Cyclist of the Month: Gabe Castillo
Wheels: Cervelo Soloist. “I did my first five STPs on a mountain bike with slicks. I have now seen the light and ride a Cervelo I got for my 50th birthday.”
Occupation: Branch Manager, AVP at HomeStreet Bank
Like many riders out there, Gabe Castillo rediscovered cycling later in life, after a knee injury forced him to find a new sport. It was lonely at first, so for the past 16 years he’s been helping new rec riders find community and friendships while training for Cascade events.
Growing up in Seattle’s View Ridge neighborhood, Gabe remembers how much he enjoyed riding.
“I rode as a kid and still have the scars to prove it. I had a simple, single-speed red bike my father bought for me from Goodwill. I thought it was the coolest bike!” said Gabe. “My funnest [sic] memories of childhood was riding that bike. I rode to school, rode it with friends and did my paper route with it.”
Gabe said he grew out of it when he got his first car but rediscovered cycling when he was 37.
“When my knee had gone out playing basketball, I needed a new sport. I’m terrible at golf so I thought, ‘I like biking,’ and gave it a try. I started watching the Tour and this is when Armstrong inspired so many Americans to try cycling. It motivated me,” said Gabe. “And I’m really glad I rediscovered [cycling].”
Gabe rode his first Group Health Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic in 1997.
“I did it alone and it was lonely,” Gabe recalled. “This was back in the day when it was held on the Solstice weekend. It was pouring rain and it was hard. I vowed I wouldn’t do it again.”
Yet in July Gabe finished his 17th consecutive STP. He rode it in one day, and supported first-time STP-riding Gruppetto members the next day.
The Gruppetto Cycling Club is a riding group Gabe founded after his miserable and lonely STP experience. After he returned from the STP that year, he found others to ride with and started a club.
A Tour de France fan, Gabe named the club after the group of riders that forms at the back of a multi-day cycling race. They ride at a pace just fast enough to finish within the day’s time limit but aren’t about to win anything.
“It seemed a fitting name for the group,” said Gabe.
Now in its 16th year, the club welcomes all levels of riders who are interested in riding Cascade events, especially the STP.
“Members come and go. There are no dues, no requirements. The group’s mission is to get people to meet with cycling as the common ground,” said Gabe. “Many of us have become lifelong friends, and some have met and gotten married. We have a nice cross section of the pie with riders of all ethnicities, ages and socio-economic statuses. Our only requirement is that you enjoy cycling and ride safely. “
The Gruppettos ride a full season of events, starting with the Chilly Hilly in February and ending with the Kitsap Color Classic in the fall.
“The STP is our marquee event. It’s a bucket list item for so many. [With the Gruppetto Cycling Club] I try to provide them with as much training and preparation as possible,” said Gabe, who, in addition to rides, hosts an annual pre-STP BBQ to answer questions and prepare his members for the upcoming event.
Over the years, Gabe said he’s ridden with more than 300 Gruppetto members at STP events.
But having had STP as the marquee event for the past 16 years is both a blessing and a curse, said Gabe.
“There are some years I get too busy to train but I can’t break the streak. So many people count on me to do it. I do it for the group. I may have to re-evaluate after my 20th STP. I may take a year off,” he admitted. “But I still get a kick out of watching people finish. The excitement of the newcomers revitalizes me. To see that accomplishment and that ‘I can do anything’ realization. It feels good.”
And it helps him sleep.
“Sometimes when I can’t sleep, I visualize the route in my head,” said Gabe. “I’m usually asleep by the time I hit Puyallup Hill.”
Two offshoot “cousin groups” have come out of Gruppetto Cycling Club: Team LAFBL – Life After Forty Bicycling League –in Seattle’s south end and in Bellevue.
“The membership takes care of itself – people will come and go –but my goal is to keep [the Club] going and provide people with training and preparation they need to help them achieve their bucket list items,” said Gabe.
To start riding with Gruppetto Cycling Club, find them on Facebook.
Know a cyclist who deserves some special recognition? Nominate them for cyclist of the month! Send your ideas to Anne-Marije Rook at email@example.com.