Ride On!

Como Streets gone, but cyclists keep peddling

Courtesy of Jason BauschThey call Jason Bausch the "Michelin Man" because of his dynamic five-foot five-inch Mighty Mouse appearance. As a professional cyclist, he trains 500 to 600 miles a week, and has not only competed in such prestigious events as the San Francisco Grand Prix and the Tour de Georgia but against the likes of Lance Armstrong and U.S. Postal team member George Hincapie.

And none of it would have happened if it weren't for a hardcore group of riders in Tustin that go by the name of Como Street.

Dating back nearly 40 years, Como Street started as a group of cyclists who simply wanted to peddle really fast and met each Sunday on Tustin's Como Street to do just that. And they rode very fast. Phil Guarnaccia, a national class rider and 1955 Mr. Northern California, rode with the group early on. So did three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond.

The street is long gone now, but the name and legend of those old riders live on. Today, more than 200 cyclists routinely show up at the group's Tustin Marketplace base for the chance to chase, attack and get worked over by the peloton (main pack of riders) throughout their 48-mile course, often reaching speeds topping 58 mph.

"The competition is the best around," says rider Kenny Fuller, a Newport Beach resident and 55-year-old former Olympian. Fuller raced in the 1972 and 1976 Games and was a four-time world and 29-time national champion cyclist. "Any given Sunday you can ride against professionals, former Olympians and the area's fastest."

Bausch has slightly different credentials. Formerly a Top 100-ranked surfer in the Professional Surfing Association of America (PSAA) and semi-pro mountain bicyclist, Bausch said he first showed up for the Como Street ride back in 1997 after hearing the group gave a good workout.

Heads turned when he pedaled up straddling a mountain bike outfitted with road tires. "I was definitely the oddball," Bausch recalled.

But he rode hard. Bausch finished with the first 10 riders, an elite group of bike racers consisting of 1989 Olympian Steve Hauge, Saturn team member Scott Portner and former Mr. Universe Kalman Szkalak.

"I made a few friends that day," said Bausch, who left most impressed by the team strategy and effort showed by the pack riders. "It was really fun to see how many guys you can get to the finish in the top group by working together and shifting positions."

Within the next few months, Bausch became a dominant figure in the group, often breaking away from the pack with wicked uphill sprints and all-out speed chases. He was invited to join Labor, a master's racing team for riders aged 30 and up. After just six months, scouts from Net Zero recruited him to ride for the professional team.

Bausch says Como Street is still the place to be if you want to ride fast against the best around. To accommodate the numerous bikers of varying speeds and abilities who show up each Sunday, the ride has branched out to four different routes and distances.

Riders say the original course was a 100-mile route created by former Scottish pro cyclist Pete Whitehead and John Howard, who held the national "King of the Mountain" distinction for a decade. Attendance ballooned to 300 in the mid-1980s, resulting in a shorter ride to accommodate the bloated peloton.

"Anyone has always been welcome," says Dave Worthington, a 40-year-old Costa Mesa resident and 12-year veteran of the group. "There are no pretenders, only contenders who can hang with this group. If you're not ready, don't show up."

With an ascent named "The Wall"—a 15 percent grade through O'Neill Regional Park, near Rancho Santa Margarita—a gut check of a grunt effort up is required to make the sharp-turning switchbacks. "Drafting is not part of the equation," says Worthington. Just past Irvine Lake is "Trash Truck Climb," which culminates at the top of the municipal landfill. "Depending on how strong you are, you either suffer, or punish others by dropping them," added Worthington.

"There's never an easy Como Street," said John, a longtime rider. "If you can't hang, you get dropped. Then you have to ride alone, and that's no fun."

 
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