By Jeremy Spitz
Beach Hill was invaded by a revolving blur of spandex, aluminum and carbon fiber on Sunday for the 40th annual Santa Cruz Classic Criterium.
This bike race has run the same route since 1967. The racers compete on a 0.9-mile loop flying down Third Street, making a hairpin 120-degree turn onto Front, and hanging another right on Spruce with a short climb back to Third via Laurel Extension.
“The course was really challenging, especially the first hairpin,” said Eric Holmes, a first-time racer from Sacramento. “That’s definitely something I want to improve on.”
The event was co-sponsored by the Santa Cruz County Cycling Club (SCCCC) and Velo Promo, a race-promoting company that runs about 40 races around California.
The day featured eight races, divided by gender, rider category and age. Two women’s races included category four, an entry-level 14-lap, 12-mile race, and the longer category 1/2/3 race, with 18 miles in 20 laps. On the men’s side, the contests varied from category five, an 11-lap, nine-mile sprint entry-level race to the grueling 50-lap, 45-mile pro race. There were also two races for riders over 35.
Four hundred and fifty total contestants competed, said Robert Leibold, president of Velo Promo and the man responsible for putting on Sunday’s race.
Leibold, a Merrill College alumnus, began his promoting career in 1971 when he began managing the Santa Cruz Classic. He took over from the Santa Cruz Parks and Recreation Department, which established the race and its route four years earlier. He started Velo Promo in 1978 and has continued to manage the race with the SCCCC ever since.
Leibold will continue to run the Classic even if he retires in the next 10 years, he said.
“This is the oldest race that we do,” he said. “I can’t ever see not doing Santa Cruz.”
The criterium drew dozens of teams from the area. Team Roaring Mouse Cycles from San Francisco placed high in both women’s races, and the California Giant Cycling team from Watsonville represented well at the top of the men’s pro category. Teams usually have the advantage in large races, but Sunday’s top prizes went to single riders in the men’s and women’s categories. Scott Zwizanski, a professional rider from Pennsylvania, took the men’s race with an impressive 30-second lead. Lauren Hecht of Atherton won the advanced women’s category.
Locally, Team Santa Cruz, the competitive side of the SCCCC, fielded 13 riders according to team director, David Gill, and none in the top bracket.
Gill stressed the relaxed and egalitarian nature of the club.
“We like to get everyone in the public to come out and race, and some go on to bigger and better things after we corrupt them,” said Gill, smiling behind his handlebar mustache. “Everyone had fun.”