By: Grace Hatton, Editor-In-Chief
Although still in its infancy, the Warren Wilson Road Cycling team has proved itself to be a formidable force. The team, which was established last spring thanks to student enthusiasts, just completed its second successful season and a trip to Nationals.
The Road Cycling team now joins the ranks of Wilson teams that have made an appearance at national conferences, teams such as both of the basketball teams, the paddling team, and the mountain biking team. It might be easy to put the road cycling team and the mountain biking team in the same category, but the two sports are actually remarkably different.
Apart from the obvious difference of racing on pavement instead of trails there are also differences in the style of the race and the tactics of it. In mountain biking, the rider is racing alone or with one or two other riders. During road racing, the riders race in packs ranging from 30 to 150 riders, where everyone is fighting to reach near the front of the pack. This leads to another aspect of road racing that is different from mountain biking, the tactics of it all. According to road cycling head Coach Matt Williams, road racers will use up to 40% less energy if they are behind someone due to drafting. Because of this, most racers are attempting to get as close to the front as they can without actually being at the front. Then riders will try to attack and get clear of other riders, and the riders behind decide if they want to chase or not. All of this makes the whole race very complicated.
“Road racing is often compared to a chess match (i.e. tactics can win or lose the race),” says Coach Williams, “except that you’re playing while riding at your physical limit with your heart rate as high as 180-190 bpm with 50 other people right next to you while racing up and down climbs and navigating tight corners at top speed. It’s pretty exciting.”
During last year’s inaugural season, the road cycling team made an immediate impact by winning a stage event at a race in Georgia. Williams was brought on as head coach for this season in order to improve the team’s ability to work together and to build the team’s roster, among other things. This season, Williams quadrupled the size of the team, growing it to 16 riders. Since becoming Head Coach, Williams has proved himself to be a credit to the Athletic Department. “Matt Williams brings incredible knowledge and professionalism to our program,” says Athletic Department Director Stacey Enos “As a Warren Wilson student, Matt was dedicated and motivated to push not only himself but his team. He has been on the bike a long time and is very well connected throughout the US. When Matt threw his name in the hat for the position, I knew our college had a great candidate and the riders would be inspired by him.”
The road cycling team’s journey to Nationals this season began back in January. The team trains once a day, 5 to 6 days a week. Training also includes strength workouts at 7am in the gym, shorter road rides 4 days a week and long 2-5 hour rides on the weekends. “It’s a really long, hard season,” says Williams. “Road Cycling requires more hours on the bike than mountain biking for sure (to be competitive). The riders on the team put in an extraordinary amount of work this spring.”
The road cycling team had a full conference season, racing against other teams in the South East. In order to qualify for Nationals, members of the road cycling team had to move up the ranks to the A category and then perform well in that category. Road cycling team member Allison Jones was able to upgrade to category A and, in turn, did well enough to qualify for the main events at Nationals. Two other riders, Bergen West and Rob Leeson, attended Nationals. Although they did not qualify for the main events, they did gain experience in some non-championship races that were held in conjunction with the event. Two other riders also qualified but were forced to stay home due to injuries.
The National Championship was held in Richmond, VA, May 2-4. Over 400 collegiate athletes from 46 different states were representing 115 different schools during the three days of competition. There were three races at Nationals; on Friday there was a 20 mile Time Trial, which was unique due to riders competing solo against the clock. On Saturday, the criterium, a fast race downtown with lots of laps, was held. “The local police officers were calling it the Nascar Race,” says Williams.
On Sunday, the road race was held. “Allison (in the women’s race) did 45 miles,” says Jones “The course went right through downtown Richmond and riders did 5 laps of a 9+ mile circuit, including a viciously hard cobblestone climb/descent, and then another hard climb to the finish.”
Jones placed in the top 15 in both the time trial and the road race. In the criterium, she made her way to the lead group. “She just didn’t have the sprint at the end,” says Williams “But considering she’d never raced a road bike before this spring, these were amazing rides.”
Leeson also placed fifth in his race, riding what Williams called “a really smart race tactically to make that happen.”
Both Williams and Enos are extremely happy with the results from Nationals.” The Athletic Department is thrilled,” says Enos “Matt Williams and Nina Otter, the assistant coach, have done a great job guiding these athletes the entire year. It’s our first true road cycling season and to have a rider qualify for nationals speaks volume about their planning, preparation and coaching.”
Williams is keenly aware that of how much the road cycling team has improved during this season and is excited for the future of the program “Honestly, if you’d asked me about this in January I’d have told you we wouldn’t be at Nationals this spring, but that we’re were really hoping to be in a place to make it happen in 2015,” says Williams. “I knew our riders were putting in the work to be fast, but I wasn’t sure that would be enough to make it to Nationals (experience road racing and tactical knowledge play such a big role). I’m so proud of my riders and the team really surpassed my expectations. Now we’ve gained some experience we’re ready to get ourselves ready for the 2015 Nationals, which will be held in Asheville.”