Whitman College has a secret. A club team here finished in the top five in the country for both men and women last year, and it has a defending national champion and alumni who have become some of the best riders in the United States. That secret is the Whitman cycling team, which has quietly become one of the most successful teams at the school, regardless of their club sport status. Especially after last year’s strong showing by both the men and the women, they will look to make this cycling season a landmark year.
Any strong season starts with a strong offseason, and the importance of this has not been lost with the Whitman cyclists. As with any club team in which theoretically anyone can participate, there are a wide range of abilities that must be accommodated during off-season training.
“There’s such a wide level of ability and experience. For some people it’s learning how to ride a bike, while for others it’s very planned, structured training. We have to learn how to accommodate that massive range of ability and experience,” said junior Alberto Santos-Davidson.
While many could perceive this as a weakness, with less experienced riders holding back those who will have more immediate success, senior and Cycling Team President Luke Ogden believes it helps them in the long run. He cited the fact that most people, including himself, had never raced on a bicycle before coming to Whitman.
“Especially with cycling and collegiate cycling, you’re never too old to start. People will finish their first race and just be in awe about how fun it was,” said Ogden.
The most notable alumna of the cycling team, Mara Abbott ’08, took up cycling as a way to stay in shape during the swimming offseason. Abbott can now boast two U.S. Road Race National Championships and two wins in the Giro Rosa, the most prestigious women’s road race in the world.
Developing young riders, however, does not just lead to future success, especially in the case of this year’s class of first-years. Zander Guzy-Sprague has raced for four years and already has enough points to qualify to join Santos-Davidson and Ogden in the “A” classification, although he will likely start his college career in the “B” classification. On the women’s side, first-year Fiona Bennitt has experience and will look to contribute in her opening year at Whitman.
The first-years with less experience have looked to the upperclassmen so far for help and advice.
“It’s extremely helpful. Especially going into [the first race] where I will have had no race experience at all. Just having them as a resource to talk to or to lead me through how I should warm up, how I should prepare myself, what I should do during the race,” said first-year Alexander Ihle. Ihle rowed in high school but decided to switch to cycling in college for the same reason that many others have taken up the sport. He is trying to find a way to compete at a high level and have fun at the same time.
“There’s a lot of learning that happens on the team that just gets passed down each year. The people who know teach the people who don’t,” said Santos-Davidson.
Going into this season, which starts this Saturday with a race in Corvallis, Ore., there should be no lack of motivation. Sophomore Mackinzie Stanley has a national championship to defend, and both teams will look to improve on last year’s finishes of second place for the women and fifth place for the men. Also on the horizon is the possibility of a race around the Whitman campus. With a lot to ride for, the cycling team should be expected to sustain its place as one of the most successful teams at Whitman.