The Bontrager Cycling Team means business. Photo: Emily Maye
I’m not sure who thought it would be a good idea to put a house full of young, strapping male athletes across the street from Boulder’s Fairview High School—maybe it was a clever recruiting ploy—but they seem to behave themselves. Maybe that’s because the under-23-year-old dudes on the Bontrager Cycling Team have only one thing on their minds—riding their bikes faster than anyone else on the planet. So far, they have been pretty damn good at that objective. The team, which was founded in 2009, was created to develop young, promising riders and since its inception, 11 have advanced to the WorldTour so far, including local hero Taylor Phinney, now a five-time world champion, as well as former American champion Ben King, British national time trial champion Alex Dowsett and most recently, Americans Joe Dombrowski and Ian Boswell.
The 13 guys currently living and training together across the street from the high school are on target to become the next stars of the sport. Already, they are competing with the big boys in major events like the Tour of California and the Pro Challenge here in Colorado. There’s are a lot of reasons to believe in these kids.
I have had the chance to ride with the guys on the team a few times now, including Taylor—who rode up next to me and said “there’s always one media guy who thinks he can drop us,” to which I replied, “that guy is not me.” He didn’t drop us, not really. Though we did pick up the pace as we cruised past the wind farm on the Morgul-Bismark ride (a route steeped in meaning, since it was here that Davis Phinney, Andy Hampsten and other stars of a shinier era made their names).
It’s inspiring to see athletes who are in the midst of making the jump from dreamers to winners. It’s also a good reminder that the currently much-maligned sport of cycling still has a ton of heart beating at the core.There was a powerful story in the Wall Street Journal last month about Phinney hanging tough in a brutal Italian stage race, inspired by his famed bike-racing father Davis who now suffers from Parkinson’s. Taylor refused to drop out of the race, despite falling into a certain last place, mostly because it’s something his dad would not do. There was no podium, just character, and a dogged determination to simply keep riding. Cycling needs more stories like that because it needs people to believe in it again, if not for the pros at least for the kids who want to be pros.
I have been lucky enough to have had the chance to ride with Andy Hampsten, too. He’s the only American to win the infamously difficult Giro d’Italia as well as well as being a cyclist who has a clean reputation. He doesn’t want to talk about the ugliness that’s lingering around the sport these days. All he wants to do is bike around Italy, enjoying wine and food and bumping into former cyclists. He’s at the point now where he just enjoys the bike for the sake of riding.
It’s easy to be cynical about pro cycling. The sport has a long way to go to regain its reputation. But it’s impossible to be cynical about riding. And that is what’s so great about the kids on the Bontrager Team. Who knows where their bikes will take them, but, for now, there’s a lot of inspiration to be had by doing nothing more than just getting out there and riding, and dreaming.