By Charles Whisnand
Appeal Sports Editor
Bo Jackson once described football as a "hobby," but at least he got to focus on the sport full-time when he did play it.
Carson City's Norman Zellars on the other hand has become one of the nation's top masters and category 1 cyclists even though he truly has to treat the sport as a hobby.
"It's a tough hobby," Zellars said. "You've got to put in a lot of time. When things go right you win, but it's very tough."
Zellars, 33, will race this weekend at the Elite Nationals Road Race Championships in Orange County, Calif. In the category 1 division last year, Zellars took 19th in the event that was held in Pennsylvania. Category 1 in the second highest level in cycling, only below the professional level. This weekend, Zellars expects to cover the 105-mile road course in 4 1/2 hours.
Zellars competes for the Great Basin Imaging racing team which was formed by team manager Russ Petrosky and team president Nick Carlevato, who is a radiologist for Great Basin Imaging in Carson City.
And while he competes at a high level, Zellars also works full-time as a phsyician's assistant in the Carson-Tahoe Regional Medical Center emergency room.
"That's what makes it difficult," said Zellars about holding down a full-time job while racing. "It's llike any endurance sport, you have to put time in."
Zellars said he trains 15 hours a week and puts 18,000-20,000 miles on his bike in a year. "I think I put more miles on my bike than on my car," he said.
Along with being a top category 1 rider, Zellars is also a top masters rider for men 30 and over. Zellars recently won two-thirds of the district triple crown, so to speak, winning two of the three district masters championships. Most of the top masters in Northern California and Nevada compete in the district masters championships.
Along with the road race, cyclistist also compete in the criterium in which they complete a certain number of laps on a short course and the time trial in which riders race against the clock.
The District Masters Criterium was held this year as part of the Minden Criterium during the Carson Valley Classic and Zellars won that event.
Zellars also won the District Masters Time Trial held on Northern California. In the time trial, Zellars averaged 28 miles an hour for an hour. "I was flying," he said.
In the District Masters Road Race held in Woodfords, Zellars took sixth. Last weekend Zellars also competed in the difficult District Elite Road Race Championships in Ft. Ord, Calif., and finished ninth against some of the area's top pros.
He was relatively pleased with last year's 19th place finish at nationals. "It's a decent finish," he said. "Anything in the top 20 is good at a national event."
A top 10 finish is the goal this weekend. "That's what I'm going for," he said. "I'm coming into form right now."
It takes a great deal of strategy as well as strength to do well in a road race, Zellars said. "It's just like a chess match," he said.
A major sponsor for the Great Basin Imaging team and Zellars is The Bike Smith, which keeps the team supplied. "Without people like that it makes it difficult to race," Zellars said.