Collegiate Club
Clubs

University of Arizona

By: Kelly Clarke  April 24, 2019

Club Feature: University of Arizona out of Tucson earned 2018 Club of the Year for Collegiate Clubs. We asked UA Cycling some questions about what brought them to this success.

UA Cycling - 2018 Club of the Year - Collegiate Club

Collegiate clubs inherently see a lot of turnover with members because people graduate. How do you create a unified experience and build on each season?

Well, we never graduate. Kidding aside, we have an excellent faculty member who checks in and makes sure we stay organized. And the core leaders are graduate students, which gives you 6-8 years (masters and Ph.D.) of good, consistent leadership and mentorship of the undergraduates. The other part is to document everything. We store all of our files (financial, race promoting, travel planning, clothing designs, logos, photos…) on a Google Drive on the team’s e-mail account. We give access to all the officers and our faculty advisor. This documentation ensures that more than one person has all the knowledge about running the team.

What’s the hardest part of putting on an event, and how do you overcome it?

The hardest part is the government and university bureaucracy, which often leads to escalating costs. A classic example: in 2016 the state highway patrol decided they had to work our road race- at 2x the price of the sheriff’s deputies we used the previous two years. Why? They didn’t like the local law sitting on their state highway. In this case, there isn’t anything you can do besides say “Ok” or reroute the course (we rerouted the course). In other examples, it’s just jumping through hoops with paperwork and forms and staying in constant contact with the primary person for the county or school.

A very close second to bureaucracy is the anxiety associated with registration numbers. Everyone seems to wait until the last second to register. So, we’ll be refreshing our registration page 2 days before the race wondering if we’ll: make money, break even, or lose everything. The only thing we can do here is to advertise the event and hope it works.

How does your collegiate club connect with the broader community and amateur racing beyond the collegiate landscape?

In the Southwest, collegiate racing and domestic racing overlap. So the majority of our team rides for local teams like Sabino Cycles or Landis. For the events that don’t have collegiate races at them, we’ll still organize carpools and travel to them but won’t cover the entry fees or gas associated.

If there’s a college looking to start a new club, what advice would you give them?

Find a faculty/staff mentor that loves cycling- they’ll be your best friend when it comes to navigating the university system. Next, find ways to be visible on campus. This doesn’t have to be hosting a race right off the bat. Get a good handle on social media (Twitter, FB, and Insta) for your team. Maybe do a recruitment tent in the middle of campus and ride the rollers. Or, lead a few easy spins (NOT IN A KIT) to a nearby café or host a cycling movie night at your house. The point is to be seen, be social, keep it low key, and have fun. The students who race (or have raced) will find you, but you don’t want to scare away the new riders by being too intense.

UA Cycling has a ton of success stories. Share one with us.

Our favorite stories are the ones involving new riders and watching them grow and develop into leaders and top tier athletes. We’ve had several over the past 5 years (Erica Clevenger and David Greif, for example) and recently Tim Maley. Tim joined us with a background in fencing and triathlon as a first-year Ph.D. student in physiology (2016). He could ride well but had no racing experience. David convinced him to give cyclocross a try that fall and Tim went out on his single speed commuter and loved it! 2017 rolls around and Tim has a dedicated CX bike and works his way up to cat 3, and collegiate A. 2018 comes, and he puts more emphasis and focus on speed/skill work through the MTB season and comes out swinging for CX. Tim makes our nationals squad and then earns a spot on the relay team based on his performance in the men’s race. We’re the defending relay champs, so we have a bit of extra pressure on us. Tim is third in the rotation and needs to maintain the gap Grayson and Cara had created over Clemson. Not only does he do that- he has the fastest lap for club riders and extends it! Beyond that, Tim has grown into a fantastic leader and mentor for new riders and has does more than anyone to get people stoked and motivated to race. So, watching someone come into the sport with no experience and then put in the hard work to develop and win a national title is hands down the best success stories we have.

What can grassroots amateur racing learn from collegiate racing?

