Middlebury Cyclists Keep The Wheels Turning

By Alex Morris

The Middlebury Cycling Team has quietly become a powerhouse.

After the fall mountain bike season and the winter cyclocross season, it’s now time for road racing. The highlight of the winter season came on Jan. 12, when Sam O’Keefe ’16.5 rode to second place in the Division II US Collegiate Cyclocross National Championship in Boulder, CO. Now, it is halfway through the two-month spring season, and in that time, nine Middlebury riders have competed in races in Philadelphia and New York. The team has claimed three wins, two second-place finishes, and a fourth-place finish. With only these results, Middlebury is currently ranked eighth among east coast Division-II schools.

Collegiate cycling is unique in that any student from any school on the east coast can compete in races organized by the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference (ECCC). That means that first-years from Skidmore might race against 26-year old Yale Medical School students. Road, mountain, cyclocross and track cycling all have their own seasons.

In road racing, men and women race in time trials (against the clock), criteriums (short course, lots of laps), circuit races (medium course, multiple laps) and road races (long course, few laps). Most of the events vary in distance based on each of the five categories – Intro, D, C, B, and A, in ascending order of the level of competition.

The Intro category is a great way to start bike racing, or even just to get a taste of what the pros do in the Tour de France; each race is preceded by a clinic with a veteran coach who guides new cyclists through the technicalities of racing with other competitors. From there, racers work their way up through the categories by accumulating points from good results in each respective field.

The most elite category, the A category, frequently sees professional and nationally-acclaimed riders. Since cycling is not an NCAA sport, professionally paid athletes are permitted to compete at all collegiate events. At the end of the two-month road season that features events around the northeast, the top men and women racers from the ECCC A category travel to nationals, where they compete against other collegiate teams from across the country.

This year, Middlebury Cycling, one of the oldest and most productive sports teams at the College, is stacked with a diverse and talented group of racers.

Alex Gimbel ’16.5 fell in love with cycling when she got to Middlebury, but she had never considered racing until a couple friends on the team convinced her to give it a shot. In her first intercollegiate cycling weekend on March 15-16, Gimbel decided to race in the women’s Intro category. Saturday’s circuit race found Gimbel charging off to the front of the pack, with only one rider from Temple University able to stay on her wheel. Gimbel claimed second place, a truly amazing result for her first-ever bike race. But Gimbel wanted to win, and she exacted her revenge during Sunday’s criterium, breaking away from the main field on the first lap and winning the race by nearly a minute.

That same weekend, Kai Wiggins ’16.5 and Zack Isaacs ’15.5 raced in the men’s A category. They targeted Sunday’s criterium as the race to win. Halfway through the race, a 10-man breakaway split from the main field. Wiggins attacked the breakaway relentlessly, before he and a rider from Northeastern University left the group behind entirely. On the last lap, Wiggins powered away from his companion to take a definitive victory.

The next weekend on March 22, the team traveled to Bard College for another criterium. Jake Barker ’16 and O’Keefe raced in the Men’s B field. O’Keefe rode like a lion throughout the race, countering moves and riding at the front of the pack, but with five laps to go, Barker attacked with a rider from Northeastern up the climb on the back half of the course. O’Keefe slipped off the front of the pack to let the others try to chase his teammate down, but their efforts were for naught, and Barker captured another second-place finish for Middlebury Cycling.

Looking forward, the team will be traveling to Dartmouth for L’Enfer du Nord, to the University of Vermont for the Mount Philo Road Race and to the conference championship in Providence, RI in late April.

With Isaacs already qualified, the team is also planning to send a small contingent of members to the U.S. Collegiate Road National Championship in Richmond, VA, in May.

The cycling team is always looking for new members, and anyone interested should send an email to [email protected], or just flag down someone in spandex.