Ken Hanson, the current USA Cycling Professional Criterium National Champion who is in town this weekend to compete in the Tour de Murrieta, did not set out in life to become a professional cyclist.
Eight years ago, the now 30-year-old Hanson tagged along with his Cal Poly San Luis Obispo roommate to a team meeting of the university's cycling team. It was there the wheels starting turning for him.
"My first race, I showed up with a $150 mountain bike, tennis shoes and a T-shirt," Hanson said.
Always a sprinter in other sports he did growing up, Hanson said he gravitated toward the cycling equivalent of sprinting: criterium racing. The style of racing—"crit" for short—involves repetitive laps for up to 90 minutes.
In 2005, Hanson won a collegiate criterium national title, giving him good cause to believe he had finally found the right sport for himself.
These days, he is a member of the Optum Pro Cycling Team after going pro in 2007.
Coming off a first-place finish in criterium racing March 2 at the Merco Cycling Classic in Merced, Hanson is heading to Portugal and Spain for a month before returning to compete in the AMGEN Tour of California.
Murrieta is preparing to serve as one of the host cities for the AMGEN Tour this year.
This is the first time Hanson, a Southern California native who grew up in Sierra Madre and now lives in San Diego, has taken part in the Tour de Murrieta.
"I am a firm believer that the more you race, the better you get. So if there is a local race when I'm home, I do it," Hanson said.
After racing each day, he said he is hitting the local hilly areas in preparation for the upcoming AMGEN.
Riding alongside Hanson in the Murrieta event is Optum standout teammate, Tom Soladay, who is also heading to Europe and returning for the AMGEN Tour.
"I like to joke that cycling is like a traveling circus," Hanson said. "You really get to know everyone. It is like a family away from family."
And like a family gathering it was when about 30 cyclists and sponsors gathered for an appreciation dinner Friday at the Murrieta home of Troy Lindstrom. Lindstrom, 50, just returned to cycling and is part of the local amateur team, CA Pools Racing.
More than 700 participants registered for this year's Tour de Murrieta, according to Race Technical Director and CA Pools team member Ernie Sanchez, making it one of the biggest turnouts yet.
It is the eighth annual event.