Thursday, March 14, 2002
Photo by Randy Tunnell; Power Star--Petra Rocha, newly turned mountain biking pro, has charted a meteoritic rise through the ranks of cyclists. Ditto for Ted Fuller, shown below in front of his workplace at Point Pinos. Both will participate in the Sea Otter Classic next weekend.
Petra Rocha''s wearing a yellow Power Bar hat and sipping coffee on a rare break from training on her mountain bike. Her large green eyes crinkle as she smiles and hands over her cycling resume. It''s fat with wins. Rocha, 30, has somehow taken a curiosity about bike racing and moved from a complete amateur to pro in under two years.
In 2000, Rocha and her husband Jim, new to Monterey, entered the Sea Otter Classic on a whim. Rocha placed first in the cross-country beginner''s mountain bike event, above almost 80 women. Jim placed 2nd in the men''s version of the same 18-mile course.
Still taking it in as good fun, Rocha went on to win the next four races she entered. Halfway through the season, she moved up to sport class and won the National Off-Road Bike Association, or NORBA, finals at Mammoth. Rocha, an Austrian transplant, is bewildered by her own success.
"I''m still totally inexperienced when I compare myself to other cyclists," she says. She managed to move from sport to expert class by the time the 2001 Sea Otter Classic came around. "I thought, ''What am I even doing here? I have no business being in this class,''" she recalls. She finished 10 minutes ahead of the second-place winner.
Rocha''s hot enough to have been picked up this year by Trek bikes as the only woman on their team. Rocha likes to ride fast on her mountain bike, navigating roots and rocks but leaving the wild jumps and major downhill events to other more daredevil cyclists who catch big airs and race in the downhill, dual slalom and mountain-cross events. Rocha aims for enough speed to win but still stay in control of her bike. "The races are usually won on the uphills anyway," she says.
It takes about 18 hours a week on the bike to be committed to the racing season. Rocha trains six days a week on her road and mountain bikes with a coach, spinning through Pebble Beach, Fort Ord, and Carmel Valley. Often she pushes herself against large groups of locals who train on Saturday morning rides. "I try to keep up with the men," Rocha says.
One of the men she sometimes rides with is her buddy Ted Fuller, captain of the Coast Guard Cutter Hawk''s Bill. Fuller, currently stationed at Point Pinos, is another Johnny-come-lately with talent and promise. After being told by other local bikers that he rode fast, he started training last year and wound up sponsored by Sports Center Bicycles.
Fuller entered the 2001 Sea Otter Classic, his second race ever, and managed to place 2nd in mountain biking on cross-country and short track. Now, thanks to a snowboarding mishap, Fuller''s training for this year''s Classic with a broken collarbone. Fuller is self-effacing about his cycling abilities. "I''m a schmo," he says. "There are so many great cyclists in this area."
Squeezing in the time to train is challenging. Fuller drags his bike shipboard when he''s patrolling the San Francisco Bay and hits Bay Area trails when he can. For Rocha, sticking to a training schedule has meant staying in Monterey while her husband, who''s in the Navy, works on the East Coast, and going down to part-time at her job with American Airlines. Both Fuller and Rocha find Monterey''s climate the perfect place to train, and with its relatively bike-friendly drivers and loads of trails and bike lanes, it''s hard to beat. "You can probably go 70 miles without ever really hitting road," says Fuller.
The fact that Monterey hosts the Sea Otter Classic is another boon. "It''s the unrivaled cycling event in the United States," says Fuller. Part of the Classic''s charm is the diversity of events--more each year--ranging from kids'' bouncy castles and egg hunts to family trail rides, a night ride through Monterey, and of course major pro competition. The numbers keep rising: this year approximately 7,000 participants and 40,000 spectators are expected to jam Laguna Seca for four days of major cycling energy.
"The Sea Otter brings a different side of the tourist industry to Monterey," says Fuller. "It''s not just rich golfers or classic cars. You can have a beer or a snack with the pros and check out all the new gear."
It''s hard to single out the most popular events, although spectators congregate around the BMX bikes, speed trials, downhills, and big jump contest. Then there''s viewing the pack that races around Cannery Row in the criterium, both on road and mountain bikes.
"My favorite event is the Crit," says Fuller. "You hear the hum as they go by." Fuller will be watching Rocha in this year''s first mountain bike criterium event as she races laps around downtown Monterey and Cannery Row next Thursday from 12-2pm.
For the participants, though, it''s all about improving. Rocha''s just moved up to pro category for this year''s Classic. "I have different goals now," she says. "I don''t go in the race hoping to win--I go in hoping to be in the top 20." Fuller''s moved up a class, too, into expert (an upper-echelon amateur class), and concurs with the perspective shift. "I''m not going to win for a while," he says. "I''m racing against retired pros with a lot of miles in their legs."
Even with the pressure cranked up, maintaining the joy of cycling is essential to Rocha. "You don''t want to forget about the fun part--that''s why you started doing it," Rocha says. "I don''t know if my success is luck or what. It''s still unbelievable to me."
The Sea Otter Classic starts Thursday, March 21 and goes through Sunday, March 24. Thursday''s events are free to all. All events free for children 12 and under. Events at Fort Ord, Laguna Seca, and Monterey. $10/day or $15/weekend pass. To register for events or find out more information, go to www.seaotterclassic.com or call (530) 661-9500.