The 2012 Kit

The 2012 Kit

Monday, March 11, 2013

Roots in UVM Cycling

Cycling is raw, clean, geometric, simple, efficient, physical, challenging, classic, and even fashionable. It's a hobby like any other that can be a source for building relationships and overcoming challenges. Compete with yourself or the rest of the field. Marred by surfacing truths that had been buried in secret for so long, many feel that cycling is dirty, classless, frustrating, and unparalleled in its deceit. Don't let the fundamental beauty of riding a bike get overshadowed by gossip and news. Remember why you started. Let's get back to our roots.

Collegiate Criterium National Championships, May 2009
I had the most fun racing my bike when I was an amateur. I raced to take down the pros and I had a group of teammates who knew who I was as a person, cared for me as I did for them and we worked together to win against challenging odds. My friends and I were taught not to give the pros an inch. "Fuck those guys, we deserve that spot just as much as they do." And soon we believed it. We raced collegiate for the University of Vermont. We figured out how to win, how to set up a lead-out. How to chase points, how to sprint when we weren't sprinters and how to ride with a fighting passion you only learn when you work for everything you ever had. I paid my rent with my previous year's cycling gear that was soon to be obsolete and cleared as "mine." I sold wheels, I used my race winnings to pay the rent that I split with my teammates. I trained so that I could be prepared for challenging races in New England that professionals around the country would fly in to win on the National Racing Calendar. I trained for recognition against the guys that had massage therapists, unlimited water bottles and beds with sheets and pillows to sleep on for every race they traveled to. "The only way to get a contract is to beat the guys that have them."

The early season races started at the end of February or early March in the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference. So, we started training earlier. I always chose January or December to begin my base training for the following season because I'd race a full cyclocross calendar if I could, running all the way through December, sometimes January. Collegiate season is well underway, now. Two race weekends have finished and there are 6 more to go before Collegiate National Championships in Utah during the first weekend of May. This season, I intend to share my experience with the talented, younger but eager riders that we have, to build a team capable of challenging a national title as UVM did successfully three separate times between 2008 and 2009, and to develop a women's program as competitive as the men's has historically been.

Working with the UVM Team this season has been a complete pleasure. The team embodies that fighting character - the fire to win - that always burns so hot but can be expressed in even silence before the start of the race. I felt the energy of each rider when I went to the start to take jackets or collect the extra bottle off their bikes. "If you need that extra bottle, you're probably not going to be winning today." A sip and a toss. The body language, the focus. It tells all. It's as raw as anything else. You can see it in a boxing match if you want, or you can watch some chess on bicycles.

UVM had a decent first race weekend at Rutgers University, but everyone was getting that "first race" out of their systems - working out the kinks. The second weekend, however, was where the real learning takes flight. Race strategies can be used. And advice can be taken because they're not quite as worried about getting to the start without their gloves and glasses. The routine has been set and less energy has to be split between focus on race preparation and race tactics.

Grant's Tomb Criterium - nearly all the riders in every field were able to keep some piece of tactical advise in their minds during the races. Some were able to put the plan together to get a notable result, others were held back by a high volume week of training over spring break, but the learning curve had spiked culminating with a laudable 5th place finish from the UVM Men's A team in a difficult sprint finish.

Stevens Duck Country Apocolypse - The following day, nearly everyone improved on their results and UVM was just 4 points away from taking the overall win for the day. With work still to be done in every field, it's clear that the desire to win burns in all of these young adults. It's such a breath of fresh air to be around riders developing in the sport. The rawness of the ride. That clean, fresh air in the morning and to hear the sounds of man and machine. Someone breathes. The ticks of the palls in the freehub spinning when you pedal backwards. A cough. The crisp shift of new Dura Ace. The whispers at the start, the silence, the sounds of focus, the sounds of body language.

UVM is back. 1st Men's A, 1st Women's B, 4th Men's B. And still, frustrated riders come back to the vans knowing the mistakes they made, what could've gone better, eager for the next chance to fight for the win. The chance to learn in a strategic sport among company of your friends and classmates is such a uniquely, undervalued occurrence, that it deserves as much attention as a young American winning at Pro level races in Europe, maybe more.

Oh, you've aided nurses in the delivery room? She is studying elementary education and works 20 hours a week while in school and still comes to races? He writes for the local paper, is finishing his Thesis for a BA in Political Science and also won the Men's A race on Sunday. She's raced mountain bikes at World Championships, but wants to bang around on the road bike for a little before going abroad for a year in France to study, what was it again?" Dinner in this company is a lot more entertaining than watching your Italian teammate remove the soft bread from the center of his crusty baguette because he believes it absorbs fluid in your stomach and that that is unhealthy. Even riding around in a smelly van is a lot more fun because you won't get scoffed at for requesting the window to be cracked or the A/C to be turned on.

At Philly, we're going to show up with 30 riders. Not a seat will be open in all 3 vans, with not a bike slot to spare in the trailer. Every one of them will know that real, physical sensation of welding their nervous bodies to their indifferent but primed machines to make them move through space and time.