CU Cycling’s Return to Glory: Recruiting, Leadership, Structure

Photo Credit: Eszter Horanyi
CU MTB member Sam Morrison leads a group at nationals

By: Eszter Horanyi

In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, the University of Colorado mountain bike team dominated the collegiate scene winning several National Championships in a row. At the 2003 Mountain Bike National Championships, they suffered a heart-breaking loss in Angel Fire, NM., to Fort Lewis College and have only been able to bring home one mountain bike national title since then. The team has suffered from a series of years with single-year coaches, coaches who were unable to dedicate themselves fully to the team, or no coaches at all. As any student run organization, leadership changed frequently and continuity was lacking. This year, things changed when FasCat Coaching, based out of Boulder, came on board to help bring the CU team back to its powerhouse status.

FasCat joined forces with the CU team a few weeks into the fall mountain bike season with Jason Hilimire taking on mountain bike coaching responsibilities. He found a team that he describes as ‘a good group of kids who just needed a point-person. They didn’t have much organization or structure.’ Hilimire explains that while the A-riders were fairly self-sufficient, it was the beginners who benefited most from having a coach present to answer simple questions, such as ‘Where do we register?’ Meanwhile, more experienced riders could benefit from information on race strategy and training. Historically, the collegiate programs that succeed are those that have a strong coach turning ordinary athletes into strong leaders who then pass their knowledge down to the next generation of cyclists who will take over leadership positions. When this chain is broken, strong teams begin to falter.

After a successful nationals where the team finished a close second to Fort Lewis College, Hilimire is looking to the future, citing recruitment, team dedication, and structure as requirements to grow the team and defeat Fort Lewis.

Recruiting the next generation

With the Colorado High School Mountain Bike League exploding this year, nearly doubling in size, the future of collegiate cycling looks bright. With Boulder High School winning the DI high school state championships, Hilimire and his team have a large talent pool growing just down the hill from the CU campus. Hilimire has already started the ball rolling with recruiting riders from area high schools to race for CU with plans for a group ride with team members and local professional riders and CU Cycling alumni planned for the spring.

Hilimire hopes that the number gains seen in the high school teams will transfer to collegiate cycling. “It’s going to be a larger talent pool and it’s going to bring everyone’s game up,’ says Hilimire of the young crop of mountain bikers. “Kids are going to come in with experience and with a better understanding of training and race preparation.” When asked if he was worried that the colleges and universities with varsity cycling programs would immediate snap up all the top high school riders, further opening the gap between the varsity and club programs, Hilimire said he believed that there would be plenty of riders to go around for all the teams and that the increased number of people interested in mountain bike racing would spur the creation of cycling clubs at more schools around the country. “Right now there are four or five schools in both DI and DII who have legitimate teams,” says Hilimire. If the numbers of high school cyclists in leagues around the country are any indication, this is set to change in the next five years.

Varsity vs. Club Sport

Most cycling teams around the country have club status in their schools with a few notable exceptions, such as Fort Lewis College, Lees McRae, and Lindsey Wilson. These programs offer scholarships to their athletes and give high school riders a goal to strive for. While many top high school riders are expected to go to these programs, the club sports atmosphere can be seen as an extension of the high school programs for those who have found a love for mountain bike racing in the high school league but aren’t ready to dedicate a life to bicycle racing.

Hilimire believes that most of the CU team would be opposed to trying to turn the CU program into a varsity one, saying that the riders enjoy the club community atmosphere and subjecting teams to varsity sport eligibility rules would deter the large base of riders who are just racing for fun or are just learning about the sport. The inclusiveness of clubs sports, where anyone can join, is seen as the key to rebuilding a successful program at CU. Hilimire’s goals for the CU team are lofty, but after their performance in Angel Fire this fall, seem entirely attainable. His first goal is to fill the rosters of the team with riders: beginners, experts, professionals, men and women. From this base, he hopes, will come Rocky Mountain Collegiate Conference titles as well as national titles, both goals that have eluded CU Cycling for too long.

But with the right leadership, and with the newfound belief among the riders that the team can challenge for a national title, the future is brighter than it has been in years.

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Trash Talk

I'm pretty both FLC and CU provide good educations to those who really apply themselves in academics. However, it's entertaining to see that 12 years after my collegiate days FLC supporters still feel the need to talk trash to make themselves feel good inside. Nice work!

Its nice to see that this

Its nice to see that this article completely glossed over the fact that CU had its most successful Track Nationals EVER. But I am guessing that since the Track nationals team got 0 support from FastCat coaching it wouldn't really jive with the rest of the article. If you want to talk about growth for the CU cycling team please include all disciplines.

Re:Track Nationals

You make a good point, but we were not appointed to the team coaching gig until after Track Nationals. Next year we will be supporting the Track Team 100%. And yes, with their performance this past year, CU will give Marion and other powerhouses a run for the $$

Club scholarships

I get the "team" vs. Club idea, to some degree, as it speaks to letting all levels compete. But clubs can still be financially supported by the school and not have to fall under the ncaa. I can think of at least one that has a national title under its belt that is set up that way. Seems like the schools could figure a way to make these clubs teams and provide financial support to the athletes that compete and represent these schools, while providing the same venue for "walk ons". There is a real vacuum in our sport at this level. This is 4 years in a developing athletes life that could be used to grow the national talent pool more effectively versus going from teenage phenom to pro-development team. This is where our focus and money should spent. USAC has worked it out pretty well devising many categories and putting weight on all categories to obtain national titles. Now it is time for the schools to step up and the students to make the change happen. I mean can you really tell me that these kids and their teams are better off scratching their bottom dimes to pay for gas money, when these schools that can easily afford that minimal level of support can easily support it?? Awesome effort on Fascats part - but I think its time to demand more from these schools.