On the weekend of Nov. 17, Fresno State hosted its first collegiate mountain bike race organized by the Western Collegiate Cycling Conference at Hensley Lake — and the Bulldog Cycling Team was there to represent the campus.
Members faced rough terrain and experienced racers while competing in the conference championship. Club socials coordinator Tadeh Issakhanian said that club members ran into plenty of challenges.
“We did alright,” Issakhanian said. “This was the first year for mountain biking and we had a lot of newcomers.”
Though some of the members suffered a few injuries during the races, along with some mechanical failures, Issakhanian thought the race was successful.
“It wasn’t the best showing, but for a first-year mountain bike team, we did really well,” he said.
Issakhanian said that this was good experience for some of the members unfamiliar with competitive bike racing.
“You have to get used to the racing atmosphere — kind of get the jitters and nervousness out,” he said.
Stephen Wolf, the club’s vice president of administration, is an advanced racer. Unfortunately his experience didn’t help.
“I had mechanical problems with my bike and I didn’t do all that well,” he said.
But it wasn’t a total loss. By the end of the event, one of the club members had placed.
Club member Jeff Byrd, a Category B racer, took third place in the Men’s B short track, and fourth in the Men’s B cross country race.
Fresno State took ninth place out of 19 in the conference.
Wolf said he isn’t disappointed by the results, as he feels that the club is now ready to start the road season, which begins early next year.
“The next race is the start of the road season and I’m super pumped for that, because that’s what I’m more focused on,” he said. “I mountain bike more for fun.”
Wolf said that the club’s next race, which will be hosted by UC Santa Barbara in March, should yield much more favorable results.
The club was founded in spring 2011 with the goal to bring in all those interested in cycling, Wolf said.
“We cater to all level of riders, from people who are starting out to more experienced racers,” he said.
The club meets monthly. The time and place for the meet is broadcasted to the club’s members via mass email.
There are currently around 50 members in the club — around 20 of them race in a mix of mountain and street biking.
It’s a social club, and is open to anyone with an even a modest interest in cycling and is currently attempting to attract more recreational riders to join and socialize, Wolf said.
Today, Wolf counts himself as an avid cycling fan, but this wasn’t always the case.
He spent much of his life riding bicycles, but for 20 years his heart belonged to Motocross, a form of off-road motorcycle racing.
While a Motocross racer, he rode bikes for endurance training. After racing Motocross professionally for nine years, Wolf said he was looking for a change.
One day, he began to entertain the idea of actually racing bicycles.
“I ended up really, really liking it,” Wolf said. “It’s a completely different kind of racing. It’s so different from Motocrossing, and the fact that I have room to progress, I have a lot to learn.”
Moving to cycling had another positive effect. With professional Motocross behind him, he was able to free up his schedule and go to Fresno State where he and William Foster founded the club.
Wolf said that the club’s leaders help recreational riders become better by racing together.
“We try to get them out on our group rides,” he said. “We call them no-drop rides — we don’t leave anyone behind. We try to teach them and help them learn about the dynamics of a group ride and get them into it like that.”
Wolf said that he encourages those interested in racing to move away from recreational riding. So far, the club has had around eight members move up to the racing level.
One of them is Issakhanian, who started at the club as a novice.
Before he started racing bikes, Issakhanian was a rugby player.
During a game he hurt his knee and began to ride his bicycle as part of therapy. He said he enjoyed it, and after a while, he was hooked.
Though he had only ridden bikes for a short while, he knew he wanted much more and started joining Wolf on the racing team.
“I’ve always liked bikes in general,” Issakhanian said. “They’re just nice looking machines.”
For some time, Issakhanian watched Lance Armstrong race the Tour de France.
“I’ve always liked the sport, and now I have a chance to do it,” he said.
Issakhanian’s first race was the Boulevard Road Race hosted by UC San Diego in March.
“You know, I thought it would be a lot easier just because I was in the beginner’s category,” he said.
Issakhanian quickly realized that, though he was competing against beginners such as himself, he still had a lot to learn.
“I got my butt kicked,” he said. He walked away from the race without placing, but said he was determined to keep getting better.
Fresno State will host another race next year on the weekend of March 23-24 at Hensley Lake. On Saturday the club will have a road race and team time trial, and a criterium at Kearney Park on Sunday, Wolf said.
“We are always looking to recruit more riders, whether they are experienced or new riders, or just looking to get into the sport,” he said. “Whether they are looking to race seriously or just come out and ride with us for fun on our social rides, all riders are welcome.”
Those interested in joining can get more information by visiting the club’s website at fresnostateclubsports.com/cycling, or its Facebook: www.facebook.com/BulldogCycling. Interested parties can also email the club at firstname.lastname@example.org.