In second place, UCSC road cyclist Thomas Schwemberger cranks down Coolidge Drive, maxing out his gears trying to catch Stanford’s Anthony Beron. After nearly 24 miles, the final lap left him just shy of first.
After this winter’s rain postponed the race for a month, Slugapalooza was on. The UCSC cycling team geared up at 6 a.m. on March 25 to face 19 teams from around California. There were only five UCSC competitors — unlike the dozen or more from each of the other teams.
“The teams are really encouraging. They yell, they heckle, they cheer on their riders and that’s really great. We love to see everyone getting excited,” said junior and road captain Nick McCabe. “It’s awesome because when you’re screaming for those riders you can see them get a smile on their face and they also push a little harder.”
Around 300 spectators and team members supported the racers as they pushed up the 400-foot Hagar Drive climb. Road racing is more popular in the Western Collegiate Cycling Conference (WCCC) than mountain racing, though UCSC is known for its mountain biking team, which competes in fall.
Cyclists are divided into categories A through D depending on skill level and race experience, A being the most competitive and D being more entry level. At Slugapalooza, each category’s race consisted of eight to 20 laps, depending on the level. Junior Thomas Schwemberger placed second out of 22 riders in the Men’s C division and junior Kristina Okamoto placed second out of 11 riders in the Women’s C division. The other three riders finished in the middle of the pack of the C and D races and no UCSC riders raced in the A or B categories.
This was Okamoto’s first road race, giving her the chance to apply her mountain biking skills to road racing and explore road riding strategies.
“I definitely thought things out,” Okamoto said. “I started with the pack and then I knew I’d be better on the downhill parts so on the third or fourth lap I just passed everyone. My strategy was just to wait and relax for a while.”
With her first race a success, Okamoto hopes to continue competing. Good performance in more races will earn her more points in the WCCC, and with enough points she could move to a higher racing division and face more skilled riders in future competitions. All the UCSC riders hope to get more points and move up within the conference.
Because UCSC’s team is so small, getting more points is a challenge and it has little chance at winning the team omnium award. The omnium award is awarded to the team with the most number of points at the end of the season. Schools like UC Davis and Stanford have a couple dozen active racers on their teams; having more people in the same race can give the team an advantage.
“We would love to have as many people join as we possibly could so we could have more team tactics in the road races,” said team captain Nick McCabe. “Road cycling is actually a team sport.”
After former road captain Sam Anderson-Moxley graduated last year, the team has struggled to organize and get more people racing according to Okamoto. They hope that by getting more people riding, they can grow the UCSC road biking community more.
“In Santa Cruz you have to get people riding first in general. We don’t have too many guys who ride on the road,” junior Thomas Schwemberger said. “Then people need to realize that you don’t actually have to be at absolute peak fitness to race.”
The UCSC team hosts “no drop” group rides on Sundays where anyone at any fitness level can join and enjoy a road ride through Santa Cruz, though now they only have about 4 to 5 participants. The “no drop” aspect means the group won’t leave a rider to ride by themselves if they aren’t at the same fitness level.
“I think a huge part of what got me started and what got me motivated with road cycling and training in general was the Sunday group rides,” said junior and men’s racer Nathaniel Ng. “They used to be a lot more active and we want to bring them back and get more people on those rides.”
Even though the interest in racing is limited to a few riders, the racers are positive about both the season and getting more people interested in racing and coming out to Slugapalooza in the future.
“It comes down to willpower,” Ng said. “Can you will yourself across the finish line? Can you will yourself to not get dropped from the pack? It’s definitely possible, I think anyone can do it with a little bit of training.”
To find more information about the team and its Sunday group rides, visit its Facebook “Ride Page-UCSC cycling.”