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Cyclists flock to annual Paskenta Ride for Super Bowl tradition

Karsten Kaufmann

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Racer Matt Abrahamian says he grew his “skenta stache” so the goddess of the gravel (Hilda) would grant him safe passage. Photo credit: Karsten Kaufmann

The first Sunday of February was about more than just football for many Northern California cyclists.

Hundreds of riders flocked to the One Mile Recreation Area parking lot on the morning of Feb. 2 for the the annual Paskenta Ride.

What started in 1981 as a way to burn off calories in anticipation of Super Bowl Sunday grub has evolved into a tradition for hundreds of cyclists throughout the North State. The bike race is just over 100 miles in length and contains 1,400 feet of climbing.

Riders start in Chico and head north towards Corning, then west through the small town of Paskenta. After a five-mile gravel section, those still on their bikes make their way to Highway 32, where they ride into Chico through Orland. The finish line, marked by a thin strip of pink tape, sits on West Sacramento Avenue, about two miles west from Nord Avenue.

The ride costs nothing to the participants and serves as a good training tool for the competitive racers.

The event started out as a small group of people wanting to do a long ride during the morning before settling down and watching the football game later in the day, said Rodney Cox, coordinator of the ride.

Since then, it’s only caught wind.

“It’s just a good ride” said Andy Garzoli, a junior at Chico State. “It’s one of few free centuries you can do. It’s also very flat, which is a rare thing. You really can’t get a hundred miles in without having tons of climbing in it.”

The event attracts a wide variety of skill levels. Some people see it as a leisure ride, while others use it as a training tool to kick off the racing season, Cox said.

“It’s just developed a reputation,” he said. “Riders think it’s a great way to start off the season.”

This year’s winner was Chris Harland-Dunaway from the Herbalife p/b Marc-Pro Strava team, one of the most established amateur cycling clubs in the country. He conquered the 100-mile course in just under four hours and 18 minutes, averaging 24 mph.

“Paskenta is pretty legendary as far as NorCal lore.” Harland-Dunaway said. “It has this gravel section that’s technical and really hard to ride. It has that ‘spring classics’ feel like the cobbles in Belgium.”

After Harland-Dunaway caught his breath, Cox presented him with the winner’s trophy — a small mural made up of old bike cogs, rocks from the gravel and broken pedometers glued onto a wooden platform with “skenta” engraved on the side.

Despite it’s long history, the winner’s trophy made it clear that this was not a traditional cycling race.

This is one of many free cycling events Cox puts on every year. To get more information, visit racechico.com.

Karsten Kaufmann can be reached at [email protected] or @theorion_sports on Twitter.

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Cyclists flock to annual Paskenta Ride for Super Bowl tradition