Santa Ynez Valley, located in northern Santa Barbara County, is widely known for its wineries and rolling hills with country roads perfect for scenic road riding. While the area is a popular destination for southern Californian weekenders looking for relaxation, it has also become a regular stop on the US Cup mountain bike racing circuit. This year, the annual Santa Ynez Classic was the final race in US Cup Triple Crown West Series and round five of the seven-round Rock N’ Road Cyclery West Cup Series.
Where Highways 101 and 154 intersect at Zaca Station Road, lie Charlotte’s Meadow. The meadow is the home of Dirt Club, a private mountain bike riding ranch that boasts a variety of cross country and downhill trails. The start/finish of the Santa Ynez Classic sits in a bowl, surrounded mostly by vineyards and steeper than usual central coast hills. The trails are popular amongst riders, yet extremely rough due to cattle that occupy and graze the ranch when bikes are not at play.
This year’s Santa Ynez Classic race course consisted of an 11.3 mile loop with a 1,340 foot elevation gain per lap. Slated to complete three laps, the Pro Men’s race started under warm conditions and heated up quickly as area local, Jason Siegle (SDG/Felt) won the sprint to the first turn and immediately set a fast pace up the valley toward the first of the course’s decisive climbs. Within the first mile of the 34 mile race, Siegle’s effort had split the field in half. Along for the ride was Sid Taberlay (Kenda/H20 Overdrive/Yeti), Miguel Valadez (Ellsworth), Romolo Forcino, Tsering Alleyne (Marin Bikes), Matt Freeman (Cyclery USA), and Kendal Johnson (Sagebrush Cycles).
The lead group was soon split again when Valadez took over the lead on the first steep climb, causing the main selection of the young race. “Miguel (Valadez) put in an attack and only Sid (Taberlay) and I were able to follow,” said Siegle. “I took over on the next descent and the three of us were gone.”
The Valadez/Siegle surge at the front left Alleyne, Freeman, Forcino, and Johnson ailing. Alleyne and Johnson eventually dropped out of the chase, while Freeman and Forcino forged on. The veteran duo was later joined by Miguel Ramos (Bear Valley Bikes), who had bridged to the second group after suffering a poor start. Meanwhile, Taberlay took his first turn at the front causing a momentary hiccup for the leaders.
“On the top of the next climb Sid went to the front and Miguel tried to push me off of Sid’s wheel,” said Siegle. “We tangled bars and Miguel crashed. He had to chase back up to us but we didn’t push the pace.”
Even with shakeup at the front of the race, the three-man group behind Taberlay, Valadez, and Siegle was not gaining any ground. And, what little hope the chase group had for reconnecting with the leaders was crushed when Forcino refused to take pulls, leaving Freeman and Ramos with the entire workload. Near the midway point of the second lap, Freeman finally succumbed to the heated chase leaving Ramos to deal with the inept Forcino.
As the race continued Valadez, the loan hardtail in the lead group, pushed the pace on the climbs while the full-suspension bikes of Taberlay and Siegle took turns leading the rough downhill trail sections. “We all traded work at the front until halfway through the last lap when Sid went for it on a descent,” said Siegle. “He created a gap and I had to wait until the next climb that followed to get around Miguel. From there we were all solo in the finish.”
Taberlay’s win marked his third win in the last four years at the Santa Ynez Classic, while the runner-up finish by Siegle was his best in the series. Crossing the finish line in a distant fourth was Durango, Colorado’s Ramos, whose result garnered him the Triple Crown West Championship.
Photos by Tricia Fynewever
April 29, 2012