Competitive cyclists

One club’s efforts to establish bicycle stage racing in Chico

Racers swing through a turn at the recent downtown criterium sponsored by the Chico Corsa Cycling Club.

Racers swing through a turn at the recent downtown criterium sponsored by the Chico Corsa Cycling Club.

Photo By Kyle Delmar

Geno Gruber moved to Chico from Sacramento in the late-1990s. The avid cyclist had been racing bicycles since he was a child, when he first found himself drawn to the snazzy equipment he found in bike shops.

But when he started attending weekend rides at Bidwell Park’s One-Mile Recreation Area to scope out Chico’s biking community, he was surprised to find the circle slightly unwelcoming.

“No one would talk to me; I wasn’t part of the group,” said Gruber, an amiable business man who works in marketing and has since become a staple in Chico’s cycling community.

He kept those experiences in mind when, six years ago, he and a few friends started the Chico Corsa Cycling Club, a group of bike enthusiasts who shared a common goal of bringing racing back to Chico. At the time, fewer than 10 individuals in the community raced on a team.

Since then, the group has created a pro/amateur racing team with more than 30 members. It’s sponsored in part by Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. and North Rim Adventure Sports, and meets monthly to socialize about the bike community over pizza and beer. Members also discuss sponsorships for their team and discuss plans for the Chico Stage Race, an annual event they started last year.

The 2011 Chico Stage Race—a three-part race in which the lowest overall time wins—took place April 16 and 17 and was evidence of the group’s influence on the local racing community. Participation skyrocketed from 130 last year to 270 this year.

“That was our goal from day one, to start a stage race here in Chico,” Gruber said, noting that Chico’s scenery and courses (from long stretches of flat land to nearby hills) set it apart from other cities. “And now I really think we have one of the better—one of the top three—races in Northern California.”

Chico has a long history as a bicycle-racing town. The Chico Velo Cycling Club and the Chico State Cycling Team took turns hosting an annual criterium—a closed-circuit bike race that involves laps—every year until about 15 years ago, when Chico Velo decided to allot the majority of its funds to bike advocacy and safety instead of racing.

The Chico Corsa Cycling Club revived the criterium five years ago, but Gruber hoped to eventually incorporate the race into a three-stage event.

That vision became a reality under the leadership of Jeff Galland, a Southern California native who moved to Chico from Redding in 2004 after attending the Chico Wildflower Century, a 100-mile ride hosted by Chico Velo that brings thousands of cyclists into the area each year. (This year’s event will take place May 1.)

Galland organized two additional races, including a 45-mile loop out of Paskenta in Tehama County and a time-trial event. The three events became the stage race.

Geno Gruber helped start the Chico Corsa Cycling Club in the fall of 2005 in an effort to revive Chico’s racing community.

Photo By Stacey Kennelly

However, despite the event’s growing popularity among cyclists, the stage race—specifically the criterium—has become popular among non-cyclists as well, Galland said.

“It’s like a stock-car race on bicycles,” he said. “It’s become a bigger community event that showcases our sport.”

That kind of participation in the community is one aspect that sets it apart from other bicycle-racing groups. The club also hosts training sessions and other events in which non-members and beginning cyclists are encouraged to participate.

“Racers can be intimidating; people can think we’re not approachable,” Galland said. “But we are unique in that we’re open to anyone, including anyone who wants to learn to race. You have to put in the work, but if you have an interest, we’re there to help.”