It’s about the team atmosphere and dynamics. Most amateur teams are focused on one or two categories of racers and exclude others. Collegiate cycling is a big tent- we have people across both genders who just picked up a bike yesterday to seasoned professionals. And, if you are focused on winning your conference titles, you have to have that diversity in ridership otherwise you miss out on so many points. Perhaps local associations can have team competitions that place value on a diverse membership, but that gets to the next point…

Collegiate cycling works, on the competition side, because there are already built in rivalries- of course, we want to beat [insert your classic in-state rivals here]! That doesn’t necessarily exist for amateur racing. We’re not sure how to recreate that dynamic, but it is a huge factor.

How do we connect the dots between junior racing, collegiate, and post-collegiate racing?

That’s the million-dollar question! Part of it is we need better marketing of the club programs to junior racers. As it stands, the varsity programs seem to get a lot of the limelight. We need to dispel the myth that the varsity programs are the only pathway for juniors to get into the elite ranks- it’s just not true.

Joey wrote this in a piece titled, “The Wicked Problem Road Cycling Faces” and it still holds, “Big teams provide the supportive environment that riders need to learn skills, such as how to paceline and corner, but also stay involved with the sport through social events and support at races. However, we’ve moved away from these large teams to smaller teams — regional elite teams or masters-only squads, teams where, unless you are already a skilled and experienced cyclist, then there is no room under the tent for you. The big cycling teams helped overcome the “elitist roadie” culture that makes our sport so unfriendly to new riders.” Post-collegiate, we need teams/clubs that are constructed on a similar model as collegiate teams. Not everyone graduates as an A rider looking to go pro or ride for a domestic elite team. We need more teams to expand their breadth and not be so insular on masters or cat 3s. 

What’s the most rewarding part of being a member of the University of Arizona cycling squad?

Being able to represent and compete alongside a group of people that slowly become your best friends throughout each season of racing. This develops bonds unlike anything else any of us have ever done. 

What’s the most important thing to teach a new rider?

Teaching them how to love riding a bike. And how to get back up when they fall and remind them why they loved riding in the first place. Too many riders get caught up in power meters and watts and diets when they first start. Those things are important but not as important as loving to ride and learning how to listen to your body.

How do you take those new riders one step further and teach them to be racers?

Nonstop tell them to do a cyclocross race in the fall and make the trip as fun as possible. After that, it’s easy to get them to race a road bike. Teaching them all the ins and outs of racing (Group handling) is also extremely important- especially if they have not done many group rides. We usually advertise the handling skills rides as fun days in the park to get people to show up. Again, it is about being low stress and not about kitting up and adding pressure.

How do you attract new members?

We do a lot of recruiting with on-campus events at the beginning of the year as well as some Facebook advertisements. As we said earlier, a lot of our recruitment comes from being visible on campus- all of our group rides meet in the middle of campus, so it’s impossible for the casual rider not to see us.

How does your club leadership balance academic commitments with racing and leading a team at the same time?

Time Management! Most of our leadership team is in graduate school, so we have to be efficient with our time. Emailing club related info and planning race trips often happens during lunch breaks from work and studying. Getting a weeks’ worth of work done between Monday and Friday is critical to travel and race successfully. 

How does being a member of the U of A cycling club change you as a person?

We do not believe merely being a member of a group changes you. However, The U of A Cycling Team has given us profound opportunities to step up and show what we are capable of in a way nothing has before. This includes stepping up in leadership roles and mentoring as well as competing at local and national level races. Those experiences are unforgettable and thus, change you. However, you miss every opportunity you don't take. 

What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to the U of A club or club member?

One of our new members his freshman year (we won’t name names, but he may ride for a domestic elite squad now…) thought his clincher wheelset was tubeless/clincher and tubular compatible. So, the week before the Arizona Hill Climb Championships, he glued a tubular tire to a clincher wheelset- using three tubes of glue on each wheel. He argued with a few of us endlessly the night before the race that the wheels could be set up for any tire. He raced on it anyway (!) and won the cat 5 field. Later on, he did some research on his own and found out that tubular tires didn’t fit and took them off.

Left to Right: David and Josh in a crit, Team Relay at CX Nats, Cara in a TT.