SAN DIEGO — On the eve of Sunday's sixth La Jolla Grand Prix cycling races, Chris Huber was concerned not with winning but with whether he would be able to ride at all.
Huber, a 28-year-old member of the Coors Light team from Campbell, could barely walk Friday.
How could Huber have pondered sprinting away from the pack of 125 with two laps left, opening a lead of about six seconds and holding on to win the 40-mile, 66-lap men's race? But that's exactly what he did.
"I couldn't even lift my right leg Friday," Huber said.
Huber said he thought he pulled a muscle when he turned up lame. But when volunteer chiropractors assisting the racers examined him, they discovered he was suffering from a muscle spasm in his abdomen.
Huber didn't come into the race as his team's hottest cyclist. Teammates Michael Zanoli and Roberto Gaggioli finished first and second in a Tempe, Ariz., criterium the previous week. Huber wasn't a factor in that race. He had the flu.
But when the 63rd lap of the men's pro/am rolled around Sunday, Huber, who had led only three times before, found an unusual lull in an otherwise blistering pace and three teammates trying to help set him up for a breakaway. Huber's leg felt fine, he felt strong, and he sensed it was time to make a sprint for the finish with 1.2 miles to go.
"A lot of times (the pace slows) when teams are organizing themselves (to spring one racer for a dash to the finish)," Huber said. "My team was in perfect position, and it was a perfect setup for me."
Huber made his move on the first turn, and by the end of the lap led by what looked to be 50 yards. He held on to beat Gaggioli, who closed the gap to finish second. Huber earned $3,000, Gaggioli $2,000. Jonas Carney of the Subaru/Montgomery team finished third and claimed $1,000 from the $20,000 purse.
Encinitas' Marianne Berglund won the 20-mile, 33-lap women's race for the third consecutive year and the fourth time in five years, winning $1,250. Berglund, who has become a crowd favorite, called this victory her most challenging because she raced without a team.
"When you're by yourself, you have to be up there (with the leaders) and cover everything," she said. "I trained really hard and peaked for this race. I had the most wonderful support."
Reno's Inga Thompson, the only other woman to win this race in the past five years, was riding fifth, two places behind Berglund, with two laps to go but fell in a mysterious pileup on Lap 32. Her Michelin racing team had Marion Clignet and Jessica Grieco running first and second with a lap to go, but Clignet was also lost in the crash, leaving only Grieco to contend with Berglund.
"I was racing to win," said Thompson, whose entire left side was scraped. "I actually thought I had it won, and I went into the turn accelerating. . . . I'm still trying to find out how I went down."
Berglund bolted past Grieco at the finish. Linda Brenneman finished third.
In the five-lap wheelchair criterium, Jim Knaub defeated Craig Blanchette by a chair length and won a total of $2,550.