With four major universities adding more riders, the races will provide a first look at this season’s teams.
“As always, we plan on being aggressive,” said Joey Iuliano, UA Cycling Club president. His team dominates the conference with 76 riders.
“We have the numbers on our side in all categories, so we plan on making the other teams work,” Iuliano said. “The road race is tricky since we race with the non-collegiate fields. For the men’s A, this means being in the stacked Pro 1/2/3 field, so hanging on will be a big goal.”
The two races mark the first time this year the 10 teams in the Southwest Collegiate Cycling Conference have an opportunity to claim best cycling school in the region.
By the numbers, the collegiate road season almost always comes down to one of the nation’s oldest rivalries – Arizona State University versus University of Arizona. But this year University of New Mexico and Northern Arizona University want to spoil the party. They each have more riders and plan on attending more races.
“We actually have a team this year,” said Douglas Torres, president of UNM Cycling. “Having experienced racers that nobody in the conference has raced against before will give them a slight element of surprise, as nobody in the conference knows our riders’ strengths and weaknesses yet.”
UNM’s presence, along with more Cat A men’s riders from ASU and a bigger and more serious team from NAU, could put the pressure on UA, which has dominated in the past in that category.
“We have the strongest road showing I have seen in quite some time,” NAU Cycling president Chris Leffler said. “Not only do we have the numbers, but we have a good mentality going into the first races, with many riders very determined and excited to perform.”
Still, both UA and ASU have grown in numbers, with ASU to 45. Iuliano said the large number can help in races across categories and achieve the goals of his UA team, which is on track to becoming varsity status in USA Cycling.
“We’re really hoping to repeat as conference champions and claim the men’s and women’s Cat A omnium as well,” Iuliano said. “The big goal is a top five [finish] at nationals in the team time trial.”
But competing schools say numbers aren’t everything; in 2014 ASU’s Constantin Schreiber took over the omnium leader’s jersey at one point in the season, often taking on five or more Wildcats by himself. Allison Alterman, the sole Wildcat in women’s A, swiped an omnium win from a stacked ASU women’s team in the conference championship race.
“Given the large number of new riders we have, our main goal is developing those riders and providing them with fun race experiences that they will learn something from,” Schreiber, the ASU Cycling president, said. “At the same time, we want to be more competitive in all categories and give outright favorite UA a run for the money.”
Who to watch
For Cat A races, all four teams will be relying on their best weapons this season.
Iuliano said for the Wildcats, that will be David Carlson and David Greif for the men; the team is losing nationals qualifier Max Rich. For the women he said he’ll turn to Alterman.
Sun Devils Paul Stevenson, Jeff Chapin and Schreiber will provide “a rider for any type of situation,” Schreiber said. “We are hard-working and hungry and we will try our best in every race.”
For the women’s side, Schreiber’s team will look toward to Reiley Pankratz and Sarah Muench. The Cat A women’s Sun Devil squad was cut by half this year; Lindsey Ryder, who podiumed at collegiate road nationals, and Stefanie Sichler both graduated.
The Lumberjacks said they will have a strong showing with Mike Woodward and Alex Kaufman in the As and several Bs ready to upgrade.
“Our sole ringer on the women’s side is Amy Chandos, who got second in the [individual time trial] at nationals last year, and is hoping to come into the new season as strong as ever,” Leffler said.
Lobos Niklas Podrhaski and Jonathan Petrillo will bring it for the UNM men, and Tiziana Dehorney, who put up strong numbers during the cyclocross season, plans on upgrading quickly to the Cat A women’s field, Torres said.
The collegiate race calendar includes two new omniums this year – a team time trial and crits in San Diego and a road race and crit in Duncan, Ariz. and Bisbee, Ariz.
“[The races] really give some newer riders a chance to get as much experience as possible and gives the stronger riders who are loking for a challenge to go to San Diego to go against some of the stronger riders in the country,” Leffler said.
Schreiber said the San Diego race will be “a welcoming challenge and simulation for road nationals” in May.
A change to the calendar is the Sun Devil Crit location – now on ASU’s campus around famed Gammage Auditorium on Feb. 8.
“It’s a huge deal,” Schreiber said. “We hope to put on a great race that will become a campus tradition and we of course hope it gives our riders a boost to race in front of their friends, classmates and families.”
Cards to play this weekend
All teams’ presidents said their riders are itching to race in Tucson and Oracle.
“I think we will be able to play some cards in the men’s [Cat] C and we will also put up a good fight in men’s A and B as well as the women’s races,” Schreiber said. “Three podium places are the goal, ideally at least one podium place in each race.”
Both Torres and Schreiber said weather could be a factor on Saturday.
“Everyone is excited to get out and compete,” Torres said. “I’ve heard talk of rain for Saturday. The key will be to stay up toward the front and pay attention to the riders around [us].”
NAU declined to discuss first-race tactics said other teams will just “have to watch us,” Leffler said.