For the second year in a row, the MIT Cycling Club team returned home as national champions after competing in the 2013 Division II Collegiate Road National Championships in Utah from May 3-5.
There were three components to the weekend: a “road race,” which was an 80-mile timed ride for the men and 60 miles for the women; “criterium,” an individual race that is a one-kilometer loop that featured sprints and many turns and lasted 75 minutes for the men and 60 minutes for the women; and, lastly, an individual or team time trial.
The women were victorious in the team time trial, came third and fourth individually in the criterium and earned second, fifth and eighth place individually in the road race. The men won the road race, were fourth in the team time trial and picked up a few points in criterium. MIT won the team omnium competition, a combination of the women’s and men’s point total, with 428 points, a full 100 points ahead of second place Colorado Mesa University.
Individually, Laura Ralston, a fifth-year graduate student in economics, took second in the road race and third in the criterium for the women, while Cameron Cogburn, a physics graduate student, won the road race for the men.
The MIT Cycling Club is made up of about 100 athletes. Zach Ulissi, a chemical engineering graduate student and captain of the men’s team, said that of those 100, only about 40 or 50 members race and 10 competed in nationals. “Most of the people on the team are graduate students that did other sports during undergrad,” he said. Senior Shaena Berlin, the women’s team captain, added that a lot of those who show interest in the club participated in crew or track in college. “Most have no cycling experience before they come here,” she said.
Ulissi went on to explain that, even though the main cycling season is just two months long in the spring, there is a lot of training that is involved. “Training starts in the early fall. We take a break in the late fall for maybe a month and, after that, we start working out about 20 hours a week, just doing steady rides to build up endurance.”
Through February, the athletes begin doing intervals and timed rides, in addition to attending a training camp in California. “Then racing takes over in March and April,” Ulissi said. “There are eight weekends of racing in the northeast and the people in the highest division go to nationals.”
During the main part of the season, coach and MIT alum Nicole Freedman conducted skills clinics to go over every aspect of racing. Freedman, who was a member of the U.S. cycling team at the 2000 Summer Olympics, also traveled with the athletes to nationals for the first time this year.
Berlin said that, important as the workouts are, that is not all that the club focused on. “There is so much more to it than just training,” she said. “It’s not just about endurance. It’s also about technique and strategy.”
Both Berlin and Ulissi agreed the sport is very team oriented and, although someone may not place well individually, they may have helped a teammate win, which is what the sport is all about. They also said that only the individual time trials are truly individual and that every other race is done as a team. “At nationals, we had a lot of meetings before the races,” Berlin said. “We talked about what would be a good plan to play off each other’s strengths.”
Even though there is quite some time until next year’s championships, the MIT Cycling Club will waste no time getting back on their bikes after nationals, as some members will compete in non-collegiate racing over the summer.