Topher Hurley, who just successfully defended his Masters Thesis at Mines (Congrats!), is the Director for the Rocky Mountain Collegiate Cycling Conference (RMCCC). RMCCC has 17 member schools and is the only collegiate conference to experience growth in 2012. Topher sat down with Katie Macarelli (BRAC's media volunteer extraordinaire) to tell us about collegiate cycling in Colorado.
1. Tell us about the insane amount of Collegiate Conference Growth we have experienced in Colorado over the last year:
Its been crazy! We increased our number of license holders by 25% (~400 racers in 2011 to a little over 500 by the end of 2012). We also saw a 34% increase in race starts over 2011 during our mountain bike season last fall. A lot of that has to do with the increase in license holders, but we also saw a big bump in the number of people crossing between disciplines (XCers racing Downhill and Downhillers racing XC). Our track numbers were up as well. I don't have any numbers to put to it, but we finally have enough track interest to hold a short conference season this summer. Collegiate cycling as a whole was down 3% last year, so I'm blown away that we had the kind of growth that we did.
2. What do you attribute this to?
The biggest reason is that we have bunch of super awesome teams that are regularly successful nationally. Our team managers and coaches (can't name them all here, but Dave Hagen (FLC), Jason Hillmire (CU), Len Cabrera (USAFA), and Dave Weins (Western) are great examples) have figured out how to maintain the balance between being serious about racing and having a really good time. The national success + relaxed atmosphere at races lets us attract (and retain) racers from the entire range of abilities (2/3rds of the 2012 US U23 MTB worlds team that were RMCCC athletes, and we also have exchange students that prove that Wal-Mart bikes are more capable and durable than most of us give them credit for).
Reason #2 - Look at where we get to race. What bike rider wouldn't want to take school sanctioned (and often funded) trips to Steamboat, CB, Durango, Fruita, etc once or twice a year?
Reason #3 - We are also starting to see the first big wave of kids with high school racing experience start college. One of the big pushes for the conference in the next few years will be to strengthen our relationship with Kate Rau and the Colorado HS League. They have done an incredible job of growing the sport (almost 400 kids at their races this fall) and the more HS kids that we can turn into the collegiate racers the better.
Reason #4 - Working with BRAC has helped elevate our events and also brought more athletes to our race days, which brings more income to our clubs. Money always helps grow programs!
3. How does the RMCCC compare to the National level?
We do pretty well. CU and FLC are long time dominant powers in all disciplines (collegiate cycling encompasses road, track, cross, mtb, and we've added BMX this year). Both of the last two years, we won almost half of the available jerseys and took almost half of the podium spots at mountain bike nationals. It is somewhat harder to dominate like that on the road, but we typically have 2-3 teams on the team omnium podium and a few individual national champions by the end of road nationals. Track and CX are a little more variable. It is going to be interesting to see how we do in BMX (Nationals is March 2 in Phoenix). The midwestern schools have been recruiting BMX racers pretty heavily and I'm not sure if our schools have the BMX depth to compete. I hope I'm proven wrong!
4. What unique set of challenges do Collegiate racers face in this day and age...aside from parties, travel and failing their classes miserably?
Ha! I don't think most of our racers would see the first two as challenges... You hit the nail on the head with the third one though. Our seasons are pretty compressed (12 days of mountain bike racing in 6 weeks + nationals, and 14 days of road racing in 7 weeks + nationals) due to the national championships schedule, school schedules, and the the fact that racing bikes in February in Colorado is a bad idea. Plus, most of our teams (and races) are student-run, so not only are these kids training, racing, and studying, but they are having to navigate the byzantine world of college bureaucracies, organize team training and travel, and navigating the even more byzantine world of road closures and event permitting. So these kids work their asses of to keep from failing classes miserably.
Even being around the collegiate scene for the last 7 1/2 years, I'm still amazed how successfully our riders pull off the balance of school, racing, team management, and race promotion without going totally crazy. The dedication of these racers to the sport as a whole is absolutely amazing.
5. How did you go about strengthening the ties between the Collegiate world and BRAC?
Great question! The short answer is drinking beer with Chris and Clint.
The longer answer is that the fact that Chris, Clint, and I get along well enough go drink beer (or ride bikes) together has made it far easier to work through the issues that have cropped up in the last year. Last spring had some really entertaining weeks that none of us want to repeat. So, over the summer we developed a Memorandum of Understanding between the RMCCC and BRAC that sets out the formal relationship between the organizations (if anyone wants to read it, it is available at: http://collegiatecycling.org/rmccc/uploads/Rules/RMCCC_BRAC_MOU.pdf).
Chris, the BRAC board, and Jeffrey Hanson (Collegiate Director at USAC) put in a lot of work to make sure that the MOU is solid for both organizations. We signed the final version in September and it has been smooth sailing since. It is actually unprecedented for a collegiate conference and an LA to have any kind of document covering the relationship between the organizations. Definitely something to be proud of.
This is a little off topic, but I'd like to thank everyone at BRAC for the support that they have given us over the last year (and in future years). Collegiate racing is (and hopefully always will be) a minimally structured and pretty quirky part of the sport. Everyone at BRAC has been incredible at accepting the quirks of the collegiate world and helping to teach our promotors how to put on quality races. I am really excited to see where bike racing in Colorado goes in the next 5-10 years.
6. Can you give us a short bio on yourself?
The short bio is:
26 years old. Grew up in Boise, Idaho. Moved to Golden in 2005 for school.
Started racing bikes when I was 13, Cat 2 on the road @ 17, Still a Cat 2 on the road. Cat 1 on the XC mountain bike. Raced collegiate nationals in every discipline (road, CX, endurance MTB, Gravity MTB) but track (not making it to track nationals is my only regret about my racing career). Member of the 2007 Mines team that won collegiate mountain bike nationals. Ran the CSM Cycling team for 2 1/2 years. Promoted 7 road and MTB races at for CSM. Got sucked into conference management in 2010 after blowing up my knee racing mountain cross. Race mountain bikes for Rocky Mountain Racing and Golden Bike Shop.
Just finished my M.S. in Mining Engineering from CSM (B.S. in Mining Engineering from Mines in 2010). Thesis was based on measuring detonation properties of industrial explosives using high-speed imaging (yes, I have every 12 year old boy's dream job). Amazing girlfriend that accepts that I spend 14 weekends a year working at bike races for free (and more pretending that I can ride bikes fast). Dog. Occasional snowboarder.
I had some incredible mentors as a junior and feel like I need to similarly give back to the sport.
7. What does the job of Conference Director entail?
The official job description is 2 pages, but the short description is that I: am the primary interface between the RMCCC and BRAC and between the RMCCC and USAC; work with the teams in the conference to set race schedules, develop rules, and set conference policy; provide support to promotors during the permitting process; provide race-day support and guidance to promotors, teach skills clinics for our intro riders (both road and MTB), work with our officials to make sure that officiating is consistent throughout the season; process collegiate upgrade requests; attend conference directors meeting and conference calls (there are 11 other conferences) to share best practices and help guide national rules and policy; and probably more that I can't think of right now. The best part of the job is interacting with all of the collegiate kids at the races. I got thanked by a racer last fall for talking her into trying mountain bike racing, she tried it and loves it. It doesn't get much better than that.