This is the second weekend in a row that Calistoga has hosted an extreme racing event. Two weeks ago, marathoners ran all the way to the top of Mount St. Helena, and through the steep and winding paths of the Palisades.
Saturday’s race, though challenging in its own way, could not have been more different.
There’s an old joke that goes, “I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out.” That’s sort of what happened at Saturday Night at the Calistoga Speedway, only a with a party and a bike race. The event is part bicycle relay, part mayhem, part party. And not necessarily in that order.
While there is competition, the event has a distinct party atmosphere with food trucks, live music, beer and wine and teams are there to let loose and have fun.
In its second year, the relay is part of CampoVelo Napa Valley, a three-day weekend that combines culinary, cycling, and wellness worlds. The race is around the half-mile, mostly (now) grassy speedway track. Instead of a baton to pass in the transition, however, riders pass their bikes.
Competing teams ranged from “whippersnappers” to “old fast guys,” and had names like Huevos Rancheros, Team Super Awesome, and Sexy Salt & Pepper. Before the race, bikers were talking it up, laughing, and generally getting into the spirit.
“Are you even listening to the instructions?” quipped Bob Roll, color commentary for the race, an NBC Sports Tour de France announcer, and former 7-Eleven pro cyclist.
The stands at the speedway were pretty empty as the audience gathered around the food and wine in the infield.
“There’s about seven people in the stands could we get a wave?” Roll asked.
But don’t be fooled. Those participating were seasoned athletes that came from as far away as Texas, and included a seven-time Ironman champion.
So, why, then, were they all falling down like their legs were wet noodles when they finished their portion of the race? It wasn’t because of the wine.
Indeed, if you don’t fall, you’re not working hard enough. Brad Suhr, owner of Calistoga Bikeshop, was there to prep any bikes that needed it. He explained that racers basically did not warm up, and sprung into a full sprint, then pedaled as fast as they could on single-speed bikes.
“It’s very hard. Your legs are like, ‘What are you doing?’ It’s tough, especially when you’re not warmed up,” he said.
The grass track is also uneven and pitted.
“It sucks. It’s firm, then it’s soggy,” said Chris Cosentino, celebrity chef, restaurant owner and one of the hosts of the event. “There’s so much drag, and then there are no gears (on the bike).”
CampoVelo provides all riders with the single-speed bikes which are made by Detroit Bikes.
Teams were (mostly) dressed to ride, although Cosentino wore something that looked like two tablecloths put together. John McConnell, Cliff Family Bruschetteria Food Truck executive chef, wore his work clothes and donned a red wig. Wigs were a popular accessory.
The event is also hosted and produced by Ride Napa Valley, along with 20 other chefs, pro cyclists, winemakers. The weekend includes a myriad of activities that help support local and national nonprofit organizations including the Napa Valley Vine Trail Coalition and Chefs Cycle for No Kid Hungry.
The event was originally inspired by the cult-classic, coming of age film “Breaking Away” and Indiana University’s Little 500 race, where riders compete in four-person teams around a quarter-mile cinder track.