Zipp News

Back 4.9.2018

Marian University: Where Students Learn and Love Cycling

How a small Indianapolis University built a powerhouse cycling program that promotes cycling within its community, develops student-athletes, and boosts women's cycling. 

 

Collegiate cycling is a uniquely American creation. It started – as much has with U.S. bike racing – as a fringe sport. College kids formed clubs, pooled gas money, and set off on road trips to race. This often rag-tag endeavor over the years produced lifelong cyclists as well as pro racers. There’s magic when that dude in your dorm first shaves his legs, or when that young woman realizes cyclocross is a heck of a lot more fun than a spin class.

As U.S. collegiate cycling has grown and evolved, one school has emerged at the head of the pack – Marian University in Indianapolis. The private university has won an astounding 40 national titles across five cycling disciplines. Marian grads include top pros Coryn Rivera (road) and Kaitie Keough (cyclocross). Beyond that, Marian’s cycling program has drawn many in the Indianapolis community into cycling through its operation of the Indy Cycloplex, a sprawling facility adjacent to campus that includes the Major Taylor Velodrome, a BMX track, cyclocross course and MTB trails.

Zipp and SRAM are longtime partners with the Marian University Knights Cycling Team, or, as they like to be known on social media, #KnightsonBikes. We provide products but also internship opportunities. A number of Marian riders have worked at Zipp and SRAM’s Indianapolis office over the years, some transitioning into full-time employment. Marian riders sometimes join our lunch ride (typically the days we go full gas), or we pass these student athletes on local roads with that friendly nod and wave cyclists use (or at least should use) to greet one another. 

Marian's Kennedy Adams competes on the 2017 USA Cycling Collegiate Cyclocross Championship in Reno, Nev. 

 

Collegiate cycling, unlike traditional college athletes, is not overseen by the NCAA or NAIA but instead is operated under USA Cycling. Separate racing categories allow for elite and newbie racers to all compete. Overall scoring takes men’s and women’s results into account. Marian is in Collegiate Cycling’s Varsity Division, which is made up of schools that provide support to the cycling team including coaches or scholarships. The majority of schools, more than 300, in collegiate cycling are Club programs. These are student-run teams. Collegiate cycling is comprised of multidiscipline spanning the academic year: road, track, cyclocross, mountain, and BMX. 

Recently we caught up with Marian head coach Dean Peterson to talk about the Marian Cycling Team and all it does to promote cycling:

What is the size and scope of the Marian Cycling Team? 

Our makeup is about 70 student athletes, with about 70 percent men and 30 percent women. We’d like that to be close to 60/40. We’ve gotten into that range at times. Our largest group is probably road … we have our riders ride at least one discipline in the fall and another one in the spring. It’s a way to keep them sharp and connected as part of the team.

An example would be a current Marian rider like Emma Swartz. She was third at Cyclocross Nationals, and she also did quite well at Mountain Bike Nationals. She is a good road rider, too. She has a number of podiums in all three disciplines. I would say her specialty is cross and a close second is mountain and then road. Somebody like Coryn (Rivera) as a specialist on the road but she would have done BMX if we would have let her; however, she did track and cross. She also did some MTB for us and she was the short track mountain bike national champion! Her senior year she did four disciplines: track, mountain, road, and cross.

Marian Coach shouts time splits to the men's team pursuit squad at the 2017 USA Cycling Collegiate Track Nationals. 


So, students will ride anywhere from two to four disciplines but often have a specialty?

Yes… When you look at it all we probably have 20 BMXers who race in another discipline. We have probably 30 road riders, men and women, different levels. That’s an important part because you can race A’s, B’s, C’s and D’s. We do not just recruit the high end. I could talk all day about kids who are growing in the sport who are category 4s turning into 3s. That’s the cool thing about collegiate cycling in my mind – women, men and all levels of riders. And it’s team scoring - women and men with equal scoring opportunities.

