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    Cyclists head down L Street, setting up to make the turn onto 10th Street. The Grand Prix races shut down streets around the Capitol for most of Saturday. Race organizers used equipment from the Tour of California event in the capital.


    Cyclists in the intermediate division start the Sacramento Grand Prix's first race of the day on L Street in view of the Capitol.


    Aaron Rindy of Reno aims his camera at riders as they approach along L Street. Rindy competed in the first race and placed 21st.

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Friends and families cheer Sacramento Grand Prix cyclists

Published: Sunday, Sep. 11, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Sunday, Sep. 11, 2011 - 12:00 pm

Jessamyn Schaller of Davis and 10 family members stood eagerly at the barricades Sunday as bike racers in the Sacramento Grand Prix sped circuits around the Capitol in Sacramento.

The reason for this knot of fans was simple: Jeff Schaller, Jessamyn's 28-year-old husband, was in the field of category 3 and 4 racers.

The spectators for early fields of the Grand Prix – unlike for the Tour of California that raced through Sacramento in May – were mostly family, friends and other racers.

Though crowds don't match the millions for that tour, organizers hope to draw as many as 15,000 by the third year of what is expected to be an annual race, said Ryan Dawkins, president of Project Sport, manager of the race.

The few spectators were no less enthusiastic and the 500 racers were no less competitive.

Schaller was racing in category 3, having moved up from 4 by winning the Davis Criterium not long ago.

"He tries to win every race he can enter," his wife said, as the field rolled by.

And she worries every race he enters.

"People break collar bones a lot," she said. "It does make me pretty nervous."

Even lesser mishaps can be a problem for racers like Dominick Brookes, of the Michael David Winery team from Lodi.

Brookes was walking his bike as the field finished the race.

"Worst thing I could do is get a flat on lap four," he said.

While amateurs like Brookes and Schaller churned their pedals, pros were walking the sidelines in street clothes.

Among them was 26-year-old Alison Tetrick Starnes, winner of a recent San Francisco race and soon to represent the United States in the Pan-American Games.

"It's such a nice venue," Starnes said of the race course.

Organizers, including the Sacramento Sports Commission, piggybacked on the goodwill generated by the Tour of California, getting street closures downtown and the use of the same stage, barricades and other equipment used in the earlier race, said John McCasey, the commission's executive director.

They also secured drier, albeit hotter, weather than many of the tours.

"I'm not particularly used to it," said Starnes, who lives in cooler and hillier Marin County.

Many in the crowd were unused to the criterium style racing, different from the road racing of the big tours.

"A lot of the people walk by and watch and have no idea what's going on," said Robert Mauldin, a cyclist for Victory Velo, who was on L Street to watch, not race.

Race announcer Brad Sohner educated the crowd and encouraged their enthusiasm.

"The louder you are, the faster they go," Sohner said. "It's scientifically proven."

If so, they must've been loud going around the corner of N and 15th streets, where Lou Galgani banged a cowbell each time they came by, a rat perched on her shoulder.

"It's the marriage of man to machine and woman to machine," said Galgani, explaining what she liked about cycling.

"I'm here for the underdogs, people like myself who aren't necessarily the fastest."

Galgani, a carless cyclist, was pleased with the development of cycling in midtown, where she's lived for 27 years.

"I'm excited to see more people on bicycles," she said.

Though there is a down side.

"I'm not," she added, "excited to see drunken kids on their cruisers."

That was not Jessamyn Schaller's husband. He finished a strong third in his race.

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