RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — A year ago it was just an idea. In May it was launched and this week rubber literally hits the road as the St. Augustine’s cycling team will compete in their first-ever event.
“We are overwhelmed I mean the students were just so excited you know when the bikes came in and they had the chance to go pick them up,” said coach Umar Muhammad. “When the students were able to get sized up for the bikes just to see their faces man it was just an amazing chance for them to engage in something that many of them never really thought they would have a chance to.”
The inaugural group consists of seven men and four women. Some are just students with an interest while others are already accomplished in other sports.
“We have some already a couple of athletes that already champion USA track and field athletes joining the cycling team,” said Muhammad. “They are very excited about the opportunity to hopefully gain some new athletic skills in cycling and then be able to transfer that to either be a better track and field athlete or to actually compete in cycling at the Olympic level.”
Most new teams have humble beginnings and use whatever equipment they can find or get donated. Through incredible sponsors like Canyon Bikes, Stages Cycling, Major Taylor Cycling Wear, Oak City Cycling Project, and Saris they aren’t hurting for equipment.
“We are equipped in a way that probably only Tour de France type of teams are equipped with. “We have very high-end bikes and are very grateful for the sponsorship that Canyon has put forward along with all of our sponsors,” said coach Dr. Mark Janas. “We’ve had tremendous interest in what we’re doing as the first HBCU cycling program. In the early stages of building this team, I assumed I’d be doing a lot of knocking on doors to solicit sponsorships and we are very fortunate that sponsorship comes to us so we are not lacking equipment.”
The team started practicing about a month ago using their on-campus course that covers several different terrains.
“On one hand it was one big sigh of relief that we had gotten this far. We have the team, equipment, qualified coaches on board but now the real work begins we actually need to go out and learn how to ride, said Dr. Janas. “This type of riding we’re doing isn’t necessarily leisurely riding in the park. We are focused on a couple of disciplines for starters that will require some more hand skills and so it was definitely a great feeling to finally get the equipment in and get the riders out there on bikes but at the same now we have more work to do.”
The term cycling, like swimming, covers a variety of disciplines. There are roughly a dozen different cycling disciplines and St. Augustine’s will narrow their focus going for quality over quantity.
“One is cyclocross which is that off-road gravel style riding,” said Dr. Janas “The other is BMX. I mean we happen to be a block and a half from the Capital City BMX track and we also have a commitment from a new BMX sponsor.”
While you may never forget how to ride a bike, just like all sports there are certain skills you need to perfect in order to be competitive.
“There are certainly different sets of skills that we have to teach these riders particularly the riders that haven’t been on a bike in a long time,” said Dr. Janas. “Things like learning how to corner, distributing your weight effectively, knowing how and when to shift. Those things aren’t necessarily intuitive when you’re on a course that might have varying terrain so all of those things we started teaching in our Tuesday live practices.”
Unlike most other sports when the weather gets bad outside, they move inside and do it virtually.
“It takes either a smart trainer, we have 12 of those made by Saris, where we can connect to a regular canyon bike and then we have five additional Stages smart bikes which are essential stationary bikes that have that same electronics,” said Dr. Janas. “It allows us to broadcast power out to the video game and it converts the riders speed based on the terrain and their weight.”
Due to the pandemic, the CIAA shut down all fall sports and pushed back winter sports which would have killed this new venture before it ever had a chance.
“We recognized early on that as a new team who had solicited sponsors and the great support we had to have a season of some sort,” said Dr. Janas.
Not just the only HBCU cycling team in the country it’s also not a part of the Falcons athletic department. This team is operated out of the St. Aug business school which means they have the flexibility to make their own rules and come up with their own innovative solutions to problems. Their answer to a ban on live racing was to do it virtually.
“We have this thing called virtual cycling that we can utilize and we have the equipment to do it where students across the country can ride their live bike over a 10-mile course. They will post their best time and we can compare those times and actually create a bit of an event,” said Dr. Janas. “We can also do this virtual video game-like racing. We have a live race this Wednesday night at 8 o’clock on a platform called RGT. We will connect all of our students via their smart trainers or smart bikes and will have other students from throughout the country who signed up to compete with us as well.”
A virtual race, making an HBCU cycling team a reality.
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