TEHACHAPI — 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 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 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's victory came as a disappointment to the Shotts brothers, Kevin (5:9) and Spencer (5:10), who came in second and third for men.
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 a year for this event.
Adventist Health sponsored this year's winning jerseys, which were presented to Lockwood and Gable as King and Queen of the Mountain.
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."