The Brevard College Cycling Team rose to the Division I challenge this last year, bringing home the gold in both the mountain bike and cyclocross national championships in the same calendar year. The BC Tornados won the team relay in both disciplines, but head coach Brad Perley said that he is particularly proud of the four-rider mountain bike relay squad because they won by more than a minute. The top three teams usually finish within 30 seconds of each other.
The college team made the jump from DII to DI last year, proving they have what it takes to compete against programs with more funding and students.
Collegiate cyclists compete in a variety of disciplines. The cyclocross is pretty straightforward, with individual races and then the team relay. Cross racing consists of a series of obstacles that force riders to dismount as quickly as possible, then get going again. The cross season is in the winter, and courses are often muddy, icy, snowy and just plain hard to ride.
The mountain bike side of it is a bit different, with five separate disciplines making up the entire season. Athletes race downhill, dual slalom, short track and cross country events, and then combine the best riders for the team relay. Some riders can choose to go for the “omnium,” which is an accumulation of all the points earned in every discipline. That makes for a well-rounded rider at the end of the season. Combined points earned across the whole team are tallied, and the team with the most points wins.
Collegiate mountain bike nationals were held in October last fall at Snowshoe Mountain, the popular East Coast ski resort. The mountain has transformed itself into a summer destination with lift access for downhill riders. The trails are rated beginner through expert, with enough variety for riders of all skill levels. The resort is really a great place to host a collegiate race. Riders racing the downhill braved snow and freezing wind during their race runs, but, according to Perley, they were all smiles.
Perley is in the middle of road season, which started earlier this spring. Their home race is scheduled to include an uphill time trial on Rich Mountain Rd., where cyclists will finish at the top in the gravel. This year BC is hosting a joint race with Warren Wilson College, something Perley said no school has done so far.
The program’s passion has not waned, despite the fact that cycling does not receive the same recognition and support as more traditional collegiate sports. Nevertheless, the team and coaches remain positive and are working hard to sustain their program.
“I’ve got young riders who choose to come to Brevard over other schools where they could graduate debt free. I actually encourage them to do that, but some still want to be here. That’s a testament to our program and our backyard,” said Perley.
Janelle Cole is a young rider from Michigan who just signed on with the Asheville-based UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team, which is arguably the strongest female road team in the country, according to Perley. Cole balanced her athletic career with a college student’s responsibilities and managed to stay focused enough to bring it all together. In 2016, Cole won the women’s criterium race held in downtown Asheville.
“This will be my third year acting professionally, but my first season with UnitedHealthcare,” she said. “I used to use cycling to train for inline speed skating and after a couple of years of doing that I had a friend who said, ‘You’re crazy strong,’ and suggested I try racing. That was that.”
Cole is an elementary education major and said she plans on staying in North Carolina. She is also a wilderness leadership minor, Brevard College’s renowned program that sends students into the wilderness for weeks at a time. Cole said that after experiencing the local cycling community and the backpacking that can be found in her backyard, she’ll be sticking around.
“My experience with the team has created a love of all disciplines of cycling,” she said. “I have raced mountain biking and cross racing. I am not that good at either of them, but I have a lot of fun. That’s what’s most important. At least, that’s what I tell myself. I believe in living in the moment and taking life as it comes. As of right now I really love life here. Teachers get the summer off, so I think it’s a good balance.”
Walker Shaw is another rider continuing his career in the professional ranks of cycling. The senior competes in professional downhill and slalom events, and tunes his fast twitch muscles during cross season. Shaw is currently racing for the Santa Cruz Bicycles/Troy Lee Designs mountain bike team.
Walker races cross, too, and has become one of the most well-rounded riders on the team. He started racing BMX when he was just a kid, and even does a little road racing. He raced the Brevard College home race this spring, including the uphill time trial on Rich Mountain Rd., one of the steepest roads around.
Walker is a business major, and he said the small school size at Brevard College really drew him to the school, and, of course, the cycling program helped his decision. He was on the fence about going to college at all.
“Sometimes I think it would be cool to go to a big school, but my profesors here really support the cyclists,” he said. “At a big school, I couldn’t expect them to care or even know my name. They’re flexible with the students who are fortunate enough to get to travel like we do.”
Walker said he just loves racing, it doesn’t matter what it is, and he just wants to get after it. The Hendersonville High graduate said he has watched the area change for the better, and knowing athletes from across the world, he is seeing some of them come here for a visit and the scene in Brevard blows some of them away.
“Now the area is attracting these international racers,” he said. “Those folks have this preconceived notions about North Carolina. Then they come here and they’re like, ‘Oooooohhhhhh.’ I see it growing year round. It’s great. You can pretty much ride every day. There’s a huge variety to train on and it never gets boring. There’s so much here. It’s kind of mind blowing.”
The Brevard College cycling program will continue to attract strong young talent, and it’s important to remember that the kids who come to Brevard for cycling want to be here. They appreciate the town, the forest and how the area is shaping up.
Learn more about the cycling program and its students on the Brevard College Cycling Facebook page.