Spectators line a thin rocky section of trail waiting with anticipation for the next rider. The sound of rubber speeding over dirt erupts from around the corner and a rider appears and airs a few feet off the rocks down towards the finish line.
Among the 100 spectators, this was a common sight on the wooded trails of Santa Cruz’s Delaveaga park as about 225 cyclists raced on Nov. 5 and 6 at UC Santa Cruz’s 2nd annual Western Collegiate Cycling Conference (WCCC) mountain biking race. UCSC is part of the WCCC, which includes 31 college teams from California, Hawaii and Nevada. The results for the competition are not posted yet.
This year the event, titled the “Shreditation Retreat,” served as both a collegiate event and open entry race where riders from the 12 college teams from the WCCC and locals competed.
“There’s a really nice diverse group of people that come here to congregate to take part in what is just a fun event,” said UCSC alumnus and former cycling team member Mark Tingwald. Collegiate cycling provides a community for teammates to ride, socialize and also allows for some serious competition.
Riders from Cal Poly, UC San Diego, UC Berkeley, CSU Chico, other schools and local Santa Cruz riders gathered to share their love of riding. They swapped stories and grilled hot dogs in the park’s picnic area, laughing and joking amid the mountain bikes.
“We enjoy the comradery of the whole race. Everybody is pulling for everybody, everybody is supportive of everybody doing well,” said Santa Cruz local and father of a Cal Poly rider Chris Miller. Racers stop and help fallen riders and harbor no hard feelings for other teams or riders who may have done better, said his wife Cindy Miller.
The DeLaveaga race centered around four categories — short track, super downhill, cross country and downhill — each type of race requiring different trails and riding skills. In the short track, riders race on about a quarter mile track for a set amount of time — whoever goes furthest wins. Cross country races test riders’ endurance on a single track loop that includes climbs and descents. The first person across the finish line wins. The super downhill is an endurance oriented race that tests descending skills. The downhill race tests riders’ speed on steep technical descents. In both downhill categories, the fastest person down wins. Each race also has an A, B and C division based on skill level shared between the mens and womens categories.
“We did great. We didn’t have as many racers from our team as I hoped we would, but we still had slugs on the podiums,” said UCSC mountain biking team captain Lucas Chambliss. “In the As cross country, we won the whole podium.”
In the 2015 and 2014 WCCC, UCSC’s mountain biking team came in first. However, despite their high-ranking past, finding large open areas of land to host a collegiate bike race in Santa Cruz is difficult.
“It’s kind of a struggle to get permitted events for mountain bike racing. We’ve tried in the past to go through Wilder State Park and upper campus behind UCSC, and last year we finally made an arrangement with the City of Santa Cruz,” team alumnus Tingwald said.
Turning mountain biking races into a more mainstream event is a process. The Delaveaga race is a step in the right direction, and the city of Santa Cruz was very receptive Chambliss said.
“We’re the first ones to really reserve the trails at Delaveaga park, but I mean this kind of a thing happens all the time,” Chambliss said. “Baseball fields are reserved, tracks are reserved for all kinds of events. It’s not anything new to Santa Cruz.”
Not only does the team leadership have to find a venue, mark the trails and run the event alongside WCCC officials, but they also have to host some of the riders at Chambliss’s house.
“That was wild. We had it set up for 50 people inside […] We essentially had both the front and back decks completely filled with tents and some people sleeping on the floor,” Chambliss said. “But for the first time we didn’t have people sleeping on the kitchen floor or on the staircases”
The biking community is supportive rather than competitive. And although many of the racers race to win, it doesn’t tarnish the positive attitude they have towards each other. After all the planning and executing of the race, the participants were stoked, tired and satisfied.
“The races started rolling and it was awesome,” Chambliss said. “The dirt was amazing, it was fun, it just went really well.”