The Portland State University Cycling Team is rolling toward their best year ever. With a potent mix of talent, sheer numbers, and team chemistry, they sit atop the rankings of the Northwest Collegiate Cycling Conference — ahead of such powerhouse programs like University of Oregon, University of Washington, and Oregon State.
I caught up with the team last Friday as they loaded their team trailer and vans to head to North Bend, Washington for a trio of races hosted by the University of Washington.
Colin Ross, the unofficial team manager, buzzed around a parking lot near the PSU campus as team members rolled up with their bikes and bags. Ross (and everyone else I spoke to) said the key ingredient to the team’s success has been how they support one another.
Collegiate cycling attracts a wide range of skill levels. There are four categories (A through D) for men and two for women (A and B). PSU’s 35 member team has 13 riders this year who have never raced prior to this season — while on the other end there are several racers who could contend for a podium spot at the National Championships. Despite this wide range in abilities, no one gets special treatment and everyone supports their fellow teammates.
I can recall racing collegiate back in the late 1990s. The top riders for some teams in our conference would only show up right before their own race. They could care less about the “lower category” riders. Thankfully, that’s not the case at PSU.
Cole Lalomia is one of the team’s top riders; but even he’s up early (the first race, men’s category D, starts at 8:00 am) to help out on race day. “We really try to emphasize helping everyone out.” For Lalomia, this support is one reason he feels like racing for PSU is the closest thing he’s experienced to being a real pro. “You really feel like a team… I mean, we have a trailer! You won’t get that anywhere else unless you’re a professional.”
Suzy Nelson, a political science major who’s applying to law school, agrees. She’s one of the team’s four Women’s A riders. “There’s no split between the Ds and the As, which is really refreshing. I’ve never seen a team that’s this close, and it shows when we race. We race like a team.”
(Photo: PSU Facebook page)
Simply getting along isn’t enough to win bike races; but the PSU team has other intangibles in their favor as well. They’re organized. “That’s because of Colin [Ross],” says Nelson, “He’s the glue that hold us together. He’s our unsung hero.” The team has also focused hard on recruitment. They do events like breakfast on the bridges and have fun, social rides in the off-season. They’ve tapped into Portland’s buzzing bike scene and they use social media to hook people into the team.
Ross says the PSU Cycling Team has existed in some form since the 1970s, but it has really come into its own in the past five years. Ross’s goal is to build the team into something that is self-sustaining. One of the perennial issues with collegiate cycling clubs is that once dedicated members graduate, all the volunteer time and dedication graduates with them because they have no dedicated, paid staff. Ross says his main goal is to become an officially recognized Varsity sport. Currently the team is considered a Recreational Club, not a Varsity Sport. The team gets funding from PSU, but Ross says, “We don’t get access to the same treatment and training facilities as other sports like football or soccer.”
Their efforts are paying off. The team grew by 23 members this year, with 13 of those new members actively racing each weekend. Ross plans to expand the team’s participation into other disciplines like track and cyclocross. This will not only help him reach new members, but it will help make the case that the cycling team deserves Varsity status.
For Ross, growing the team isn’t just about scoring points, it’s about building the program. “The more people we have racing, the more people we have helping out.”
With two race weekends left in the season, the PSU Cycling Team still has some tough pedaling to do to bring home that conference title. Then there are the National Collegiate Cycling Championships in Ogden Utah next month. Whatever happens, I for one am very proud they’re representing Portland so well.