They were lean. They were mean. They were two-wheeled machines.
A thousand cyclists came from all over the country, all vying for the titles of King and Queen of the Mountain in Tehachapi's fourth annual GranFondo endurance ride.
They arrived at Centennial Plaza early Saturday morning to embark on one of the five courses they chose as individuals featured in this year's GranFondo. Distances ranged from 18 to 104 miles, each longer course an extension of the shorter ones. The cyclists jostled for position as they gathered at the starting line, muscled and sleek in their spandex and turning downtown Tehachapi into a Health and Fitness Magazine centerfold.
Voted "Best Century" by Cycle CA Magazine three years in a row, there is little doubt Tehachapi's GranFondo will receive more recognition this year as the cyclists walked away tired, but smiling, saying the well-oiled coordination of the event, in addition to the spectacular courses, made for an enjoyable experience.
King and Queen of the Mountain
The man to beat was Cory Lockwood (4:57), of Tehachapi. The 29-year-old has captured the title of King of the Mountain in every GranFondo since it was first introduced here, and again walked away the $1,000 purse.
"Every year there is more and more competition," Lockwood said. "I just do the best I can each year, and that's all I can do — prepare and ride to the best of my abilities."
Lockwood said he was the best version of himself this year.
"I was better than last year, and better than the year before. If I just keep improving, I will be happy," Lockwood said.
Lockwood said he doesn't judge his performance based on ride time as times vary depending on conditions and weather.
Said Lockwood, "It wasn't my fastest time, but averages and power and things like that were improved."
Every race presents its own difficulties, said Lockwood.
"You have to judge how you feel and how the other people feel, and then you do the best you can. There was quite a few fast guys, so we came up to the end there, and there was a battle, but I kinda split off and decided I would just pick a pace. Either they would ride up to me and close, or they would organize a chase. I figured, if could stay away until Keene, that's a pretty fast downhill."
Lockwood said the last leg of the ride from Keene back to Tehachapi featured a tailwind, so the advantage of numbers goes away.
"I knew that, so they would have to put in a huge effort to catch up so it was kinda like a chess game of sorts," he said.
As long as Tehachapi hosts a GranFondo, Lockwood said, "I aim to participate."
Lockwood said the race season for road biking usually starts in January or February.
Said Lockwood, "I carry the whole race season in fitness. My race season usually ends a couple of weeks ago, then I train and carry the fitness through to this (GranFondo), so I come with the best fitness that I can manage for sure each time."
Lockwood said that if he isn't sore by the end of the ride, then he figures he's not riding hard enough.
"I try to come out and share with the community what a good job they do putting on the event, and a lot of people work really hard, so I feel like it's a part of the event for me to come out and do my best."
Coming in second place in was Kevin Shotts (5:09), and his brother Spencer (5:10), both of Bakersfield.
"We started the ride with goals for achieving top 10 and are ecstatic with achieving second and third," wrote Kevin in an email.
For Holly Gable, a returning cyclist from Aliso Viejo, the second time is a charm as she walked away with the title of Queen of the Mountain and the $1,000 purse that came with it.
"I missed a turn and ended up doing an extra eight miles," Gable said of the first GranFondo she participated in two years ago. "This time I was very diligent about knowing the course and paying attention."
Gable, who averaged 16.9 miles an hour, said she trained one year for this event.
Adventist Health sponsored this year's winning jersets, which were presented to Lockwood and Gable as King and Queen of the Mountain.
"When you look at Cory, the health has to go around him in order for him to be in the shape that he is in," said Sharlet Briggs, market president and CEO of both Tehachapi and Bakersfield Adventist Health hospitals. "The 'wholeness' is really about the mind and the body coming together to make this happen. This whole thing fits right in with what we are all about."
Tehachapi Chief of Police Kent Kroeger was almost unrecognizable as he pushed his bicycle past the flying pom poms of Warrior cheerleaders who welcomed each rider with enthusiastic teen spirit upon their return. The chief said he was unable to participate in last year's GranFondo because he had to work, but was determined to don his helmet as he set out for the 38-mile course.
"I was a little disappointed — I was shooting for two and a half hours," said Kroeger (2:43). "It was a great ride, a great course and we had some great support out there. The weather was beautiful."
The cyclists ranged in all ages, but hid their years well, as is common with the incredibly fit.
"It was a very beautiful course,"said Cheryl Decker, of Santa Maria, who participated in her first GranFondo this year at the age of 64, although looking 20 years younger. "I wasn't quite used to the altitude, so that was the hardest part for me, but it was a great course."
Decker said she saw residents come out of their homes to cheer on the cyclists, something she had never seen before in other rides.
Co-chairperson of the Tehachapi GranFondo, Michelle Vance, said she had never participated in the local ride, although she is an avid cyclist and participated in a cycling event held last weekend in Mammoth.
"I figured after four years, I should get to ride in my own ride," Vance said.
Arriving from Bakersfield was Michelle Sanders who participated in her first GranFondo, choosing the 38-mile ride. Asked if she planned on returning for next year's ride, Sanders said, "Yeah, I think I will, but I'm going to be sore tomorrow."
Her husband, Mike Warner, who rode alongside his wife, said he was most impressed by the people of the community who took the time to come out and cheer the cyclists.
"That was very, very sweet," Warner said. "This was special. It was very well organized, which is very important to cyclists."
Warner said he planned on returning next year, perhaps ramping up the distance to the 60-mile race, but would not attempt the big daddy itself.
This year's ride saw many first timers, but it also saw many returning cyclists.
The beginning of the ride didn't start off quite right for one Quartz Hill couple, Dan Jenkins, a four-time participate, and his wife, Kaci Jenkins, her first.
"We were happy to have made it to the other side as both of the soles came off of my wife's shoes," said Dan, pointing at the flapping bike shoes as Kaci held up a wadded ball of silver duct tape she used to keep them together while riding. "We were able to make more than half of the ride, but we had to cut it a little bit short because of technical equipment difficulties."
Dan wore last year's jersey, which he said he preferred over this year's.
"My wife wore the new one, because it's a good-looking jersey," he said. "I plan to attend next year as I haven't missed one yet."
Returning for a third year was Brooke Cuper, of Bakersfield, who participated in the 60-mile course.
"It was amazing," Cuper said of the course. "It was the same one that we did last year, so we knew what to expect, but it was just as good, if not better."
Cuper said she definitely plans on returning next year, and will probably chose the same course.
Said Cuper, "My legs are like jelly," adding that she was happy with her time of four and a half hours.
"Last year it took us five," laughed Cuper.
A nice prize
Mary Lou Corpus-Zamudio, of Tehachapi, was the raffle winner of the Trek Domane S4 Carbon Bike donated by The Squeaky Wheel Bike Shop.
"You have to participate to win," said Corpus-Zamudio who rode the required two minutes on the bike to validate her raffle entry.
Editor's note: The following story has been updated to include a quote from the second place winner and correct the familial relationship that was originally misstated in a photo caption.