Western's cycling team won Division II Collegiate Road Nationals on May 13, and it took both women and men cyclists to get there.
At nationals, Western took first in the men's time trial by 12 seconds. Nick Clayville, Chris Daifuku, Phil Elsasser, and Logan Wetzel raced the event together, taking turns leading in an intense collaborative race averaging 30 miles per hour.
The men's team had won every time trial at regional races, so the team's manager, jun-ior Chris Daifuku, said he prepared his teammates by practicing together and learning to work with the wind and weather.
Western women, Meagan McPhee, Kristen Stouder and Heidi Hoff, placed second in the women's time trial. Brian Williams also attended, and placed sixth in men's crite-rium. McPhee placed fifth in women's criterium.
Kansas University hosted the championship in Lawrence, Kansas. Each school com-peted to earn points in a total of six categories: team time trial, criterium (racing laps in an urban setting), and an 85 mile road race, each for men and women. Racers earn points for their school based on their place in each race.
Dartmouth College placed second in Division II, with Whitman College taking third. Western beat Dartmouth by a total of 30 points, earning 478 in all.
Western's cycling team is a student run Campus Recreation sports club. Because they are a club sport, the team does not have a coach. Less than 20 percent of the club's funding comes from the university. Business sponsorships help fund the team. A sponsor can have its name on the team jersey, press release and website. Students also raise money by hosting races and the Western triathlon. Sponsor Fanatik Bike Shop helps new team members purchase discount bikes.
Because of scoring, having both strong female and male riders is essential to success in collegiate cycling.
Sophomore Heidi Hoff has only cycled for one season, but she's already a nationally competitive athlete.
"I think it's a really neat idea that we're put on this equal playing field, that [women are] worth the same and as valuable to the team," said Hoff. "It's the only collegiate sport where males and females score together."
Hoff didn't even have her own road bike until this year. She started riding with her fam-ily a few years ago in the annual Seattle to Portland and used her brother's bike. Now she's discovered her competitive side.
"I like realizing what my body can do for me," she said. "I ride my bike home to Seattle, that's cool. [Cycling is] fun, it's good for the environment, and it's good for your well-being."
This is the first year the cycling team has had this strong of a women's team. Because many of the women on the team are graduating, Daifuku said he hopes to recruit more female riders for next year's team. He said it's not possible to have a competitive team without both strong male and female riders.
"It's absolutely not possible to be competitive in the team title without a women's team, without a men's team," said Daifuku.
A lot of people are intimidated starting a new sport in the fall, but Daifuku said that most cyclists who make it to nationals don't begin racing until they're in college. Of the eight students who attended nationals, freshman Logan Wetzel is the only one who'd raced before college.
This year isn't the team's first success at nationals. In 2005, Clayville placed first in the road race.
Daifuku said it's a dream for cycling to someday become a varsity sport, which would fund a coach for the team. He realizes this isn't realistic with the athletic department's limited budget. Ideally, he'd like to see the cycling team become the top funded sports club.
"I think it's appropriate [to become the top funded sports club] because of our reputation as cyclists in the community, nationally, and collegiately... and all the great things we bring to Western," he said.
Western earned $1,200 from the USA Cycling Development Foundation for the win at nationals. They also won medals and stars and stripes jerseys. Stars and stripes tradi-tionally represent winning nationals, and the winners can wear the jerseys at collegiate races until another school claims the title. Daifuku said he has been wearing his jersey on recent rides, and is waved at by community cyclists proud of Western's success.