Camaraderie, competition for cyclists

If the members of the Rhoades Cycling team are spokes in a wheel, Steve Rhoades is most certainly the hub.

As appropriate as the metaphor may be, the 50-year-old founder is quick to deflect any and all attention back to his riders.

“This isn’t about me, it’s about them,” Rhoades said. “They’re the ones working so hard, out there riding every day. They deserve all of the recognition.”

When he decided last year to start a cycling team, he had no real agenda other than exposing the community to the joys of riding. Brenda Greene was the first cyclist to join Rhoades, and this year there are more than 25 riders wearing the now-familiar yellow and red-checkered jerseys on the island’s highways and byways.

“It just unfolded,” Rhoades said. “I didn’t have to do much work at all.”

The team covers quite a range of cycling disciplines -- from mountain bike racing to cyclocross to road racing and triathlons.

Member David Schmidt has seen quite a bit of success over the last cyclocross season, and recently bested more than 100 riders in taking the top overall spot in the seven-week Emerald City Cyclocross Series.

“I’ve found out it’s very big in Seattle,” Schmidt said. “It’s really become a hotbed of cyclocross talent.”

Mud plugging

Cyclocross races are short, off-road races, usually one to two miles long over a variety of surfaces. The courses feature short, steep hills and the terrain can vary from pavement to sand or mud. Riders often begin races in pristine jerseys, and end up looking like they’ve been in a raucous mud wrestling match.

There are obstacles that force racers off of their bikes, and a rider will often have to dismount, navigate a fence or steep pitch, and run with the bicycle hoisted on a shoulder until the terrain is ridable again.

Schmidt jokes that cyclocross is about “suffering.” The dirt-based time trial criteriums push riders to their limits, and the key to success is maintaining a high rate of speed -- no matter what hindrance might lie ahead in the path -- be it rushing stream or fallen tree, or man-made obstacles such as stacks of hay bales or wooden fences.

The race is run for a set period of time, usually between 30 and 60 minutes depending on category. Lap times typically run five to eight minutes, and the winner is the rider who completes the most laps.

Cyclocross might sound like an extreme-sports product of the 1990s, but the discipline is more than 100 years old -- predating contemporary fat-tire mountain biking by some 80-plus years.

At the turn of the 20th century, army private Daniel Gousseau took to riding a bicycle alongside his horse-mounted general in the forests of France.

Gousseau enjoyed the outings so much he invited friends to cycle along with him, and spur-of-the-moment races often occurred. In 1902, the Frenchman organized the first national championship with the French Cycling Union, but it wasn’t until 1910 that the discipline gained popularity -- when Tour de France winner Octave Lapize attributed his win to “mud plugging” in the off-season.

International criteriums were held in Paris in 1924, the event became official in 1950, with 1947 Tour de France winner Jean Robic taking the title. The sport’s appeal has rocketed in the past five decades, seen as an excellent way to stay in competition-shape year-round.

Many mountain bikers are discovering the challenge of cyclocross, and a great number of cyclocross riders have been successful in mountain bike racing.

Riding and racing

But not everyone on the Rhoades Cycling team feels the need to slog through the slop with a bicycle slung over a shoulder.

“I just got a bike because I figured if you cant beat ‘em, join ‘em,” triathlete Tonia Schmidt said.

Schmidt, in the recent Black Diamond triathlon in Enumclaw, averaged a speed of 18 1/2 miles per hour over the 63-mile cycling portion of the event.

“Steve got me to where I am today, and I’m awesome,” Schmidt said, grinning at her husband David.

Another triathlete on the team is island attorney Kate Carruthers, who credits Rhoades’ instruction for first-place finishes in her age group at the Blue Lake Triathlon and Whidbey Island Triathlon. Carruthers also rode, ran and swam to second in last summer’s Danskin Triathlon in Seattle, competing with 95 other women in the 55-60 age group.

“I get coaching from people that are a lot better than I am,” Carruthers said of the team. “Everyone is really supportive. I’ve got so much more confidence and my cycling skills are so much better.”

Glenn Gomes, competing at the 2003 Washington Senior Olympics, took second-place overall in the 5K time trials and third in the 10K time trials, and finished two seconds off the lead in the 20K road race. Teammate Michael Djordjevich placed fifth in the 5K and 10K time trials, and sixth in the 20K road race.

Brian Vickers, who describes himself as “addicted to bike racing,” has enjoyed success in more than 20 cyclocross, road racing and mountain bike competitions this season alone.

He finished third in the Washington State Championships in the men’s 40-49 age bracket, and took fourth in the state championships for cyclocross in the single-speed division.

Vickers has been taking his children to races since they were very young, and the enthusiasm has been infectious.

“My kids think it is normal behavior,” Vickers said. “My nine year old son begs me weekly for a road bike, so he can start his own racing career.”

Richard Kauffman has also had a string of first- and second-place finishes at Mason Lake events, and Marty Houck finished ninth overall in the same series.

Jeff Andreas took the 2003 season off from competitive racing, but has maintained his commitment to the team because of the support and friendships he’s developed over the last year. Andreas has been mountain bike racing for four years and helped coach team members to a pair of first-place team finishes in the discipline, as well as a second-place team finish in a 24-hour mountain biking event.

“Steve and the team offer a great resource for serious and recreational riders,” Andreas said. “Whether it’s to train or just have fun.”

But not everyone on the team feels compelled to race competitively, and no one is expected to. They insist it’s about the camaraderie and pure joy of cycling.

“First and foremost, it’s a club-team thing,” Rhoades said. “I know the magic of simply training together. Everybody brings different talents, and everybody’s out there together. Anybody can do this.”

The elevated interest in riding has also spawned a like-minded social circle for island cycling enthusiasts.

“It’s been more fun lately because it’s a better social activity than it was previously,” Vickers said.

“And there’s a lot more information going around,” added Schmidt. “It’s a good base to stay up on the racing and cycling scene.”

The team will continue to foster riders who want the experience and exercise, though with the talent of the current roster, Rhoades’ nebulous initial team vision has focused a bit over the last year.

“Eventually, I’d like to have a Category 3 team for Kitsap County,” Rhoades said, “and these guys are the core people that are going to make that happen. It’ll be their friends, sons, daughters, cousins and nephews.

“It’s all of the little things, the baby steps between here and there.”

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