A nod of the head, a flick of the elbow, and a brief bit of chatter, that’s all it took for the casual pace to escalate. With a winter of preparation in the rear-view mirror, collegiate racing was rolling, all with the assistance of University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), hosts of a climber’s paradise in Pearblossom, California.
Words: Sean Bird| Images: Sean Bird and Paul Schmidt
Recently, Alex Howes, a road cyclist with Cannondale-Drapac Pro Cycling Team, dropped knowledge from inside the WorldTour peloton. “Nowadays, with all these marginal gains, it’s a sport full of weight weenies, power dorks, and flesh-and-blood robots,” said Howes.
On the contrary, while not elevated to the same level as professional cycling, collegiate road racing is injecting cycling with a sense of lightheartedness. In Southern California, discussions of Belgian speculoos crushing the Americanized, Trader Joe’s equivalent, talk of Lachlan Morton, and not taking sport so seriously whistled through the air. For men and women who are simultaneously balancing a course load, practice program, part-time work, and some sort of social life, cycling provides a sense of relief.
This lightheartedness doesn’t imply that collegiate road racing isn’t “badass,” a criteria for improving modern cycling, as mentioned by Howes. Infiltrating the UCLA road race was Menso de Jong, a former member of Jelly Belly Cycling, as well as numerous students that have competed in Belgium, an eye-opening experience for aspiring cyclists. This collegiate posse qualifies as a “hardcore” peloton, an additional bit from Howes.
(Sean Bird: Image by Paul Schmidt)
Plenty of competition, especially from a load of talented cyclists, caused the Collegiate Men’s A field to become splintered when the pace was inflated on lap three. With University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) driving the pace, it wasn’t long before I was dispatched, settling for 14th position. Meanwhile, Cal Poly Cycling’s Colin Patterson proceeded trading punches with the front group, finishing the day in fourth place. Between all collegiate fields, Cal Poly Cycling contributed 12 athletes to the UCLA road race, tallying three top-five finishes.
While it is easy to oversimplify, collegiate road cyclists seem to represent a relaxed crowd, all while maintaining a balance. With this bunch, as I discovered in the Collegiate Men’s A field at UCLA road race, when it comes time to nod the head, flick the elbow, and throw down the gauntlet, collegiate road racing is doing just fine.
(Editors note: Sean is going to be documenting his collegiate race season for Peloton Magazine in 2017).