Collegiate Chronicles: Cyclocross versus the Semester

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The dorm room of a cyclist. James McCabe

The dorm room of a cyclist. © James McCabe

by James McCabe

Going to college is great. There are enough parties and beer to make anyone happy. But you have to remember the point of going to school, and that is: to get a degree. Hopefully, that degree will turn into a job. In order for you to get a degree, you need to do your homework.

That homework is keeping me off the bike.

Mind you, the semester has just started. A course load with 16 credits is enough to keep most students busy. I’m complaining now not because I have that much homework, but rather because I need to do this homework during my racing times. Every Tuesday and Wednesday night in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, there are training cyclocross races only five minutes from Wake Forest University. It’s a gold mine for training.

There are many local and national professionals out there, providing tips and showing off their skills to amateur riders. Last year I was able to attend all of these races, which is how I was able to meet with Jon Hamblen of Team Mountain Khakis and Smartstop / Mock Orange p/b Ridley.

Hamblen has been a huge asset to the team. We have had several riders go from no structured training and no bike handling skills to guys who can be competitive in the A races. His training advice this month has been excellent as usual, but it’s worthless with my cyclocross bike collecting dust in my dorm room.

I really don’t have anyone to blame — not even myself! I blame college.

This is why super-strong collegiate cyclists are rare. Most of us are in the best shape of our lives, or at least that’s what my mother tells me. For being in the best shape of my life, I spend a ton of time sitting in the library and reading away countless pages of financial theory and accounting principles. I do this even though these same hours could be spent racing twice a week only five minutes from school. But who can I blame for that?

However, there is a great counter to my argument. Take a look at Zach McDonald of Rapha-Focus. He is my age and attending the University of Washington-Seattle. He is hammering out massive results, including a recent 11th place at CrossVegas. There are people who dedicate their whole lives to the sport and couldn’t touch McDonald’s position. But he’s in college, just like me.

For everyone else who isn’t McDonald, there is collegiate cycling. Collegiate cycling has opened up the doors of cyclocross to many. I now have members of my team who just want to race cyclocross and stop racing the collegiate mountain bike season. Something about cyclocross is addictive for students. Maybe just as addictive as beer …

You can say this article doesn’t have a point. And it very well might not. What I’m trying to get across is that this whole feeling of not being able to ride, for lack of a better term, sucks. Its miserable looking at my bike leaning against my dresser with fresh tubulars glued up and no one to ride it.

So let me ask you: When Hamblen texts me in the morning saying, “Did you do your intervals today,” how should I respond?



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I am a college student and soon to be rookie cyclocross racer. I know I haven't been training enough but besides my internship, my vice presidency in campus club, my part-time job, and classes the only training I get are my 10 minutes sprints from home to class and then another 10 minutes on the way back.

I'll find out how prepared I am on Oct. 1 but until then I will keep doing all I can to get ready for my season. I can't wait though either way I know cyclocross is going to be the escape I've been looking for.


Excellent article.

I entered college as a music major nearly thirty years ago. My parents were broke and couldn't help me; I had to cobble together a financial aid package that included scholarships, loans and a work-study job; and when that wasn't enough I lied about my age to get an off-campus job as a bar-back at a local tavern. Later, I joined a local band and got paid to play at the same tavern three nights a week. There was no time for sports, intercollegiate, intramural or otherwise -- to stay in shape, I rode my bike back and forth from my tavern job and took a weight-training class for my requisite PE credit. I got up very early to study and practice, and stayed up late to work. I averaged about 5-6 hours of sleep on a good night. I was taking an average of 18 credit hours per term.

When the dean of my department found out about my insane schedule, he ordered me to quit my off-campus jobs, and told me he'd try to get me out of the work-study gig as well; I needed to spend more time in the practice room. I shot back that short of pulling dollar bills out of my butt, there wasn't much else I could do to pay for college. In the end, I quit the school and took a longer, far more circuitous path to my degree elsewhere. But I think the lesson here is that the combiantion of youth, talent, familial/other support and excellent time-management skills is usually key to producing the Zach MacDonalds of the universe. For the rest of us, excellent time and health management is a very good start (so make time for sleep!).


Hey guys, lighten up--you're starting to sound like roadies, not cyclocrossers. I think you're missing the point of the article. He's not saying that collegiate racers have it tougher than everybody else. To me, this column is about how obligations and distractions can make it difficult to train, and that's something that everyone should be able to relate to.

College (and graduate school) is one, among many other, experiences that consumes our total life. Besides of class time, homework, friends, family, career planning, community activities, and just trying to get the full experience of college, people like James are also trying to keep their team organized, find team sponsors, promote races, and helping to keep the conference running. And, unlike varsity athletes, most collegiate racers aren't getting their tuition covered to ride their bikes. Folks with full-time jobs, spouses, and kids have their own challenges (although, possibly a little more disposable income than a student).

And James, do what Hamblen says.


I remember college, it was a lot of hours. But. At least with college you have more flexible hours and can build your own schedule essentially, it sounds like that is your problem. Depending on your industry working life is often less forgiving. Clients don't seem to want to let me push a deadline out or skip a meeting for a workout. I know, what is their problem, right? Don't they know this is important stuff?


Wow. White boy problems. if you think being in college sucks for racing and training, just wait until you get a real job. Some of the best CX racers I know have jobs, companies to run, kids, etc. If you don't like your situation, change something.


Not to be grumpy old guy, but I'm three times your age and work average of 80 - 90 hours a week (including about 5 times a month when I get no sleep at all). Not by choice entirely, just what the current realities of my profession (trauma surgeon and department head in underserved urban area) require. I manage to cram in between 5-12 hours of training a week and get to 15 - 20 cross races a year. I'm just pack filler, but I probably wouldn't be much better even if I had unlimited training and rest time. Point is, if you want it bad enough, no reason you can't find 15 - 20 hours out of the 168 in a week to train. I have a friend (Nick Frey - Jamis Sutter Home pro and Boo Bicycles founder/owner) who was collegiate national champion, U23 national champion and started his own bike company all at the same time while a superstar engineering student at Princeton. Also found time to have a social life. As the poster above said, the average masters rider with a job, family, and overhead has a lot more on his/her plate than you do !

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