Smiles are a common site among Rutgers riders. © Jamie Mack

Smiles are a common site among Rutgers riders. © Jamie Mack

by Jamie Mack

Race at any of the top venues in the Mid-Atlantic and there’s a good chance that you’ll see a tight knit group of folks in red and black kits cruising the scene. Racers from the Rutgers University team can be seen in most of the classes at a race, with many more riders cheering as each race goes off. While the Rutgers riders can be found competing in all disciplines of bicycle racing, like the rest of us, there is a segment of the club that has ’cross in their blood.

On a recent Friday afternoon about a dozen Rutgers riders, along with 20 of their newest friends, gathered to learn from the collective wisdom of the Rutgers ’cross team. The clinic took place on the athletic fields of the Livingston campus in a scenic (seriously, it is) part of central New Jersey. The clinic quickly broke into two groups, beginner and advanced. Leading the beginner group was the leader of this ’cross troupe, Mark Vareschi. Mark is a boisterous rider that clearly enjoys being surrounded by his peers as much as he does riding.

Leading the advanced group was the star of the Rutgers squad, Patrick Bradley. Bradley saw success in Bend last December, taking sixth place in the hotly contested Collegiate National Championship race. This year Patrick is leading the way for a roster of nearly 20 dedicated ’crossers ranging from beginners to advanced. At the recent clinic, the black and red of Rutgers dominated both groups, and there were many students in attendance that were giving ’cross a try for the first time.

These beginners have chosen a good group to start out with. The Rutger’s cycling team’s roots go back over 30 years to the 1970s. Like most long-established programs, the energy of the Rutgers squad has ebbed and flowed over the years, but Vareschi told Cyclocross Magazine that the program has really come into its own in the last decade. And the four consecutive Eastern Collegiate Cyclocross Team Championships stand as a testament to the dedication and talent of the Rutgers riders.

The beginners and developing riders will surely benefit from the experience of those that have ridden in the Rutgers colors before them. The team obviously favors ’cross, but is also home to riders ranging from beginning roadies to Elite downhillers. The team has one of the stronger developmental programs in the Northeast, with a strong contingent of riders that support each other in races from Maine to Virginia. And during the ’cross clinic, it was evident that the excitement of the new riders clearing the barriers for the first time was matched by the experienced riders who were helping them get there.

After the clinic, Cyclocross Magazine managed to catch up with team director Mark Vareschi to find out how a cycling team fits in with the already hectic college lifestyle.

CXM: Is it difficult to balance ’cross with college?

MV: All of our riders are student athletes and their priorities are always on their coursework at Rutgers. However, all of us have found a means of balancing the demands of a full course load with the demands of racing a full Northeast cyclocross calendar. It’s not uncommon to see members of the team tucked in the team van or their cars studying following a ’cross race. Racing this much does tend to impact our riders’ social lives: it means that the only partying we do is on the bike, in the mud.

CXM: Is there a social aspect to the team or is it strictly business?

MV: The team is first and foremost a family. We train together, we celebrate together, and many of us even live together. In the past three to four years, in part thanks to our success at cyclocross, the team has jelled as a tight knit group of friends and racers. Cycling tends to be characterized as a sport for individuals; at Rutgers, we are as tight as any other collegiate sports team. 

While the team members provide a huge support structure for one another, there is another aspect to the team. The community, both cycling and local, have rallied behind the team to show their support as well. For the 2010 cyclocross season, Rutgers will be co-sponsored by Raleigh USA and race as Rutgers University-Raleigh Cycling Team
presented by Kim’s Bike Shop. Rutgers is partnering with Raleigh USA as their East Coast grassroots team, with Raleigh providing custom team framesets to the Rutgers riders.

Kim’s Bike Shop is the Rutgers-Raleigh presenting sponsor for 2010. Located near campus in New Brunswick, NJ, Kim’s is a full-service bike shop offering Raleigh, Specialized, Litespeed and more. The shop is managed by Rutgers Cycling alumnus and fitting expert David Kim, who is also the genius behind many of the team’s perfectly-fit bicycles.

Additional cyclocross season sponsors include: Revolution Wheelworks; Gaerne USA; Challenge USA; Princeton Psychological Consultants; Verge Sport; Cycle-Smart; Gu Energy Products; SRAM; Ritchey; Rudy Project; Maul Electric, Inc.; Berkeley Heights and Beyond; Assured Networks, LLC; 53×11 Coffee; RockTape.

And the connection to the community is not a one-way street. Rutgers gives back by offering clinics, races and weekly practices, all open to the cycling public. The Rutgers team is also the force behind the HPCX, in Jamesburg, NJ. The popular race is again part of the MAC series and the 11th edition will be held on October 31 this year.

At first glance, college and ’cross may not seem like a logical mix. Except for the beer. And the general lack of common sense among the participants. OK, maybe it is a good fit. But whatever the magic combination is,  it’s certainly a balance that the Rutgers riders have found works well for them.

More information on the Rutgers-Raleigh p/b Kim’s Team can be found at www.rutgerscycling.com.

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