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Cyclists challenge foothills
As sun streamed through the trees, casting tall shadows and dappled light onto asphalt, 101 bicyclists tackled Yuba County's rural roads Saturday for the annual Challenge Challenge.
In its seventh year, the foothills bike race winds from and back to Yuba Feather Elementary in a 33-mile loop filled with steep climbs and speedy downhill pursuits. With five Yuba-Sutter residents among participants, other cyclists came from as far as Nevada, Southern California and Japan to pedal pavement through the pines.
Cyclists started gathering in the grassy school field around 7 a.m., preparing for the ride by pumping air into tires, pinning bibs to jersey and downing final bites of bananas and energy foods. A few mounted stationary trainers to warm up in the brisk morning air.
"I'm a little nervous because I haven't done this before," admitted Tim Mallen, president of the Yuba Sutter Tri Club, as he assembled his bike.
Although cycling is his favorite triathlon event, he still considers himself a beginner. He had never ridden the northeastern stretches of Yuba County roads by bike before, but he was ready for the challenge.
"It's just fun to mix it up. It puts you out of your comfort zone." he said. "And I like hills. It just separates everyone out. No drafting — everyone is honest."
By 8 a.m., dozens of male racers and a handful of women, including Yuba City resident Kelly Swanson, were lined up at the start, ready to embark on 33-, 66-, or 99-mile treks depending on age and ability. They were soon pedaling along Oregon Hill Road to Marysville Road to Frenchtown Road to New York House Road, reaching speeds above 50 mph in some stretches.
"This is a nice course, especially for those of us who only do one lap," said Yuba City resident Lloyd Leighton. "It's got some climbs, it's got some flat areas, and then it's got more climbing."
A former mountain biker, Sutter resident Michael Haines got into road racing only a year ago and blamed Mallen for his entry into Saturday's event — even though he was looking forward to it.
"I just love the mountains. I'd live up here if I could," he said.
Though the cyclists often ride so fast and focused that scenery is a blur, many said this Velo Promo course's atmosphere is a highlight.
Other than the occasional whir of wheels streaming by, the only sounds on the low-traveled roads was of chirping birds and rustling wind. Cyclists clattered through the first stint of cracks and potholes, trying to dodge deep divots and were soon huffing and puffing as they pushed up a long vertical climb, a few straining to take the lead.
"I'm always trying to assess where everyone else is at and see if I can push just enough to where they are not comfortable," Mallen said.
He opted not to bring his race wheels, since he heard the roads were choppy and later was happy he did not. On Marysville Road, he ended up with a flat that left him behind his pack, but Leighton's words from earlier in the day rang true, as he eventually caught up with a few cyclists.
"If you get a flat, your race is pretty much over, but at least if you have a kit, you can finish," Leighton had said.
Competing in the 55-years and older category, Leighton grinned as he crossed the finish line.
"I'm just pack fodder. I love racing, and it's fun for me, but don't expect me to be on the podium," he sad. "We are just happy to be able to do this, to have the health to be out here riding"
Yuba City resident Devinderjit Singh was pleased with his performance, averaging 19.6 mph and hitting 45 mph as he blew through Dobbins. It was his first time on the course as well.
"It's beautiful, and it's great for riding," he said. "It's unfortunate it's not a really populated area because this race would be really popular."
True to its name, the event serves up a good challenge, he said.
"That's what I call a climb. It takes it out of you," Singh said. "These roads are not easy."