University Road Race: Miller nearly makes it three straight

Leo Maxam - Sentinel Staff Writer
Article Launched: 08/25/2008 01:32:40 AM PDT

It's been a charmed year for Santa Cruz cyclist Brooke Miller. After winning two national championships -- the USA Cycling National Elite Road Race in Southern California and the U.S. National Criterium in Downers Grove, Ill. -- during a two-week span this August, the Santa Cruz resident headed into Sunday's University Road Race at UC Santa Cruz intending not to win, but to simply help her fellow Team TIBCO riders do well. "It is not one that I will expect to do all that well in," Miller said prior to the race. "I will be racing to help my teammate and not for myself."

She wound up nearly winning anyway.

Miller found herself in the lead pack with eight laps remaining in the 42-mile women's Category 1/2/3 race before eventually falling back and settling for fifth place. Felicia Gomez [Rapha/Immune System Bank] of Fresno won, followed by Flavia Oliveira [EMC2] in second and Kat Carroll in third. With her second place finish, Oliveira further solidifies her hold on the California Cup women's points lead.

"Our strategy changed a little because some really strong pro riders showed up," Miller explained. "It was a very hard course for me because I'm not a climber, I'm a sprinter. There were five of us that separated from the rest of the race, but I couldn't keep pace. The focus was less on me winning and more on getting some really good training, which I did. My legs are really Advertisement sore right now."

The University Road Race was the sixth stop of Velo Promo's California Cup road race series, of which three races remain. The course is probably best described as a hybrid of a road and criterium race. It's a three-mile loop beginning at the East Remote Parking lot on the UCSC campus, going up to the top of Hagar Drive, down to the base of campus, and then back up the east entrance. The number of laps vary by division, with the elite Category 1/2 men doing 20 and the top women doing 14.

"It's one of the hardest road courses in the west," race director Robert Leibold said. "The hill in itself is hard, but if you're doing it 15 or 20 times in a row it's really hard. Plus, the downhill is so short, there's no time to rest."

The longest race Sunday was only 60 miles, a relatively short distance for most road races, which can be in the 120-mile range. However, because of the climb and drop nature of the course, the shorter distance makes sense.

"If we tried to make it 40 laps we'd have to cart people off," Leibold said.

Just ask Robert Amatelli [ZteaM], the county's top finisher in the men's Category 3 race. After 15 laps around the 3-mile hill course, Amatelli, of Santa Cruz, finished in ninth place, thankful to be done.

"I got crushed," he said of his first University Road Race. "It was a brutal race. I'm a big guy, about 195 pounds. The guy who won my race was like 135. It's a lot different going up the hill than in the flats. I do better at road races. This is more of a circuit race."

Amatelli's strong performance Sunday bumped him into the top ten of the Cal Cup points race.

Paul Mach from Davis won the men's Category 1/2 60-mile race. Local favorite Taylor Tolleson was absent from the race. The Watsonville pro cyclist was expected to ride in the event and take advantage of an ideal training run in his own backyard as he works to come back from a broken collarbone, but unfortunately suffered another unlucky setback. Less than a week ago, Tolleson was riding on Buena Vista Road in Watsonville when he was struck by a motorist. He escaped with minor injuries, but his scrapes and bruises were enough to keep him out of Sunday's race.

"I had only been back three days on the bike after the surgery when it happened," Tolleson said. "He just T-boned me. He was going about 35 [mph]. Luckily I jumped out of the way of the bumper. It could have been a lot worse. My shoulder's OK, which is the main thing."

Amatelli, who often rides with Tolleson, said Tolleson would have likely won the pro race if he been able to compete. "He would have cleaned up easy," Amatelli said. "This would be like shooting fish in a barrel for him."

Miller meanwhile hopes that her good fortune continues into the fall. Next up is Il Giro di San Francisco on Sept. 1, and shortly after Miller will compete in the first-ever race for women at the Tour of Missouri on Sept. 6. "This is definitely my best year of racing," she said. "I've had a very rapid advance in my carer and have been moving through the ranks really fast. 2006 was my first real season racing. 2007 was even better than 2006, so I thought, 'OK, I'm going to plateau now.' But this year has been a whirlwind. It's exciting to progress so quickly."

Mark Howland [Blackmarket Racing] was the area's best finisher in the Master 35+ Category 1/2/3 race. The Santa Cruz rider finished 12th. Mark Edwards, also of Santa Cruz, took sixth place in the Master 45+ event, followed by Dan Palmer in 18th place. Michele Heaton, also from Santa Cruz, was seventh in the women's Category 4 race, and Kevin Threm of Aptos took sixth in the Master 35+ Category 4/5 race.