The University of Chicago Velo Club (cycling) may not be the best-known team on campus, and they may not even have the title of “varsity sport.” They do, however, have something other teams on campus don’t have—a national title.
On Saturday, economics graduate student Devon Haskell took home the national championship at the D-II road race, dominating the field in Fort Collins, CO. Haskell, along with her teammates, economics graduate student Aspen Gorry and anthropology graduate student Carly Schuster, qualified for the race by earning enough points at the conference championships. The trio took on the rolling hills of Colorado, and Haskell came away with her first national title.
After the first climb, the pack started to break up, and Haskell established her place among the five pace-setting racers. She made her break from the front six miles from the finish and never looked back, crossing the line for first with 24 seconds to spare. Taking the gold marked an improvement from a third-place effort in last year’s race in Lawrence, KS.
“I’ve been training all season with this race as a priority,” Haskell said. “The road race turned out to be a challenging course with strong winds, long and steep climbs (which you can’t find anywhere in Chicago), and tough competition. [The win] was definitely a highlight of my cycling career.”
While Gorry and Schuster weren’t able to join Haskell among the top finishers, they completed their races successfully and earned valuable experience in their first appearance at nationals. They didn’t have much time to rest, and Haskell was unable to savor her victory because the next day the three were back on the bikes and competing in the D-II Criterium race.
Shorter and usually held on closed-off city streets, the Criterium featured a much tighter race. Gorry and Schuster both turned in solid performances, with Schuster finishing in a strong position and Gorry among the pack. Haskell was again at the front of the race, this time taking fourth. No clear break occurred in the Criterium, and Haskell ended up being part of a mad dash for first.
Combining the points from her results in the road race and the Criterium, Haskell wrapped up the weekend tied for first in the ominium classification but had to settle for second overall. Taking runner-up honors bumped her up from last year’s fourth-place standing.
The strong showing at nationals by Haskell, Gorry, and Schuster is a sweet end to a successful season that included a Midwest Collegiate Conference championship for the Maroons. Haskell’s individual title is the second of its kind for the velo club; the first came when Todd Yefezski won the Criterium race in 2005.
This is an especially amazing accomplishment given the difficult competition at nationals, where powerhouse programs are able to qualify more riders with their large budgets. Chicago’s cyclists, on the other hand, are part of a club sport that gets the majority of its funding through donations and sponsorships. In addition, riders have to balance the rigorous demands of academic pursuits with a world-class training schedule.
“I have a great coach, Brian Conant, who helps me keep a manageable workout schedule that fits in well with a grad student’s agenda,” Haskell said. “My training actually provides me a good balance with my studies.”
Haskell will continue to train and compete in races over the summer, but for now the Velo Club’s focus is on this Saturday’s Monsters of the Midway Criterium, when the UCVC will play host.
The race, which attracts over 400 participants from the Chicago area, has been organized by the club every year since 1993 and perhaps earlier. The one-day event, which takes place on a 1.1-mile rectangle around the Midway, features categories for all ages and skill. The youngest competitors fall between 10 and 12 years old, and the oldest bracket is from 60 to 69, while the experience ranges all the way up to the professional level.
The Monsters of the Midway competition gives UCVC riders an opportunity to compete without traveling, as well as to gauge how the young riders are progressing.
The first race will start at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday at the Midway Plaisance between Ellis and Dorchester Avenues.