wombat” Werner
NorCal, and the Bay Area in particular is a hub for cyclists. No breaking news there. Spend some time amongst the bunches that cruise the plethora of awesome training routes, and you’ll struggle to find a true local. California may have a weather tax, but apparently it’s one many think is worth paying.
Even so, with the cycling meccas of Italy, France and Belgium open for business, how does NorCal punch above its weight and attract so many of those funny speaking foreigners making the migration north in search of blue skies and dry roads? And why should aspiring locals battle on through the winter, save their pennies for a US licence, and cancel any kind of normal summer social life?
For starters, the exchange rate is great at the moment, except for those poor Kiwis, who are still struggling with the fact that sheep aren’t considered legal tender here. Also, the language barrier isn’t quite as extreme as with most European countries … although don’t get over confident. Loudly proclaiming “I can’t believe you’re going to make me take off my thongs!” when going through security at the airport may get you deported before you even make it to customs.
Like I mentioned above, California doesn’t pay a weather tax for nothing, and the summer here is worth every dime. Fresh mornings and temperate days make for perfect riding conditions, and you won’t be short on company. If you’re after flats, there’s Foothill Road – home to the Foothill Olympics or Commuter World Champs. Beware though, those rainbow stripes you see could very well be the real deal.
Get lost in the beauty and long climbs of the surrounding Santa Cruz Mountains with a companion or two, or how about 50, on one of the daily bunch rides. They’re just like a race, minus the entry fee, podium and adulation that comes with winning. Actually, scrap that, the glory stakes are as high as in any race, and I swear at least half the ‘field’ would list a Noon Ride win on their palmares if they could.
By the way, the coffee is pretty average, which is actually a positive, as it reduces the risk of ‘training’ becoming 4 lattes and a bagel, with a break for a ride.
Then of course there’s the racing. All within a hop, skip and jump of, well, wherever you choose to stay in the bear state. Below are some standouts, so get out your calendar and mark these down before anyone else gets in first with trivial things like birthdays and weddings.
Cherry Pie Crit
To be honest, I know nothing about this race except that you win pie. YOU WIN PIE.
Merco brings out all the top teams for the first NorCal stage race of the season. It’s a chance to perve on those new TT rigs, get the stage race groove going, and see who’s got the early season form, before heading south and representing NorCal in that Nor Cal v SoCal battle you have going on.
Think spring, think the classics. And how more classic can you get than NorCal’s own Hell Of The North? Short of learning Flemish and changing you name to Spartacus, not much. So swap in those extra wide tyres and wrap that second lot of bar tape for a ride that you (and your ass and hands) will never forget.
A four day ‘Celebration of Cycling’ where roadies and mountain bikers put aside their differences and for a short period we glimpse what it could be like if there was peace in this hairy vs smooth, weed vs EPO war.
To steal directly from the SOC propaganda stream itself – “The Sea Otter Classic is located in Monterey County, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States. Sea Otter is renowned as the bicycle world’s premiere festival and one of the world’s largest.”
Sounds pretty cool to me.
Cat’s Hill Classic
Downtown Los Gatos puts on a show not to miss. With a heartbreaking hill lined with vocal locals, and the chance to add you name to an honour roll dominated by names such as Brems and Wohlberg, how could you not throw your hat in the ring and have a crack?
Testarossa Veledrome Challenge
There’s a party at Hellyer Veledrome and everyone’s invited! Trackies come from around the country, and even some well known roadies get back to their roots, and ditch the brakes and gears for some fast and furious racing. With the free barbie and beer flowing, and oh so politically incorrect announcing from the one and only Hernando, it’s a hipsters dream, and a spectacle not to be missed.
Pittsburg Twilight Crit
Last year Pittsburg lay down some big cash, loud beats and fast and exciting racing to put on a big show. Here’s hoping they’ll do it all again. The added element of struggling to see makes it that much more exciting. Oh, and they had a real podium with champagne and flowers and all. Who knew Pittsburg was soo classy.
4th of July Crit
It’s not quite fried chicken and baseball, but I’m sure you can somehow convince everyone that racing a crit would be the most American thing you could possibly do on Independence Day. If not, stuff them, and mumble something about your independence rights before breaking into a rendition of star spangled banner to block out their complaints.
This race is an adventure to say the least. Starting with a 30k climb up Mt Hamilton, where it could be 90 degrees below and 40 up top, you’d presume the race organiser was a masochistic bird boned climber. But remember, once you reach the top there’s a technical descent and 50 or so long and lonely kilometres to the finish. In a race in which your fate could be fairly well decided in the first 10 minutes, maybe pack your ipod and a picnic lunch and be prepared for a long day. It’s a rare opportunity to race a point to point, especially when getting back to your car at the start line is going to be just as challenging, if not more so, than the race itself.
Tour de Nez
It’s not NorCal, but if there’s ever a good reason to claim a race from across the border, this has to be one. Does plenty of prize money, which can be instantly tripled on the black jack table most likely right opposite the finish line not sound like the best idea ever? Plus, staying in a casino does wonders for your race prep with all that extra oxygen floating around.
University Road Race
College may have a reputation for being pretty laid back, but this race is definitely not for the lazy rider who likes to sit in all day. With a super short loop, straight up and down, by the tenth time around even the pros are wishing they took their parents advice and actually went to university, instead of racing it.
I could go on and on, so that gives you a fair indication of how much good racing there is worth sticking around for. If you actually manage to find the time to get out of NorCal at all I would highly recommend the Tour of America’s Dairyland. This should in no way be mistaken for a tour of Children’s Fairyland in Oakland. Although if you do make this mistake, I’m sure you won’t be too disappointed as Wisconsin’s frozen custard and cheese wheel trophies are as magical as any fairy you’ll ever see.
So after all that, why should the locals stay? Well for the exact same reasons we come! If your backyard is as good as this, why would you go elsewhere? The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
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