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Cycling: Look simple? Think again.

Strategy shapes the way DePaul cycling club pedals as they look for ways to compete and have fun

By Meghan Bower
On May 2, 2011

Freshman or senior, new or experienced rider, for all members of the DePaul Cycling Club and Team, one thing is common: they ride bikes and they love it.

"I definitely enjoy the racing and that part, but I'd say the thing I enjoy the most is the friendships and what we get out of it personally," said Mark Lazio, junior and club vice president.

The club, part of the Midwest Collegiate Cycling Conference, was founded five years ago by a group of young men who "picked up riding bikes and decided they wanted to have a club sport with it," according to Kirstin Karklin, club president.

"The guys who started it were awesome," Karklin said. "They would ride in the top categories and win a bunch of stuff. There were only two girls on it last year or three girls. This year we had four girls competing and six girls training all together, so six all together. The club's really expanded a lot, which is great."

Though this year's team is young, due largely to last year's graduating class, their current training facilities and the assistance of athletic supporter Paul Drake have helped the team grow and reorganize.

"We just kind of grew as a team," Lazio said. "We just kind of matured. More numbers, more organized. Just kind of function better."

Sixteen members make up the club and consistently participate in group rides and train together at Train Chicago Studios, where they help with office work and cleaning duties in exchange for training time.

Due to scheduling conflicts, though, only about 10 members travel to each meet.

"It's just whoever can go that weekend," Karklin said. "We're a club sport, so if you want to do it, you can. And if you can afford it. I mean, we don't get any funding from the school. Well, we get some from SAF-B. We have to apply for it obviously. But cycling's really expensive and we're going up against, there's only one or two other schools in the conference that aren't varsity, but their schools buy all their merchandise for them and all their gear, even though they're not varsity.

"So we're kind of on our own in the conference."

Expenses include everything from racing bikes and uniforms to spare tires and tools to hotels and iGo accounts.

"We only have one person in the club that has a car this year, so we have to rent cars also," Karklin said. "We had to pay for an iGo account, but they waived a lot of fees for us and they kind of acted as a sponsor, so it was really great. And then we have to pay for hotels. And that's all out of pocket and then race entry fees as well."

The club also acquired a sponsor this season in, a social networking site for bike enthusiasts.

"So we're technically the cycling team of DePaul University," Karklin said. "And they gave us some money and that helped us out with our gear a lot."

This year the team participated in eight meets across the Midwest, including regionals at Lindenwood University where the women's B team won the team time trial in their division and the men's B team came in second.

Though each meet varies slightly, they tend to follow a similar format. There are four men's categories in each race (A-D) and two women's categories (A and B). Typically, road races and individual and team time trials will be held on Saturday and criteriums, a short quarter-mile to mile long race with sharp turns, on Sunday.

And though cycling may be seen as somewhat of a leisure sport, things definitely get competitive on the racecourse, according to Lazio.

"Even though they're, like I'm a C-rider and even though I'm not the category of B or even A, they're still very, very competitive races," Lazio said. "They're not quite as fast and the races don't have quite the same skill level. Not necessarily the ability to ride faster, but to have the knowledge of how to race. But they're still really, really competitive. It can get pretty intense and verbal back and forth between riders. There's a lot of, I wanna say kind of trash talking, but it's very competitive and people get kind of competitive with it."

Developing a plan and riding in packs, or pelotons, can definitely help.

"Cycling is more of a team sport than an individual sport," Karklin said. "A lot of people don't actually know that. It's very, very strategic. You have to draft the right way–that's blocking the wind from the riders behind you. And so what a lot of people do is they'll, the team will kind of decide who's feeling good today, who wants to take the wind if they can get up there and the rest of the team will work on helping them move into position. Each member of the team kind of has their own little job.

"We're not to that point yet with our new team."

The riders must also get good starting position because by not starting in the front, it is easy to get dropped, lapped and pulled out, said Karklin.

"If you're in a bad spot when you turn [in a criterium], your wheel could slip out, you could get hit, you can cause a crash," Karklin said. "Same thing during the road races. People don't really pay attention…If you don't have a good starting position, then you can fall right off the back if someone makes an attack, which is if you lose a sprint up a hill or wherever they can.

"So it's definitely very strategic position-wise. You have to know the course. You have to know the weather. You have to be very aware of the road and the conditions of the road obviously.

"And usually you have to have all of your senses open. Seeing what people are around you, knowing where the wheels are going, knowing, you just kind of have a feel when someone's going to make an attack and be able to pick up that sprint right away to get on their back wheel. Because if you lose their back wheel you're pretty much going to get dropped off the back of the pack."

Lazio, on the other hand, often finds himself as the lone DePaul rider in the C category, forcing him to create a strategy of his own.

"As much as biking is individual, with a 30-mile road race, if I don't have any team members to work with, it's kind of hard…it is a very individual sport, but at the same time you do need a lot of cooperation with other people," Lazio said. "Its just hard to keep in and stay in because people aren't as willing to work with you and especially in the criteriums, which I really like to ride in, it's really hard to get anything going because you are just out there as an individual going against a lot of other people.

"So going into the race I have to decide how I'm going to try, where I'm going to stay in the pack, how I'm going to work with them. But it definitely entails more planning ahead."

Regardless of the danger and stressors of competition, Karklin is always ready.

"It's a really good relaxation time," Karklin said. "You're relaxed, but you have to be so focused on what's going on, so it's a work out for the body, it's a workout for the mind. It's a challenge and I love a challenge. I'm always up for it."

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