Collegiate cyclists driven by love of sport
Few athletes have affected a sport the way Lance Armstrong shaped cycling.
His enormous success ushered in a new era of United States cycling during his decade-long run at the top.
Then with his arrogant, pompous confession and admission to using performance enhancing drugs, he went from cycling Superman to the man of steal. It also left the sport with the ugliest possible black eye.
On Saturday, some of the best collegiate bike racers in the nation came to Grand Junction. They came to race and they race because they love the sport.
They all ride because they love to ride.
As millions watched and cringed in disgust at Armstrong’s confession, the sport of cycling and the word doping were linked.
And they should be. But it’s not fair to the young athletes who ride and race for the love of cycling. Don’t tell them their sport is tainted.
For Patric Rostel, who dominated the field in winning his second straight Maverick Classic Criterium title, doping and the discussion that follows is an unfortunate part of the sport.
“There’s a lot of frustration in the sport. A lot of the young athletes who have nothing to do with (doping) get put into the same category,” said Rostel, who is both the coach and rider for Colorado Mesa.
Even CMU was hit with a doping scandal when former coach Rick Crawford was fired in mid-December after he admitted to helping a couple of professional cyclists dope when he coached them.
Rostel hopes and believes that the sport is getting cleaner, but he also wants people to see cycling as a great sport.
From the highest-level athlete to the up-and-comers, Saturday’s criterium showcased the entire range of racer.
These cyclists arrived to compete, to race and to enjoy the ride.
CMU rider Morgan Ryan understands why the sport remains under the microscope.
“It’s still a huge issue that is plaguing the sport. Hopefully as time progresses, everything gets cleaned up and the sport becomes cleaner, then people will focus on actual racing,” he said.
Reaching speeds of up to 40 mph, criterium riders zipped through downtown Grand Junction in flashy team uniforms showing guts and skill. Don’t tell them that their sport is about doping.
A pair of University of Colorado riders, Hannah Rifkin and Katie Cartee, crashed. Looking dazed, with bandages covering their road rash, their day came to a painful end. Don’t tell them their sport is tainted.
Lance Armstrong is irrelevant to the riders at the Maverick Classic. They ride for the love of the sport. For the college riders, the sport provides lessons just like other sports.
“Cycling teaches you a lot about working hard, how to be a team player, how to communicate with different kinds of people,” said German native Rostel. “It teaches great values.”
As an engineering student, Ryan has a 16-credit load this semester but still puts in about 20 hours a week on the bike.
To train two, three or more hours a day is a huge commitment. But that’s what it takes to be a successful collegiate cyclist.
Ryan jokes that his hand-eye coordination is rather atrocious, so ball sports were never an option. But cycling is his sport.
“I love racing. It’s what I do and I love every minute of it,” he said.
The sport is in the spotlight for reasons these riders can’t control. But they race and ride because they love it.
For thousands of recreational riders, the love of the sport is the same. It’s about the bike, about the ride, about the challenge and pushing limits.
Cycling is misunderstood by most. Fans and spectators understand football, basketball, baseball and the other mainstream sports. But when it comes to cycling, Lance Armstrong and his dirty deeds are the focus for many.
For the competitors Saturday, it was the challenge of pushing one’s limits. It’s what appeals to all levels of cyclists.
With a satisfied, wide smile after his third-place finish in the Men’s C race, Andrew Giniat, a first-year collegiate cyclist from CU, summed up the appeal of cycling.
“There’s a correlation between your work and how well you do. Your success is totally based on how much effort you put into it,” he said. “I love the pain. It’s as much a mental sport as it is a physical sport and I love pushing my mind as much as I push my body.”
Even though he was talking about racing, those words ring true with every level of cyclist, from competitive to recreational.
Cycling is a sport that challenges the body and mind.
The sport is so much bigger than Lance Armstrong.
Saturday was all about cycling and athletes who love the sport. Saturday was about all that’s good about the sport.