Peak performance: Cruz battles to third with no team members
With one Nevada City Classic victory under his belt, Tony Cruz came into Sunday’s race with a plan.
Cruz raced for the Discovery Channel team but, without any teammates present on Sunday, he knew he was facing more than one uphill battle. Besides squaring off against a 1.1-mile track that climbs a grueling 161 feet on each lap, Cruz also had to find a strategy that didn’t involve help from a teammate.
“This one was hard for me,” Cruz said. “There were so many people for me to watch today. On all the other teams there were three or four guys, which makes it tough for me.
“I’m just one of 20 or 30 guys, so I know just about anything I do is a gamble.”
Cruz held on for a third-place finish behind first-time participant and winner Darren Lill and defending champion Scott Moninger, who finished second.
But without help from teammates, Cruz had to change his strategy.
“The major difference really is that if you have teammates, you can ramp up the pace,” Cruz said. “With two or three guys you can try to splinter the field, then you can have teammates try to hold off the pack and sprint ahead for the win.”
During the post-race interviews, with the crowd gathered around the podium, Cruz took hold of the microphone from the race announcer to specifically address the fans of Nevada City.
“This is, by far, my favorite race in the United States,” Cruz told an appreciative crowd. “I’d fly from anywhere in the world to be here.”
Later, Cruz talked about why Nevada City was the best.
“It takes a very strong rider to win here,” Cruz said. “It’s such a difficult course. If you win this one, it’s like you have bragging rights on the West Coast.
“It’s almost like winning a national championship.”
Cruz’s first trip to Nevada City was at age 14 for a junior race. After five years of racing, he took five years off to get married and start a family.
“I just rode to work and rode on the weekends,” said Cruz, who resides on Long Beach.
He said he hadn’t planned on returning to the sport, but couldn’t help himself.
“I didn’t like working,” Cruz said with a laugh. “So I figured I’d have to get serious about cycling. I figured, ‘Why not do something I love?'”
Now, when he gets the chance, he shares his story with the younger riders.
“I tell them that once I started doing it as a career, it became that much more special,” Cruz said. “There are some guys out here who have the talent but not the commitment. A lot don’t see the big picture.
“I just try to show them how much fun it is to be committed to it.”
To contact Sports Writer Ross Maak, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 477-4244.
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