By Karen Kefauver, Spin City
If you’re involved in bicycle racing in Northern California, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of Keith DeFiebre.
Recently, Bicycling Magazine featured the Monterey native and Prunedale resident for setting a global record on the popular mobile app Strava. Plus, he’s spent 26 consecutive years designing and building a downhill race course at the Sea Otter Classic, one of the world’s largest bicycling festivals, staged in Monterey. Additionally, his years of work with the Northern California-Nevada Cycling Association and the Norcal High School Cycling League have directly led to increased participation in junior cycling.
But DeFiebre is probably best known regionally as the founder and director of the Central Coast Cyclo-cross Series, which also includes mountain bike, road and downhill race series. Thousands of cyclists — and now multiple generations — have charged to the finish line at CCCX events, which take place year-round at Monterey County locations. The series turns 20 this year and DeFiebre, super fit at 50, is hardly slowing down.
Spin City got him out of the saddle long enough to discuss the importance of local racing and, in particular, the cyclocross race series that is currently underway, with six of nine races remaining. Not surprisingly, he talked a mile-a-minute.
“Local races are important everywhere for the development of young riders and to keep racing growing,” DeFiebre said. “It’s great to have new riders ages 12 to 14, in middle school, trying their first cyclocross race. I’ve been working with high school-age kids for almost 10 years. It’s amazing to see the growth of the young riders.”
One of those young riders who cut his teeth on CCCX races is Eamon Lucas, 24, of Pacific Grove. He later joined Astellas Cycling Team, a USA Cycling and UCI professional cycling team, and is currently road racing in Belgium.
“If you don’t have local opportunities, there is missed potential. There are stars now and their first race was my race. That’s a cool feeling,” DeFiebre said.
Not just future stars seek out DeFiebre’s races. Current cyclocross stars like Elle Andersen of San Francisco have attended CCCX races to tune up before heading to races in Europe. Pros like Andersen race on the same course as beginners.
It’s thrilling for spectators to watch ’cross racers leap on and off their bikes at breakneck speed. Typically, competitors negotiate obstacles, including steep uphills, sand pits and wooden barriers as they race around the circuit for a set period of time, ranging from 30 to 60 minutes, depending on skill level.
Reflecting on CCCX’s history, DeFiebre says his series was born from necessity.
“From a racer’s perspective, there was a need for more races,” he said.
Coming from a collegiate football background, DeFiebre stumbled into the sport thanks to a friend and immediately won his first downhill race in 1989. He went straight to the pro division. By age 31, his decade as a pro downhiller was winding down but he wanted to keep racing. In 1997, he launched CCCX, his confidence bolstered by his experience designing the dual slalom course at Sea Otter Classic.
Fast-forward two decades and DeFiebre and his crew now organize about 25 races a year. A typical ’cross race may have 200 participants, drawn from the Central Coast, the Bay Area and beyond. The races appeal to novice and veteran racers alike.
Brock Dickie of Santa Cruz met DeFiebre 23 years ago, has competed against him and continues to race cyclocross at an elite level at CCCX. “Keith bridged the gap when there were no other ’cross races for a few years,” Dickie, 46, said. “CCCX was the only thing we had, and he kept it going and now he’s expanded it. He provides a great local service. He’s a one-of-a-kind character.”
Andrew Murray also expressed his appreciation for the series.
“I consider Keith a friend, and I’m a huge fan. His CCCX series has literally changed my life. I’ve formed many friendships as a result of CCCX and raced at least 50 of his races. He has an amazing energy level and ability to get some really awesome things done. The sheer number of separate genres of racing that he organizes with CCCX is off the chart. Plus, all he does for youth racing. There’s something very special and unique about Keith.”
In addition to running the series, DeFiebre is a talented athlete in his own right. He has logged decades racing road, mountain bike, downhill, cyclocross, enduro and duathlons. He meticulously logs his wins: 516 to date. On the Strava cycling app, DeFiebre has racked up more than 5,100 KOMs (King of the Mountain) — meaning he was the fastest rider on certain stretches of pavement or dirt — landing the top rank worldwide for amateur users.
In the last few years, he has set his eyes on other global enterprises. Now he has his own eponymous race team and a bike race that he launched in the Philippines to support friends who lost loved ones.
When he looks back at his career, he’s clearly proud and also grateful.
“I feel thankful. I know now I couldn’t have done it all on my own,” he said, citing his mom as his earliest supporter and local bike shops as indispensable. “She just saw the passion and allowed me to pursue it. … In the early days, sometimes I had no money but wanted to go to the next race. Every little thing I try to appreciate and be thankful for.”
That gratitude extends to surviving some horrendous crashes: “My bike helmet literally saved my life,” he said.
Overall, DeFiebre counts himself as lucky.
“I see the importance of local racing and don’t want it to die. We have a great group of junior and high school kids. Local shops in Santa Cruz and Monterey have worked with me. To have those loyal shops and their teams makes a huge difference.
“We all make it happen.”
Karen Kefauver (www.karenkefauver.com) is a freelance writer who covers sports and travel and is based in Santa Cruz. Her Spin City bike column appears monthly and was launched in 2009.