Recounting the thrills of competing with the Colby Cycling Club, Alexandra "Alex" Jospe '06 described a scene that would scare the helmet off of even a serious recreational rider.
Photo by Lexi Funk 06
Photo by Lexi Funk 06
Touching tires with competitors while plummeting down hills. Leaning into a curve in a pack of riders so tight that "there's a lot of bumping and elbows at thirty-four miles an hour."
"You have to avoid falling down," Jospe said. "There's a lot of screaming to hold your line."
Jospe and teammates Clara "Callie" McDowell '06 and Alexandra "Lexi" Funk '06 did more than hold the line this spring. Competing at the elite A level, they turned in top-10 finishes in major eastern races and pedaled Colby to a 17th-place finish in the Division II nationals in Kansas in May, just behind Bucknell and the U.S. Military Academy. Jospe placed 11th, McDowell 15th, and Funk 44th.
And all this with a minimal $1,000 budget, without a coach or money for travel, driving their own bike-laden cars to races as far away as Pennsylvania, and cramming 10 team members into a single motel room.
Cycling is a club sport at Colby, not a varsity team, but that hasn't prevented the Mules from going head to head with"and beating"cycling programs that have bigger squads and fatter budgets. A team that was once mistaken for the team from Columbia (the race official was quickly corrected) has recently emerged as a force in college cycling, with the road-racing women beating Middlebury, Yale, and Williams at nationals.
How do they do it? "I think it's safe to say we're all pretty competitive," McDowell said.
They have to be. They're training for cycling in a place where the season begins before the ice melts. With some riders coming directly from the nordic ski season (Jospe has been to Junior Olympics for skiing, too), Colby cyclists, like other New England racers, face winter sand, potholes, and early-spring wind chills that plummet when you're traveling 25 m.p.h. or faster. "It's not the best conditions," McDowell said of her training rides through Central Maine, "but the contour changes and the views are the best."
The cyclists measure their training runs not in miles but in hours"from two to as many as five. McDowell's record stint on her dorm-room trainer (a device that turns a racing cycle into a stationary bike) is three hours and 15 minutes"the kind of preparation needed for road races that typically are on courses of 50 miles or more.
All of the hard work paid off for the trio at the nationals, a heady first look at the best in American collegiate cycling. "It's still a little bit amazing to take it to this level," Jospe said.
The team has had big finishes, but as this trio leaves Colby"McDowell joining a cycling team based in the San Francisco area, Jospe recruited to the National Ski Orienteering Team, and Funk taking a position with a consulting firm"the racers reflect on how much of the thrill comes from the racing itself. They smiled as they spoke of rounding corners in the closed-course time trial called a criterium, rolling along in the wind-breaking pack of cyclists known as the peloton.
"That and the sound of the tires," Jospe said. "You hear this big whoosh."
For more visit the Colby Cycling Club Web site.