March 2, 2012

UCVC fosters competition and camaraderie

Cycling has never really made it into the mainstream of American culture. Lance Armstrong captured the country’s imagination for a few years in the early 2000s, but as a whole, bikes have remained in the background. Cycling has always been more suited to subculture than pop culture and even if you don’t notice, it’s a sport with a huge following. It should be of no surprise, then, that the U of C has its own community of cyclists, too: the University of Chicago Velo Club (UCVC).

The UCVC was founded in the early 1990s as a place for cyclists to come together, talk about cycling, give advice to new riders, and most importantly, ride their bikes. Club president Jesse Williams, a fifth-year biology graduate student, thinks that sense of community is part of what makes the club so important to its members.

“The UCVC primarily provides a social community to connect people that love to ride and race bikes,” Williams said, “but it also is important in answering questions new people have about cycling. We promote a sport that isn’t popular in most areas of the U.S., but is something that can be enjoyed our entire lives.”

Today, the UCVC has roughly 100 members including graduate students, undergrads, and alumni of the U of C. In addition to offering a community to cyclists in Hyde Park, the UCVC is a competitive organization and, for Williams, the club’s competitive history was a big attraction. The UCVC is a member of USA Cycling (USAC) and competes as a DII team in the Midwest Collegiate Cycling Conference (MWCCC).

“I was a cyclist as an undergrad and looked up the cycling club as soon as I was accepted into graduate school here in Chicago,” Williams said. “I was excited because they had a long history of success in the racing community and had five different DII national champions in the different cycling disciplines.”

This year, the club has continued its tradition of success, winning the team track championship in the fall and the cyclo-cross championship this winter. The aspiration now is a MWCCC road racing title, but to do that, the team needs to expand, especially on the women’s side.

“We are currently looking to increase the size of our women’s team,” Williams said. “We’ve had a lot of success with developing a strong women’s team, but there is a long way to go. As a whole, we are hoping to win the MWCCC Road DII team championship, but that will take both a strong men’s and women’s team.”

In the meantime, the UCVC is looking forward to its annual Hyde Park road race, Monsters of the Midway (MoM), on May 12. This year will be the race’s 22nd installment and about 500 area cyclists are expected to compete. The race, which will take place on a 1.1-mile loop around the Midway Plaisance, is sanctioned by USAC and open to any cyclist with a USAC license. On top of organizing the event, the UCVC will also field a team in hopes of taking advantage of hosting the race.

“It’s been a few years since we’ve won our own race,” Williams said, “but we’re hoping to do it again this year.”

Until then, the UCVC will keep on riding. The club has four to six group rides per week ranging in distance from 20 to 120 miles. The MWCCC roadracing championship is up and running, and the UCVC is building a team to win it.