Our cross team of specific crossers is probably 10, but it extends out to 20 or more riders. In the mountain bike discipline, we have about 11 that extends out to 24-30 when adding gravity and endurance riders of all levels. We have multiple individual titles over ther years too – including a 2 dual slalom titles along with a national downhill title 2 years ago by Angelina Palermo. Angelina races short track and has done road for us in the past as well. We recruit specific track riders now and we didn’t use to. We used to just convert road riders over. 

Marian worked with Zipp and SRAM and U.S. cyclocross pro Jeremy Powers to host a cyclocross clinic for local junior cyclists at the Indy Cycloplex. Coach Dean Peterson is second from right in top photo. 

 

Marian also runs the Indy Cycloplex, which includes the Major Taylor Velodrome. What is involved with that?

We manage the Cycloplex for Indy Parks and Recreation and for the City of Indianapolis. It’s still owned by the City of Indianapolis. We manage it. We agreed to a 15-year deal, renewable for 15 more. We’ve definitely increased user-ship of the park. We’ve added new things and within the contract there were some capital improvements that were also addd that just needed to be done. We’re seven years in now, and we’re pretty close to completing that list.

It's a great recruiting tool for Marian too, but we do not run it for Marian – we run it for the community. Our small staff of half-timers split their time between the Cycloplex and Marian along with a lot of student interns, five or six per year, and a lot of volunteering from our team. We organize and run the programming for the velodrome and we do the same for the BMX track that we rebuilt 7 years ago. We have an international cyclocross race here each year as well. We have a short- track mountain bike course within the 42-acre park that is excellent for the Midwest Devo squad and others in the community and also quite good for collegiate races. So, that’s the whole idea of a cycling park – that’s the guiding vision. We’re pretty deep into that now. It’s certainly a very good thing in terms of how it works for recruiting, but our primary focus is to provide a unique cycling park to the city and greater community. It’s really important to us.

How unique is U.S. collegiate cycling? Do other nations have similar programs?

It’s very unique to the United States. Collegiate cycling has a cool beginning in terms of the (student-run) club aspect to it. 

The Marian women's team competes in a team time trial. Collegiate racers are not allowed to use specific time trial bikes, but they can roll with those 82mm Zipp 808s. 

 

What impact do you think collegiate cycling has played in the past 25 years in U.S. cycling, looking primarily at road, cyclocross, and track racing?

Collegiate has played a role. I think it has, especially, helped build some women cyclists who wouldn’t have been there, who may have been recruited to race by other students running clubs. That’s because you have to be a good women’s team and a good men’s team to be a good overall team. So, it put students to work in an environment where it was fun and exciting. There have been some great women that have come out of collegiate club and collegiate varsity now…. Collegiate cycling became an identifier of women who possibly could go further in the sport.

Two Marian grads who are ripping it up in the pros, Coryn Rivera (top) and Kaitie Keough. Botton photo by Wil Matthews 


So, here at Marian you have current pro star Coryn Rivera and top cyclocross pro Kaitie Keough as big examples as a female collegiate cyclist but also top pros including Megan Guarnier (Middlebury College) of Boels-Dolmans Pro Cycling coming from collegiate cycling.

Yes, there’s so many more.

And on the men’s side you have pros or former pros like Brent Bookwalter (Lees-McRae College), Kiel Reijnen (University of Colorado at Boulder), Zipp-sponsored pro triathlete Andrew Talansky (Lees-McRae College), and Zipp Ambassador Ted King (Middlebury College).

Almost all of the ones I have known who have gone pro have done it with a college degree in their pocket so they had a backup plan.

Marian grad Jason Blodgett started as a intern at SRAM and now works in sales. He's also pretty handy on the cyclocross bike (and on the Zipp lunch ride).

 

When you’re recruiting top junior racers, how do you talk to them about collegiate cycling both competitively and academically?

