ORANGE — Wearing brightly colored jerseys and black bands around their left arms, about 200 bicyclists interrupted their weekly training ride along Santiago Canyon Road to conduct a roadside memorial for George Charles Robbins, an amateur cyclist killed a week earlier in a collision with a car.
"He really touched a lot of people and had a passion for bicycle racing," said Greg Robison, a 35-year-old resident of Laguna Hills, who organized the informal memorial held Sunday for his longtime cycling companion.
"He loved cycling and he loved competition," said Jerry Fuller, 49, standing beside a Star of David and a cluster of flowers near the intersection where the 48-year-old Robbins was struck. "He was getting better and better, and was probably having the best ride he'd ever ridden on the day of his accident."
Indeed, many cyclists said Robbins was having the ride of his life on the morning of Christmas Eve, having broken away from the pack shortly into the 42-mile ride, then racing to the top of the brutal "Cook's Climb" portion of the ride all by himself.
But Robbins was finally overtaken by a small pack of cyclists, and as they raced downhill along Santiago Canyon Road toward Jamboree Road, Robbins followed. When the pack ignored the red stoplight in the left-turn lane and buzzed through the intersection, turning south onto Jamboree, Robbins did the same, and was struck by an oncoming 1990 Honda Civic, witnesses said.
Robbins, a resident of Mission Viejo, was airlifted to Western Medical Center-Santa Ana, where he died Christmas Day.
His wife, Rena Robbins, did not attend the roadside memorial, but said in a telephone interview that she appreciated the gesture.
"My husband was a very special human being who always made an impression on people," said Rena Robbins, a real estate agent who shared that career with her husband. "That memorial was to let him know he will be missed forever."
Robbins had taken up cycling just five years ago, but quickly became one of the strongest riders in the area--though he was older than most. He was known as a fierce competitor on the circuit of about 20 amateur races he took part in across California each year, friends said.
Robbins trained five days a week, and was a regular on the so-called "Como Street" ride. The hilly, 42-mile course winds through Santiago Canyon, attracts hundreds of cyclists every Sunday morning, and has been a weekly event for more than 30 years.
"This ride is a training ride, but it's ridden like a race," said Kenny Fuller, a former Olympic cyclist and captain of the Canyon Velo cycling team, of which Robbins was a member. "I hate that something like this had to happen for us to learn some safety."
The Como Street ride, so named because that street was once the starting point for the ride, has seen its share of accidents, Fuller said, but until last week no rider had ever been killed on the course.
Despite intermittent pleas to ride safely, cyclists occasionally cruised through the red light at the Jamboree intersection, Fuller said. With last week's accident fresh in their minds, the hundreds of cyclists gathered at the roadside memorial pledged not to permit another cyclist to make that same mistake.
Robbins is also survived by his 22-year-old daughter, Leona Robbins.