After a weekend of the most competitive road racing at the collegiate cycling level, DePaul senior Ian Kresnak didn’t rest for long. He competed in the USA Cycling Collegiate Road National Championships last weekend in Asheville, North Carolina, and three days later woke up for a 6 a.m., 50-mile ride with his teammate, Adam Saban.
Kresnak is the second member of the DePaul Cycling Club to make it to collegiate road nationals in the nine years that the club has existed. Although cycling is an individual sport, sending an athlete to nationals is a team effort.
There are four categories of skill level in collegiate cycling. Cyclists complete a certain number of races at each level and move to the next level based on a point system. To qualify for nationals, a cyclist must compete in at least three category-A races, the most advanced category, and score enough points at those races to qualify.
Kresnak never raced a bike before joining the DePaul Cycling Club his freshman year. He bought a bike with money he saved from a winter intercession job, and as he said, “I just fell in love with racing.”
From there, he worked his way up through the levels of track and road racing until the big payoff senior year.
Nationals started off May 8 with a 73.5-mile road race.
“The race went alright. I got 39th overall,” Kresnak said. “It wasn’t a great result, but I was happy with it given the circumstances and the quality of competition.”
Kresnak competed against 47 other cyclists during that race. Without the advantage of having teammates in the race to help him, larger teams had the advantage.
After taking Saturday off, Kresnak competed in the 18.6-mile time trial race on Sunday.
“The time trial is called the race of truth,” Kresnak said, “It’s just you against the clock. No teammates. No one to help you. You just do a set distance as fast as you can. You don’t have the wind barrier of other people racing in front of you, so it’s just about how fast you are.”
Kresnak finished in 26th out of 35 cyclists in the time trial, and while not thrilled with the result, still enjoyed the weekend.
“It’s a lot of fun and a great experience,” Kresnak said. “One of the cool things about collegiate cycling over other NCAA sports is you can get anyone from people like me to people who have been cycling all their lives. It’s cool to compete against people who you might see on TV one day.”
Due to graduation, Kresnak and two other members of the DePaul Cycling Club have completed their collegiate racing careers, but they are still training hard and planning on competing in regular road races all summer and into post-grad life.
Saban, a graduate student, competed in his first race just last year, and like the other members of the club, cycling really clicked with him.
“It totally transformed my life,” Saban said. “I started training and got to know the guys and became part of the team. I fell in love, and my life has just been cycling ever since.”
The DePaul Cycling Club has six dedicated members. Saban said, the size of the team is one of the main obstacles facing the athletes. The club has experienced problems finding opportunities to train as a group and practice team racing tactics.
“We are pretty competitive, and we fare pretty well in our fields,” Saban said. “It’s super hard to send someone to nationals and compete well when your team is so small. For Ian to fare as well as he did is really impressive considering there were some really big teams out there.”
Another obstacle is location. Chicago is not the ideal place to train considering the weather, traffic, air quality and geography. Saban aims to put in around 150 miles a week on his bike, which means he spends a lot of time on his indoor trainer or has to bike out of the city.
The flat Chicago geography is another obstacle. To improve their performance on courses with hills, club president Anthony Ott explained that the team rides to the northern suburbs and go up and down the steep boat ramps to simulate the steep hills on the racecourses.
Chicago might not be the best place for competitive cyclists, but the club does have support from DePaul and the Chicago community. DePaul covers the cost of transportation and sleeping accommodations, but there are many other costs involved with building a competitive cycling team.
The club’s main sponsors are Heritage Bicycles, which handles the bike repairs; Pactimo, which helps design the jerseys and Trainology Fitness, which facilitates locations for the club to train.
“Without the sponsors it’s really hard to do what we do,” Kresnak said. “To be successful in cycling you need to have a lot of support, and the more support the better.”
The team is planning a variety of events from now through the fall to recruit new members, and they are also hoping to add cyclocross races to their schedule next year.
“DePaul seems to be one school that doesn’t necessary attract cyclists,” Saban said. “But it ends up attracting people who are interested in cycling and then transitioning them into competitive cycling from there.”
Kresnak is evidence of that transition from novice to nationals, and the next collegiate cycling national competitor could be one of the novice riders who shows up in the fall just out of curiosity and interest in the sport.