Duke Cycling has covered some ground in the last four years. What began then as two students with a bug for racing and a vision for growth has blossomed into a nationally-known powerhouse in collegiate cycling. Earlier this month Duke clinched the regular-season team title and individual title in the Atlantic Collegiate Cycling Conference, along with a berth to the National Collegiate Cycling Championships held last weekend in Ogden, Utah. They came home with a set of gold medals in the prestigious Team Time Trial, a 20-mile race held across barren Antelope Island on the Great Salt Lake. The Team Time Trial is contested by four-person teams slipstreaming within inches of one another at speeds up to 50 mph. It requires maximum power output from the athletes but also precision and communication to maintain a streamlined formation in spite of hills, curves, and crosswinds. The time of the third member across the finish line is credited to entire team, requiring each unit to remain largely intact.Duke Students Matthew Rinehart (Engineering), Matthew Howe (Biology), Baard Haugen (Business) and Gael Hagan (Law) trained specifically with head coach Rusty Miller for two months before the championships to perfect their system of rotation during the race. Because the rider in front is pushing most of the wind away for the others, he can lead the group at full speed for only about 20 seconds before having to take shelter at the back of the line. Rotating at high speed requires trust among teammates. "You're riding so hard that you've got tunnel vision -- you can hardly see straight," said Hagan. "But you always have to concentrate on keeping the formation tight and keeping the pace even and fast.""We could not have gone one second faster out there," said Howe after the finish. "We were flying with a tailwind on the way out, but we really had to dig deep to fight the headwind coming home." Fight they did, to post a time 30 seconds better than pre-race favorites MIT, known for tuning their aerodynamic positions in a wind tunnel. The remainder of the nationals podium was filled by varsity teams with nationally recruited scholarship athletes. "This feels really good," said team captain Rinehart. "To articulate a goal and believe in it, put in the hours training together, and to come across the country and grab it with two hands? That's what teamwork is all about.""I am so proud of these student athletes," said first-year head coach Miller. "We're inspired now to build a sustainable and formidable cycling program here at Duke. This was our club's first national championship, and it won't be our last."
Photos by Dean Warren