From the outside, the intensity of collegiate racing might seem crazy: riders put out the watts for nothing more than points – no prime cash, no podium checks.
But that’s not why they do it.
“It’s about team building and building the sport of cycling,” said Stefanie Sichler, an Arizona State University alumna and 2013 Southwest Collegiate Cycling Conference champion.
Sichler is back in school and plans to race a few times this season: “Working for points for collegiate pride is a completely different dynamic and creates camaraderie,” she said.
Often that camaraderie is created as teams face new challenges, and this year’s SWCCC road season, starting this weekend, will be no different with shakeups in overall team numbers and talent in the men’s and women’s fields. Riders will begin the battle for points and a championship at the UA BioPark Blast Crit in Tucson and the Oracle Road Race.
The numbers game
ASU and University of Arizona are gearing up for a winner-takes-all battle as the Wildcats attempt to take back the overall team championship currently held by the Sun Devils.
It could be a tall order; UA suffered a numbers hit to its Men’s A and B fields while the Sun Devils amassed even more riders in those categories.
“We have grown in size again, and that is great to see since we’ve done so for four years in a row now,” said Constantin Schreiber, ASU’s race director. “Obviously, that’s a great plus when competing in races and for the road team omnium.”
Schreiber said the team’s goals are to win and podium in as many individual races as possible, defend the collegiate road omnium title, send their biggest team ever to nationals and place in the top 15 of the national collegiate omnium.
UA’s goals are similar, team president Joey Iuliano said: “We’re going for the sweep of all three titles. Beyond the conference, we have nationals as a big goal with a top five in the men’s and women’s road races.”
Iuliano said his team’s Men’s Cat A riders will have to be more tactical since they are at a numbers deficit, but the women’s team will have a strong returning A squad. ASU lost last year’s two Women’s Cat A riders – a conference champion and second place omnium leader – to graduation.
“So what we lost on the men’s side we more than made up on the women’s,” Iuliano said.
Riders to watch
Northern Arizona University also lost veteran riders who graduated, but lot of young returning members look to improve from previous seasons. NAU Cycling president Chris Leffler said his team’s goals are to have fun, go to as many races as possible, be competitive in every race and grow the team.
“The top athletes on our team at the moment are Kyle Gandy and Amy Chandos, who are both looking to have strong and successful seasons,” Leffler said.
Gandy, whose main discipline is mountain biking, brings his power to the road, especially in crits. Chandos, who placed second in the individual time trial at collegiate nationals in 2014 and consistently places in the top 25 at collegiate road nationals, is NAU’s lethal weapon. In addition, Leffler said teams should watch out for Castle Gay, Zach Morrison and Alex Lawson.
“All of the riders on the team are important; I think collectively as a group we push each other in our own ways, and as a team that’s how we grow and become stronger,” Leffler said.
For ASU, Schreiber said he didn’t want to “give away too many secrets,” but that the Sun Devils have a strong Women’s B team that they will want to throw into A races as soon as possible. Schreiber pointed to Alissa Albrecht, who is in her second year of racing, to provide leadership as a recent Cat A upgrade.
The men’s side of ASU is a balanced team that can look for wins in call categories, said Schreiber, who serves as the team coach and came close to a conference championship for the men last year.
“Literally all A and B riders have the potential to podium or win races in their category,” Schreiber said. “A lot of road team omnium winners from last year are back and hungry for more.”
For UA, Iuliano points to David Greif, last year’s conference champion, who has had early successes in non-collegiate races this season. Greif won the North End Classic Men’s 2/3 race in Yuma going solo off the front for most of the race. Schreiber got third in that race.
National 2015 mountain bike champion Kyle Trudeau, fresh off of collegiate and elite cyclocross nationals, will test his skills as a Cat A on the road, Iuliano said.
For the women, Iuliano said powerhouse triathlete Erica Clevenger will “put the hurt on this year,” along with Shelby Hoglund and Sarah Posner.
Iuliano said the team’s official coaches, pros Travis McCabe (Holowesko-Citadel) and Joshua Berry (Jelly Belly), will be key in team time trial squads and race tactics.
First race weekend
UA’s plan for Saturday’s BioPark Blast Crit and Sunday’s Oracle Road Race is simple, Iuliano said: “To crush dreams. I don’t like to hold back in races, and that flows over into how we approach the races as a team.”
The Lumberjacks want to “start the season off with a bang,” Leffler said. “[The] only strategy is to have a safe and fun weekend, of course.”
ASU also has a simple race strategy for the first weekend, according to Schreiber: “Beat UA.”
University of New Mexico, New Mexico State University, Prescott College and Embry-Riddle did not respond to questions.
Photos by Ben Mangilit