Number of Cycling Teams Growing, but Louisville Still Lacks Dedicated Teams for Women and Juniors

Number of Cycling Teams Growing, but Louisville Still Lacks Dedicated Teams for Women and Juniors

Number of Cycling Teams Growing, but Louisville Still Lacks Dedicated Teams for Women and Juniors

By Paul Baldwin

Like a gardener with a green thumb, Louisville ''s cycling community finds plenty of welcome new growth this year. The Louisville Bicycle Club, for example, has seen its membership expand to more than 800. Metro Louisville government continues to explore ways to foster cycling following its Bike Summit in February. And Bike Louisville, a cycling advocacy group, is working to make cycling transportation safer and easier.

But the bloom on the rose - or perhaps the flowers in the bouquet - could be the growing number of local cycling teams. This year, seven cycling teams with Louisville connections are competing for spots on the podium.

" Louisville has never seen a group of teams like they have now," said Mike Hewitt, a racing promoter with 2wheelsports, which promotes and oversees bike races in the Louisville area.

In all, the variety of teams seems to reflect a tradition in Louisville of having a place for every level of racer, said Carson Torpey, owner of the Bardstown Road Bicycle Company and a former racer.

"It seems like all the teams are going after a certain area of racing," said Bob Peters, owner of Clarksville Schwinn Cyclery.

Indeed, cyclists of all ages and abilities, from beginning Category 5 to elite Category 1 racers have plenty of teams to court if they want to participate.

The highest-profile addition this year is the Papa John''s Racing Team, which took most of its 13 members from the Texas Roadhouse cycling team and started a masters team. (Papa John''s International founder and burgeoning racer John Schnatter is also on the team.)

Led by national track champion Curtis Tolson, the Texas Roadhouse/Roark Cycling Team regrouped after the formation of Papa John''s, adding several young former professional and Category 1 racers to its roster of high-caliber riders. Early-season races have found its racers at the top of the podium.

Two bike stores are also fielding teams this season. Scheller''s Fitness and Cycling has a team that participates in road and mountain bike races, while Cycler''s Café has a six-member road and six-member mountain biking team.

"Our objective is a little different than Papa John''s or Texas Roadhouse," said Cycler''s Café owner and team member Joe Sohm. "We basically want to hit the races and have a good time."

Peppered with several former key Louisville Bicycle Club members, the Indiana Masters Cycling Team has, in their orange jerseys, been more visible around Louisville this year. As with several other teams, many of its riders plan to compete at the Masters Nationals in Park City , Utah in June.

Rapid Transit Racing Team, which struggled to find sponsorship last year, landed a significant sponsorship from Barbasol for 2005 and has flourished under the new arrangement, doing well in the Spring Classic Series that wrapped up in April.

The Louisville Bicycle Club, the area''s oldest local racing team, has nearly a dozen first-year Category 5 racers and several returning Category 2 and 3 cyclists who make up its elite team.

Local racers echo Peters'' and Torpey''s comments, saying the variety of teams offers competitors of all abilities a chance to race. And compared to larger metropolitan areas, the Louisville racing community appears to be more welcoming to new riders, said veteran racer and Louisville Bicycle Club team member Steve Gaylor.

Living in Atlanta in the mid ''90s, he found it difficult for beginner riders to gain a foothold among so many experienced racers. "There was a lack of a team that would really bring up new racers," Gaylor said. "If you started out there, you really got thrown to the wolves. The barriers to entry were a bit higher."

For most new riders, the Louisville Bicycle Club had been the team for cyclists looking for their chance to race. First-year racer Darrell Edwards found his interests turning to racing after attending the club''s Tuesday night rides, which draw a combination of tourists and racers. On one of those rides, Edwards found himself working as hard as he could while still struggling to catch up with the racers.

Joining the team, he figured, was a way to boost his fitness and ride at a higher level while gaining experience as a racer. By the end of the racing season, he hopes to move up to Category 4.


For more experienced racers, the chance to race comes at the invitation of a team. Lesley McShane, a podium finisher in the 2000 Masters Nationals, was invited to join Papa John''s for 2005 after taking a year off from racing. She said the lineup of team is encouraging, "In this area, there''s just been a boom over the years."

Despite the number of teams, there''s a dearth of organizations devoted to women''s and juniors'' racing. Although McShane is part of Papa John''s and the Louisville Bicycle Club, which has several women racers, Louisville has no dedicated women''s cycling team.

Tracy Huber, who races with Cincinnati ''s Revolution Fitness, said that despite the ample number of women who ride bikes as tourists or triathletes or who become fit through spinning classes, few seem willing to make the leap to racing.

"I think a lot of women are afraid to ride bicycles as far as racing is concerned," Huber said. "I think women in general view it as a men''s sport."

But McShane said that dimension is also part of what makes the sport compelling. "It''s like playing in a man''s world," she said. "It''s dangerous; it''s expensive; it''s very time consuming.but it''s a lot of fun."

As a member of the former United Parcel Service masters team, McShane raced and won alongside two other women. Family obligations have taken them off the bike - at least temporarily: "I''ve seen that a lot over the past 10 years: it takes a lot of women in and out of the sport."

Hewitt said that he put together a women''s squad, Team Gold, in the early 1980s. "We just dominated the races and just cleaned up," he said. "It would be a lot of fun to do that again, but you would have to find someone to put up the money to sponsor them."

A lack of sponsorship is also problematic for juniors, or racers from 10 to 18, said Tim Omer. Clayton Omer, Tim''s son, is one of the few, if not the only, sponsored junior racers in Louisville . As a junior racer for Texas Roadhouse, Clayton, 14, receives discounts on bikes and equipment, has race fees paid and has much of his cycling clothing covered.

But during many races, he''s often one of just a few juniors - or sometimes the only in his category - at the starting line. One solution to encourage young racers would be to establish teams through the local middle and high schools, Tim Omer said. Both St. Xavier and Trinity have mountain biking teams.

Omer said that the area does have a thriving BMX scene. However, nurturing future road racers will require sponsorship, a willing crop of riders and adult racers who would be willing to sacrifice their training time to bring some new riders along.

Both Hewitt and McShane say the willingness of companies like Texas Roadhouse, Barbasol and Papa John''s to sponsor teams will encourage sponsorship from other businesses.

"I see more sponsorship and more teams in the area," Hewitt said. "Texas Roadhouse has certainly gotten the bang for the buck out of their team. These teams really have something to sell to a sponsor."

Paul Baldwin, who enjoys running, swimming and cycling, is a freelance writer and editor. He lives in Louisville .

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