Published: Thursday, May 7, 1998
BY JASON ABLES, Special to Venture
For a rider, one of the great things about mountain bike racing is going off-road and competing in the dirt. For a spectator, one of the lousy things about mountain bike racing is that the dirt extends miles into the distance, taking the racers with it and quickly out of view.
''You see them for a minute at the start and a minute at the finish,'' said 13-year-old racer Logan Davis.
Team Wrong Way, a Bay Area cycling club, almost by accident hit upon a novel way to satisfy both racers and spectators: It set up a race on a motorcycle motocross track near Livermore. The riders get to play in the dirt while the spectators can see virtually the whole course.
Two weeks ago Logan and 31 other racers tried out the idea during the first race of the 1998 Friday Night Team Wrong Way Dirt Criterium Series. Using the Club Moto track off Interstate 580 just west of the grade, the team plans on holding a race a month at least through August, possibly into September.
The format consists of racing for a certain time period, 25 to 35 minutes, then at the bell, riding one final lap. To the surprise of many, Davis took the men's beginners' race. A seventh-grader at Sunol Glen School, he rides with the Valley Spokesman and has been racing for about two years. He said that he too was surprised at beating racers twice his age.
''I went up looking up at the other competition thinking I wouldn't be able to beat them,'' Logan said, ''but it felt great to win that.''
''It was a lot of fun,'' he added. ''I actually race BMX, so it was a lot like that, between that and a cross-country race.''
Twisting and turning tightly back onto itself, the course not only offers the riders banked dirt curves, something foreign to a cross-country course, but it has an added bonus: jumps. How could any 13-year-old resist? ''Yeah, I got air,'' Logan said, laughing.
''It was a blast,'' said Patty Ciesla, one of two female racers who showed up. A member of the Stanford Cycling Team and a student of human biology at Stanford University, the 34-year-old Ciesla said the course was challenging but fun.
''The first time I went over the jumps I tried to absorb them in my body and not really get air, to get a feel for them,'' she said. ''Then you could come around again and actually push off and see how high you could get. About the fifth or sixth time you go around there, you are ready to hammer off that jump.''
In cycling lingo, a criterium is a race on a short course, usually half a mile to a mile, but with many laps. Quite common in road racing, the races are spectator favorites because the riders come around into view so often.
The idea of a dirt criterium, though less common, is not the invention of Team Wrong Way; a dirt crit is held every year at the Sea Otter Classic in Monterey, for example. But the team's idea of using a motorcycle track adds a twist to the idea. It came about because the team's members, especially Peter Donohue, Bob Knight and team president Michael Gin, were determined to sponsor some kind of racing this year. They originally planned to host a traditionalcross-country race, but finding land to use became a problem.
The team looked into local parks and open-space areas, but insurance and availability issues made those venues costly or unworkable. They also looked into using a tract of private property, but Gin found that the trails were steep and not well-maintained.
Then in late winter, Gin was driving home from Fresno when he spotted the Club Moto track. He stopped to check it out, and, bingo, the team had its spot.
''The thing that made it kind of inviting was the fact that they had lights,'' Gin said. ''We could make something different than just the typical mountain bike race.'' The lights not only make night racing possible, but they also add the dimension of shadows.
''The lines are not necessarily as evident,'' Gin said. ''We are not going to put anybody's safety in jeopardy by blacking out a big section where there is a big drop-off or anything, but it is interesting. It is a good challenge.''
Another bonus to using the track was that it fit like a pair of Lycra shorts the team's overall idea that racing should be cheap, fun and accessible.
So far the only complaint Gin and the other Wrong Way members have heard about their race was that the Friday night traffic made some people miss their start times. So the team is moving back the starting times for the next race, scheduling the men's beginner race for 8:30 p.m. and the men's intermediate race for 9:15 p.m.
Originally there was a women's race scheduled, but when only Ciesla and Team Wrong Way's Linda Palmer showed up, the organizers decided to combine them with the men. But Gin said he encourages women to show up and that if enough turn out they would be scored in their own category.
Though she was lumped in with the guys, Ciesla said the Team Wrong Way
crew should be proud of their creation. ''I think they did a fantastic
job,'' she said.
IN THE DIRT
Races: May 15, June 12, July 11, Aug. 14 at Club Moto, just north of Interstate 580 off the Altamont Pass/Greenville Road exit in Livermore. After exiting the freeway, make two left turns, pass under the freeway, then take the right at Altamont Pass Road.
Practice starts at 6 p.m., races at 7 (monthly special), 8:30 (men's
beginner/women's) and 9:15 (men's sport class). Registration closes 15
minutes before each race.
(box) Reservations: Call (925) 551-8785 to save a space.
(box) Cost: $15 (cash only), plus $5 for the special race.
(box) Web site: www. teamwrongway.com/dirtcrit.htm
(box) Other: Helmets required. Spectators welcome. Minors must bring
a signed consent form.
Copyright 1998, The San Jose Mercury News. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.