It started as a hum from around the corner. The clicking of changing gears and buzzing bike chains grew louder and louder until the first of a pack of determined cyclists made the turn and bolted along the School Street straight-away. The crowd hollered, cheered and rang cowbells to show their support for the athletes who moved at up to 40 miles per hour over the cobblestones of Downtown.
The Lodi Cyclefest took over Downtown Lodi on Sunday. Cars were blocked from a 0.08-mile course that began on School Street heading south before winding around a figure eight.
Race organizer Damien Gonzales of San Francisco said he’s gotten a phenomenal reception from Lodi in hosting the races.
“I was in Colorado yesterday at an Xtera race, but I had to come back. I couldn’t miss it,” he said. “This is our lifestyle.”
Tension was high for racers vying for position on a course that took just about two minutes to loop.
Brian Ray of Sacramento enjoyed the tight curves of the twisting course, and said the cobblestones weren’t too troublesome to ride over.
“It was pretty intense. But the guys pulled through when they needed to, and we got through it with no crashes,” said Ray.
Max Mack of Sacramento was easy to spot in the crowd thanks to his bright pink jersey. He took fourth place in the men’s category 1/2/3 race early in the morning, but wasn’t too pleased with his result.
“One’s never satisfied unless they win,” he said. “That’s why we show up.”
Around midday, low riding cycles with three wheels, powered by hand, took over the course. Fourteen racers rode a 20-minute race on handcycles, professional racing cycles used by paraplegic athletes. Some serious competitors were on the course, including Thea Rosa, who became one of the six new U.S. Handcycling National Criterium Champions in Greenville, S.C. in May 2012.
It took years of persuasion for race officials to allow a separate handcycle race.
“For a while they wanted to put us in with the beach cruisers. I said, ‘You don’t understand how fast these things go!’” said Quinta Robinson, wife of racer and teacher Rodger “Rocky” Robinson. Together, they run the Rocky Robinson Charity Organization that works to spread awareness and enjoyment of handcycle racing. They also work with the Wounded Warrior Project to bring handcycling to disabled veterans as recreation and sport.
The handcycle racers competed with a special man in mind. Kevin Rainy of Elk Grove competed in the first Lodi handcycle race last year and had every intention of returning. But lingering health problems caught up with him, and he passed away last week. Sunday’s race was in his memory.
Richard Le of Bellevue, Wash. took first place in the handcycle race.
It was his first time on the course, and his strategy was cautious.
“I stayed back for the first two or three laps to get comfortable, but on the third straight-away I took off and broke off from the pack to set my own pace,” he said.
Training for handcycling is just as intense as for traditional cycle racing. Rocky Robinson alternates 25-mile rides with weight lifting about five days a week.
“We’ve got to build our upper bodies and cores. It’s the same work, but with these muscles instead,” said Rocky Robinson, gesturing to his arms and chest.
The Vintner’s Cup lap was a crowd favorite. Eleven good sports from local wineries donned costumes, such as the prom queen and king pair, a shining gold Buddha, and SuperDad, then hopped on beach cruisers to make their way around the course.
After judges scored for race placement and costume creativity, Joe Lange of LangeTwins Winery came in first in his Buddha suit.
“It was a last-minute scrounge for a costume,” said Lange. “My brother Aaron (Lange) gave me a good start, letting me draft.”
LangeTwins can now keep the Vintner’s Cup at their winery for a full year.
Ben Lozo, 10, and Erin Christian, 10, took first place in the kid’s race.
“It just kinda happened. I sprinted at the start, got ahead and stayed there,” shrugged Lozo.
But the dedicated crowd was having the most fun. Couples and groups set up camp on the patios at cellardoor and The Dancing Fox with a glass or two of wine and nibbled on lunch in the shade while watching the races.
Melissa Borth of Lodi watched from the corner of Pine and School streets as her brother, Brandon Borth of Lockeford, competed in the category 3 men’s race.
“This is the first year I could come out and support him. It’s a lot of fun. I love how it’s Lodi, but my brother and friends are racing,” she said.
Nearing the end of the same race, Daniel Arismendi of Lodi let out a wild cheer as Brandon Borth pulled into a sprint and made second place.
“This is awesome!” he yelled.
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at email@example.com.