Snazzy and out there

Tales from the peloton, January 19, 2005

Velo Bella's on the road to Cross Worlds

Two members of the Velo Bella Elite racing team, Sarah Kerlin and Barbara Howe recently got selected to go to Cyclocross World Championships in St Wendel, Germany later this month. To get there, they use their usual pazzaz and ingenuity. Ella Lawrence finds out how.

An empty coffee can adorned with fluorescent pink scribbles reads, "Velo Bella Elite Racer Fund." The coffee can holds court in the center of the Bella Table at nearly every cyclocross race in California this 'cross season. The 'i' is dotted with a heart. The website has added a PayPal direct link. Two Santa Cruz filmmakers are donating the proceeds of a cyclocross movie screening, and the promised-to-be-riotous afterparty is raffling Sting-Ray Cruiser bikes and booze all for the same cause: sending two Bellas to cyclocross worlds in St. Wendel, Germany.

Sound unconventional? It is-but conventionality is not something that the Velo Bellas, an all-woman, grassroots team out of Monterey, CA, strives to achieve. "I love being a Bella," Sarah Kerlin (30, Santa Cruz) beams. "I can't imagine being on any other team. We are an all-women's team, which means we never, ever have to stand in the shadow of the men's team. We can be sassy and sexy and damn fast, too. It is a great thing to be a part of."

Sassy, sexy, and damn fast could describe the team, whose members (from amateur riders to elite-level racers) now number in the hundreds. The Bellas, that black-pink-electric-blue horde that dominate the women's fields in races from track to road to MTB to cyclocross, are first and foremost about having fun.

Kerlin (one of the two Bellas who was chosen by USA Cycling to race on the US National Team at Cyclocross Worlds) continues, "I knew all the other elite cross Bellas before we were teammates; in fact it is the uniqueness of Velo Bella that drew us all together. In this team I have some of my closest friends, we spend a lot of time together on the bike, but we also get together socially quite often and generally we all get along very well. It helps that we keep fun as a top priority on this team, so that the competitiveness that could potentially cause a problem among teammates is not a big issue. We really do know how to have a good time in all this."

Kerlin, who started out the season with modest goals, finished well at the US Cyclocross Nationals and was selected to race for the national team at worlds. She says, "At the beginning of the season, I wasn't even going to travel much. But I did well at the first few races, and figured it would be a shame to miss other opportunities to race at the national level so I bought plane tickets. All season I was happy working for my teammates, doing things like taking the hole shot, taking big pulls around the fast courses, and blocking other riders to help the Bellas."

She continues, "Even as I headed into the National Championships, my goal for the weekend was to see my teammates qualify for Worlds. But I raced well, and after the Elite Podium ceremony, I was given the materials needed to petition for the national team. So I figured, this will be a great adventure, and make me that much stronger for the next season, so why not? Now I am very excited and can't wait to experience European cross racing. I've never even been to Europe before; I just got my first passport in mail. Being selected to race at world championships gives me a purpose for the next 5 to 7 years, to see how well I can do internationally. It also is important to me because I now feel justified in all the sacrifices and sometimes difficult choices I have made in the past several years in pursuing my athletic dreams."

Barbara Howe (28, of Larkspur, CA), is a pro mountain biker-turned-'cross racer, who in her second year racing seriously has proven herself to be one of the nation's finest racers. She, along with Kerlin, is a member of the Velo Bella elite squad, and has been drumming the grassroots sponsorship for the impending competition. Due to the fact that cyclocross is not an Olympic sport, the National Cyclocross team receives no funding from USA Cycling, the nation's governing body of cycling. In order to participate in the Cyclocross World Championships, Kerlin and Howe must raise $3,700 each. Howe received $1,300 in sponsorship from the California Road Club, and is currently racing in Belgium as preparation for the worlds competition.

On joining the team, Howe quips, "Two of my close racing companions Sarah (Kerlin, masters 30-34 US National Champion) and Melodie (Metzger, collegiate US national champion) said they were both joining Velo Bella for the road season. I had done a bit of road racing at the end of the season and wanted a team. Christine (Vardaros, an elite Bella who won't be racing at worlds due to a mid-season illness) had also suggested that Velo Bella would be a good team. At the last Surf City I told Sabine I wanted to be a Bella and she got a skinsuit for me to wear at CX Nationals. Being a Bella has made a huge difference. I don't have to go to races alone, I know that there will always be a teammate or two."

As Howe tries her mettle racing with the boys in Belgium (on January 5, she was the first woman ever to race at a local race in St. Niklaas), Kerlin will continue rounding up the funds in her hometown of Santa Cruz, CA before flying across the pond to join her teammate. Santa Cruz filmmakers Brian Vernor and Willie K. Bullion, who recently produced a stellar documentary on cyclocross, will donate all proceeds from the film's Northern California debut to the Velo Bella race fund.

"For most cross racers, cross is a community," Vernor states. "I feel a certain responsibility-I've built courses, Willie has managed teams, but we wanted to do more, something personal which reflects our commitment to that community."

Any racer or spectator truly familiar with the grassroots-feeling of cyclocross will agree that community is really what 'cross is all about. And commitment to that community has proven to be true: it's what's sending the Velo Bellas to cyclocross worlds.

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