Germany's Horbach dominating the road for CMU cycling team

Ariane Horbach knew it would be difficult to make a living as a professional cyclist in Europe, and colleges in Germany don’t have sports programs. She started looking at opportunities at American colleges and was contacted by Colorado Mesa coach Patric Rostel, who is also from Germany.

Ariane Horbach of the Colorado Mesa University cycling team.

Being at the front of the pack has become the norm this season for CMU road cyclist Ariane Horbach, who has dominated the competition this season. The German-born cyclist got her first bike when she was 10 years old.

When Patric Rostel heard about a talented young cyclist from Germany looking to come to the United States, he went to work.

The Colorado Mesa University cycling coach is in his first full year on the job, so he’s pretty new to recruiting. But he had the inside route on this recruit.

He knew Ariane Horbach would be a great addition to the CMU cycling team, so he fired off an email.

The rest of the colleges never had a chance. Rostel’s email was written in German.

“Yes, I think that helped,” he said with a chuckle. “It made her feel very comfortable.”

This spring, the 20-year-old Horbach has dominated the Division II road-racing circuit, winning four criterium races and five road races.

Even Rostel, who is from Berlin, is a bit surprised at how well she’s done.

“I didn’t think she would destroy everyone like she has,” Rostel said.

The word “destroy” is accurate.

On Saturday night, she continued her opponent destruction with yet another first-place finish in the Maverick Classic Criterium.

Horbach is soft-spoken and humble when she talks about her success this season, always preferring to deflect the individual accolades in favor of recognizing the CMU team.

“The team is doing really well. It’s not just me,” she said.

There are a number of team strategies that make for success in bike racing, but there’s no doubt her ability and her individual dominance has had a profound impact on Division II cycling and the CMU team.

Horbach’s racing background is steeped in success that’s been molded at the elite level in Germany, and competing in United Cyclists International races in Belgium, South Africa and the Ukraine.

She said collegiate racing is more fun and less intense.

“Even though collegiate cycling isn’t as competitive as elite racing in Europe, I enjoy racing in the U.S. a lot,” she said.

It hasn’t been fun for her opponents this season competing against her.

Horbach’s dominance has been jaw-dropping. In a sport where so many factors can derail a cyclist’s quest for victory, she continues to win week after week.

Rostel, who is the most decorated cyclist in CMU history, said Horbach’s experience sets her apart, and riding against high-level European competition has made her an extremely aggressive bike racer.

Success and experience

Horbach already has nine years of high-level bike-racing experience.

With that kind of background, Horbach brings a rare dynamic to the team. It’s the same kind of experience and success Rostel brought to the team when he was racing. He said the team has benefited from Horbach’s success.

“It’s good to have someone like that, and it gives the other people motivation,” he said. “Her European experience brings a lot to the team.”

CMU co-captain Cullen Easter agreed, saying, “She has so much experience, and to have someone with that kind of experience really gives the team a lot of confidence.”

Lexie Millard, the other co-captain, said Horbach’s success has never taken her focus off the team.

“It’s been amazing (having her on the team),” Millard said. “She’s so nice and always willing to help.”

For versatile CMU rider Ariana Dittmer, who has competed in the track, mountain biking, cyclocross and now the road season, having Horbach as a mentor is extremely helpful.

“She rode a lot with guys in Germany, so she has so much experience. She gives us a lot of advice on racing and stuff off the bike as well,” Dittmer said.

Growing up racing

Horbach’s first bicycle was a mountain bike when she was 10 years old. She hit the trails and dirt roads around her small village of Buchholz, south of Hamburg.

It wasn’t long before she got a road bike, and her competitiveness shifted into high gear.

“After I won a few races, I really started to like it. I really liked the competition part of it,” Horbach said.

After nine years of racing against highly skilled veteran riders in Europe, it was time to think about her future and possibly going to college.

“Professional women’s cycling is a tough, frustrating business,” she said. “In fact, it is very difficult, even for competitive women, to get a contract and to have a stable income.”

That’s when Horbach started doing some research, and she was thrilled with what she discovered.

“Since German universities do not really have sports programs, I got really excited when I found out that American universities do have cycling programs,” she said.

Fast forward to Rostel’s email, which led to more conversations, chatting via Skype, and soon an agreement to come to Grand Junction and CMU was forged.

Since Rostel had to navigate the paper trail that comes with foreign student-athletes coming to the U.S., he was a wealth of information and help to Horbach.

CMU’s recent cycling success definitely factored into her decision.

“The school has one of the country’s best cycling programs and a great academic program,” she said.

In the classroom, Horbach is studying business with a focus on information technology.

Coming to America

Horbach started classes in the fall and competed with the Mavericks’ track cycling team, which claimed its first-ever national championship.

Being more than 5,000 miles away from home and living in a foreign country made her first few months as rugged as riding on the European roads paved with cobblestones.

“The first semester was a big challenge for me,” she admitted. “I moved into my first apartment, far away from home.”

Even though Horbach had studied English in Germany, there were major challenges with the language.

“I had a hard time keeping up in school since my English was not fluent, and I had to get adjusted to the American culture,” she said. “All in all I had to learn many things in a very short amount of time.”

When she’s not on the bike, she’s just another CMU student. She enjoys shopping at Sprouts, where she dives into the bulk food items, and she occasionally goes out to sample her new favorite food.

“I like Mexican food a lot,” she said. “Before I came here I never had Mexican food, but now burritos are one of my favorites.”

Horbach trains up to 20 hours per week on the bike, but she accepts that as part of the opportunity to attend a college and compete.

“Although juggling training, racing and school can be tough sometimes, I am thankful and happy for the amazing chance,” she said.

She said collegiate racing is much less intense than the European racing of her past, and team spirit is the extremely enjoyable part of racing for CMU.

“I never experienced that much of a team spirit in cycling before,” she said. “It is great that everyone is involved and how we are supporting each other. It really is like a big family.”

She hasn’t given up on her dream of riding professionally, but for now she’s enjoying being a student and cyclist at a U.S. university. And being a good teammate and eating burritos.

On the bike, she’s the woman with a target on her Division II jersey. But she’s the one providing the destruction.


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