That’s a really good question.… I can tell you about five (high-school aged) cyclocross racers who are world level, and their GPA is 3.7. And their SAT scores are like 1,400. They’re smart. They have all that plus they can race in Europe. The facts are, we’ve been able to take those kinds of riders, let them pursue their hopes and dreams in academics and continue to build them as riders. If they’re doing their academic work well and communicating with professors, this is a place where we’ve been able to let people go to Europe for one to two week blocks at a time…and they’re still held accountable. Drew Dillman used to Skype into class from Belgium.

They all were doing these things and getting great grades. You have to let them see the strengths (of Marian’s program and collegiate cycling). There’s so many things to talk about… The connection to a great city (Indianapolis), the partnership with Zipp and SRAM. That’s a big deal to them. The access that they have to your staff and the equipment. And we race and we have a team that is structured and that gives them the room to grow. You have a real college experience, and you’re part of a team.

Three days a week they do a workout together. We go out on the grass (to practice how to avoid crashes after rubbing wheels, for example). Team time trial practice. Indoor riding when the weather’s not good, or practicing certain things like pedaling drills, over-gear efforts. The kinds of things you can learn to become a better rider. And they’re racing a lot, and that can be really great training that takes them much more prepared into the bigger races.

That’s the sell. I don’t look at it to selling a widget; it’s a real thing…. It has real goods that can produce for them over the long haul.

Marian Senior engineering student Sam Winters on the track. 


What is the level of competition in collegiate cycling? Is it equivalent to the level of competition seen in other collegiate sports? 

At the national level, the racing is quite good. In any given setting, typically your top people – the top 10 to 15 riders – are pro level or pro/am level riders. What’s cool, though, is there are a bunch of other riders who aren’t quite at that level, or not even close to that level,  and they’re racing well in collegiate cycling, and they’re having a good time. They don’t have necessarily the same ambitions that some of those higher-level riders have, but in our case, they have a scholarship. They’re having a great team experience and they’re getting the degree they want. It’s perfect. 

When you think back on collegiate cycling’s history, you think about college kids organizing teams and races, sleeping on people’s floors because they can’t afford hotels, cramming into somebody’s car. It’s a charming thing driven by passion. What are the benefits and the challenges of having this new structure with the Varsity level (for teams with extensive school support) and the Club level? How has it changed the culture around collegiate cycling? 

That’s the big question. The Club thing is indeed pretty charming. I remember in 2006, when I first started, I went to a road race with this little team we had at that point. There was a guy with tube socks with orange and brown stripes up to his knees. His helmet that he was going to race in was a Cleveland Browns helmet (laughs)! I said he shouldn’t be doing that for safety reasons, but that’s really awesome. There’s just kind of a flair, passion and good college humor and connection among the people. I love that.

But when you create a competitive setting, based on the definition of competition, it’s going to evolve. Everybody wants to win. I think that’s what has happened. We’ve been called the first Varsity team, in 1992, the first to actually support and recruit students into the USA Cycling deal. Now, there’s almost 30 Varsity teams that are getting some sort of support from their schools and have sponsors, essentially on some level run like professional teams in a college environment.

I think the development of Varsity teams has been an important outgrowth from the club model for the development of higher-level riders who needed school flexibility and an opportunity to race and move on to the next level while they still get a college degree. However, clubs like Stanford and Madison, Wisconsin and many others have a prominent place in the development of student cyclists as well. Many club riders have also gone to the pro ranks after graduation. There’s still a bunch of high-level men and women on those club teams getting professional degrees. At the top level, its not really that much different given most of the high-level riders have a variety of support systems, however the top competition is typically not quite as deep and not as well balance. The Varsity teams can do much more through direct recruiting and management of a team’s balance regarding men and women, sprinters and enduros, multiple disciplines and varying levels of riders.

We thank Coach Peterson for his time. The Collegiate Road Season is in full swing. It concludes with the USA Cycling Collegiate Road Nationals in May. Follow the Marian Knights on Bikes @MarianCycling on Twitter and Instagram.