Collegiate cycling can last a lifetime
Rostel, Mavericks cap magical season of cycling
Today is the final race for the Colorado Mesa University Class of 2013 Cycling Team. Patric Rostel is the last of the four-man dynasty to graduate.
With Conor and Kevin Mullervy, Richard Geng and Patric, the team won back-to-back team time trial national championships, the overall men’s omnium and two individual criterium championships.
When Patric graduates this month, he will trade his chamois and lycra of an athlete for the grind of coaching. He was recently selected as the team’s head coach and will have an immediate impact on the future of the program.
Today’s road race of 125 kilometers for the men and 101 kilometers for the women most likely will decide whether CMU can defend their lead as the top-ranked Division II collegiate cycling team in the United States.
As I write this column, I can’t help but reflect upon my own collegiate experiences and what role I think collegiate cycling can play in the development of the sport.
Some of my earliest cycling experiences were with my Cal Berkeley teammates on the B team in the spring of 1990. I did not have much success as a collegiate racer; but it helped to pique my interest in the sport.
I will never forget the thrill of my final collegiate race. It was a criterium in Berkeley, and the course finished on Bancroft Avenue just in front of the Boalt Law School. I crashed during the race but managed to get back up and finish second to my teammate.
It is no secret the sport of cycling has struggled to control the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). It has been an ailment that spread through all levels of the peloton.
It is easy to focus on testing and controls and punishment, but perhaps we should examine the symptoms. But this is not as easy as it appears either. What are the symptoms? Why do people cheat? These are not easy questions to answer.
Perhaps one answer lies in options. Many of these young men and women don’t have other options. And this is where I believe collegiate cycling can play a significant role in the future of the sport.
If I am objective about my decision to walk away from the sport and honest with myself, I have to realize that I had options. I had earned a degree well before I became a professional. This simple piece of paper gave me options that most of my peers did not have. I was no better or stronger than they were; I simply had another avenue to find gainful employment.
Even today, degrees in the peloton are unusual. My understanding is only 5 percent of the peloton at the 2012 Vuelta Espana had earned a degree.
I am not so naïve as to think having a degree will eliminate the use of PEDs in cycling. But I do believe having more options and knowledge may lead to better choices. And statistically speaking, those with college educations are far better off financially than those who do not attend college.
College is a place where young men and women grow. Students are encouraged to ask questions and driven to seek the truth. Young men and women also gain confidence in their analytical and intellectual abilities.
So, how can collegiate cycling earn a more prominent place in the development pool for American cyclists? USA Cycling recently partnered with the Primal Pro Women’s racing team to award the winners of the Division I and Division II criterium a spot on the team for a national race.
This program is an excellent opportunity for collegiate women to get some national exposure and recognition.
In addition, the top six women in the omnium rankings will be teamed together to race in the Nature Valley Grand Prix, which is one of the top professional races in the US.
This program could be expanded to the men. The school calendar with its long breaks and summers off allows for racing and training on an international basis, and perhaps the top three riders at road nationals could be offered slots in important international races with Team USA.
To encourage graduation and reward the effort of maintaining good grades, USA Cycling could partner with professional trade teams to offer “stagiere” contracts to men and women who graduate with a B average and are nationally ranked at the collegiate level. This also could benefit teams as they pursue corporate sponsors.
By making a commitment to education and educated athletes, a team can offer sponsors more than simple brand marketing. They are making a clear commitment to education, which may broaden potential sponsorship appeal.
Research also suggests students with good grades perform better as athletes. The reasons for this directly relate to the work effort of the student athletes. It takes hard work to earn good grades, and this work ethic translates well to the athletic field and the work environment.
The use of PEDs in cycling has proven difficult to eradicate, and it may never be eliminated. I do believe the sport is cleaner than it has been in years. Certainly better testing, harsh penalties and more openness can contribute to the solution.
But I think education also can play a part. The worst-case scenario is we have more men and women with degrees.