Garlejo and Vargas lead team to victory in Davis, Calif.
By Vicky Sama
HSU Cycling Team at the top of the podium. On top row: Alvin Garlejo, Sara Schneider and Nancy Vargas. In front: Justin Gore, coach Vicky Sama, Zach Thompson, Marina Marcroft, Katrina Suarez and Michael Nystrom.
HSU Cycling team is the Division II Western Collegiate Cycling Conference Road Champion after a hard-fought series of bike races on April 20 and 21 in Davis, Calif.
Going into the championships, HSU was in second place behind Santa Clara University. This year, getting the conference trophy was harder than ever. There were a record number of D2 teams actively participating in races this season. HSU and Santa Clara both brought eight riders to conference, and Santa Clara was 15 points ahead.
“I wasn’t sure we would do it,” said HSU senior rider Nancy Vargas. “It was stressful, but we did it. I’m so relieved now.”
On Saturday morning, HSU Cycling pulled out its secret weapon: the men’s C team time trial. Zach Thompson, Michael Nystrom and Justin Gore raced the 6.2-mile TTT in brutal crosswinds of the Woodland plains to finish in 18 minutes for 7th place.
“It would have been much better without the wind,” Gore said after his second race of the day, the men’s D 37-mile road race.
Nystrom had his best race of the season, finishing 12th out of about 40 men. Thompson didn’t finish the road race after his powerful morning TTT effort and then bonking in the intense heat.
Vargas got third place in Saturday’s 37-mile women’s B/C road race. Sara Schneider, competing in only her second road race ever, finished in fourth and Marina Marcroft got tenth, earning valuable points toward the team’s overall ranking.
With the hot sun straight overhead, Garlejo rode strong in the men’s B 50-mile road race. But as temperatures soared into the 90s, Garlejo ran out of water. There were no feeds allowed on the last lap. He couldn’t finish. Santa Clara’s rider in the same field came in 5th place. The pressure was on. HSU wasn’t sure now if it could get the points to win conference.
The Conference Championship Criterium
The thermometer read 70-degrees at 7:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, only an hour before the men’s D crit at the Mondavi Center on the U.C. Davis campus. It didn’t take long for Thompson and Gore to warm up for the race on their trainers. The men’s D field filled the width of the street. Both HSU riders had a good starting position. Gore, a stand-out mountain biker, proved that dirt dogs are not afraid of sketchy crits. He pushed the pace in the lead pack until a tire blowout forced him out of the race with no free laps left. Thompson was still in the game as the line of riders surged by the start/finish with one lap to go. On the last turn, a few riders hit hay bales and crashed. Thompson made it around the mayhem and finished 6th. “That was crazy,” Thompson said.
With the men’s D crash fresh in their minds, riders were a bit nervous at the start of the women’s B/C, 30-minute crit. Vargas and Marcroft had a good start. As each lap progressed, riders falling off the front group were pulled off the course. Officials were thinking about safety now. With three laps to go, Vargas looked strong and in prime position for the finish. Around the last turn, the pack was still together. Vargas put the hammer down and got second place by several bike lengths. “That is my favorite crit,” Vargas said. “I love that it is technical. It was so much fun.”
Marcroft got 10th place in that crit. HSU and Santa Clara were now about even score.
Alvin Garlejo surging through one of the most dangerous turns of the conference criterium on Sunday, April 21. Photo by Vicky Sama.
One Shot Left
Garlejo was anxious and ready to start the men’s B 45-minute crit. But Santa Clara had two racers in the same event, and one of them was conference leader Stephen Cabebe. Garlejo would have to beat both for HSU to secure the championship.
Garlejo had a decent start but gaps were forming up ahead. The fast pace took its toll on the big field of riders. Several fell off the back of the peloton and were pulled off the course. One Santa Clara rider was out, but Cabebe was still in.
With six laps to go, Garlejo attacked and soloed off the front. A rider from Santa Barbara bridged up to his wheel. The two worked together for a lap but were caught by the field. Or so it seemed. “I took a flyer to test my legs for the finish,” Garlejo said.
Now back in what was left of the pack, Garlejo sat in and waited. On the final lap, the speed was so intense, Garlejo anticipated problems in the turns. On the second to last corner, Garlejo took the inside line. One or two guys went down into the hay bales. Garlejo was still surging forward, but there were several guys in front. Going into the last right turn, Garlejo again took the safer but perhaps slightly slower inside line. Again, a few guys went down into hay bales. Garlejo swerved to miss a rider who bounced off the bales back onto the street. He looked to his right, and there was Cabebe. Garljeo shook his head as if to say, “Oh no you don’t.” He grabbed Cabebe’s wheel for a few pedal strokes and then attacked around Cabebe like an express train to Heaven. Garlejo flew up the straight-away and past another racer, free and clear, finishing second in the crit. Cabebe got 4th. “I wasn’t going to let him get around me,” Garlejo said. “That was tough.”
And that’s how HSU won the conference championship.
A Championship Trophy and Medals
In addition to the conference championship trophy, HSU cyclists Garlejo and Vargas won medals. Garlejo got the silver for his second-place crit finish. Vargas got three conference medals: two silver and a bronze. Her crit and third place road race finish landed her in second place in the women’s C omnium, which includes both D1 and D2 schools.
See WCCC Championships results.
(Pictured left: Vargas, Marcroft and Garlejo exchange hugs and smiles at the WCCC awards ceremony. Photo by Vicky Sama.)