SLU cyclists clipped in and ready to ride

“So, what do you think about the team this year? There’s quite a bit of buzz, think they can live up to the hype? This could be a key year for SLU cycling.”

“Wait, what? What the hell’s cycling? I thought you were talking about the basketball team…”

The sport of cycling has not exactly grabbed hold of the American public. It has been viewed by many people, unjustly, as something foreign, something that is for Europeans of a less masculine disposition, but those people haven’t been paying attention.The sport is grueling; it’s an intense physical struggle to conquer distances, to achieve something with grit and determination.Not to mention the fact that American riders and American teams have come to dominate professional cycling in the past two decades. As a result, there has been a rapid growth in the amount of recreational bikers around the country and a spur in the number of collegiate club teams.

Saint Louis University’s club cycling team is themselves experiencing growth during this cycling heyday. The team was formed in 1997, and it took off at a rapid pace. However, from the mid 2000s to around 2008, the team experienced a lull in both participation and results. First year med student and team leader Ian Hackett is very optimistic about the team’s direction. “When I first joined in 2009, we only had about 10 to 11 guys. Now we have close to 20, so it’s almost doubled. And we’re anticipating more members,” he said. The team competes in the MidWest Collegiate Cycling Conference, whose season usually starts on the last weekend in February and lasts until around finals time in May. Things can be a bit tricky early on, since the late winter/early springtime in the midwest is known for erratic, inconsistent weather. Hackett remembers how he’s raced in both rain and snow. Indeed, the team will practice outside as long as it is above 25 degrees.

Competitions are a two-day ordeal. Saturdays are a road race over a certain mileage, which depends on the level of the riders. Points are earned for where a rider finishes. Sunday is the criterion competition, which is a bit more complex, but essentially it is a circuit race. In this portion, riders try to complete a specific amount of laps in a certain time, with extra points worked into the competition for achieving other tasks within the race. There are four levels at which riders race based on skill level: A, B, C and D. A is the highest level and D is for beginners. Levels A and B may have road races that can be up to 85 miles and beyond, while level D stays shorter with 18-20 mile races.

The majority of the team’s riders are in the beginner category, which is perfectly fine with Hackett. According to him, the club really is a grass roots organization; it’s laid back and about having fun. “We’re building a community of cyclists, teaching people about the sport. Community and safety are our top priorities,” he says sincerely. He acknowledges that some teams do take it seriously, but that’s not the team’s style. Hackett and other team leaders hope to educate people about the sport, to help others improve and to become part of the flourishing bike scene around St. Louis.

With a more relaxed atmosphere around the team, Hackett hopes the squad will continue to grow in numbers and popularity on campus. In the meantime, expect to see the squad training hard on and around campus as the warm weather holds out.

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