Riding into Romance: Local Olympians share passion for cycling

Dr. Christine Thorburn and her husband, Ted Huang, have several things in common. Both are world-class athletes who have competed in the Olympics. Both are now into cycling and competed May 13 in the STBikes Cat’s Hill Classic Criterium in Los Gatos. Huang was born and raised in Sunnyvale where the couple are renting-to-buy their home.

Olympic cycling was Thorburn’s sport. The 36-year-old swept the women’s division, coming in first for the second year in a row. Huang was the first on his team to cross the finish line. His employer, Webcor Builders, was team sponsor. Overall, Huang finished seventh in the men’s division.

Thorburn competed as a cyclist in the Olympics in Athens, Greece, in 2004, where she placed fourth in the time trial and 15th in the road race.

Huang competed in both the 1996 and 2000 Olympics as a professional wind surfer. He switched to cycling shortly after his second Olympic effort, in search of a sport that was more aerobic.

In the Los Gatos event, he won the men’s race in 1999. This year, Huang cited the short nature of the course as problematic for his style of racing, but called the race special and inspiring.

Before its start, Thorburn worried her performance might be affected by the absence of her racing partners, off racing in Arkansas. “I had a very strong team supporting me last year,” Thorburn said, “and this year I will be there solo. I’m sure there will be plenty of teams wanting to get even.”

As it turned out, though, she had no serious challengers. Webco also sponsors Thorburn’s women’s professional team.

The lure of cycling
Thorburn moved to the Bay Area from Iowa in 1994 to attend Stanford Medical School, where she focused on rheumatology. She now has her own practice and also conducts research in genetic risk factors for lupus, an autoimmune disease that leaves its victims achy and exhausted.

She took up cycling shortly after moving to California. She had been a long-distance runner, but a knee injury sidelined that interest to a degree. “I was running less regularly when I came out to medical school,” she said. “I had a couple of classmates who were on the Stanford cycling team, so they eventually talked me into coming out.”

In the Cat’s Hill Criterium, Thorburn once again proved her athleticism by defeating her nearest competitors by the entire length of the course’s home stretch–nearly a quarter of a mile.

How they met
Thorburn met Huang in 1998 on an early morning bike ride. The two began dating in 2002. Huang proposed during a trip to Madonna di Ghisallo, a famous church and cycling landmark located near Italy’s Lake Como. In November 2005, they married. Today, Huang now works as an Internet technology project manager for Webcor and is the company’s unofficial director of cycling programs.

Neither Thorburn nor Huang has any serious Olympic aspirations now. “I’m kind of playing it by ear,” Thorburn said. In the meantime, she intends to focus on her clinical practice and upcoming cycling events in which she’ll compete, including the 2006 Women’s Cycling World Cup in Montreal.

Huang participated in the Berkeley Hills Road Race the day after the Cat’s Hill Classic, and will also be racing in the Mount Hood Cycling Classic. Both Thorburn and Huang are preparing for the USA Cycling National Championships in July. Right now, the two are looking forward to buying the home they rent in Sunnyvale.

A Classic history
The STBikes Cat’s Hill Classic has been hosted in Los Gatos for the last 33 years by the Los Gatos Bicycle Racing Club, recently named the top amateur cycling club in the United States. Founded in 1974, the LGBRC runs the race as an entirely volunteer operation. Profits from the 2006 Cat’s Hill Classic will benefit Cycle ReCyclery, a nonprofit organization founded by high school senior Derek Beck that refurbishes donated bicycles and redistributes them to qualified nonprofit groups and income-eligible individuals.

This piece originally appeared in The Sunnyvale Sun.

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